There has never been as obnoxious a proposal to end the quibbling of the political elites in the Philippines other than the Mike Velarde option for the opportunists and the privileged.

We wonder if Velarde the anointed by “someone upstairs”—the Velarde with the impossible red bow tie and other sartorial surprises—is inspired this time around.

He is the Velarde of the El Shaddai. And there are many others like him, prayerful and praying men and women like the present president.

Yes, he is the guy that says he receives divine messages but now acting as if he were the appointed power broker of both the reigning regime and the despised Erap presidency.

Like Erap with his penchant for celluloid heroism and for hyperbole and other cinematic and theatrical techniques, Velarde sometimes exaggerates—and he does it for affect and effect. And somehow, the stage(d) magic works.

Now that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has said no to the Velarde proposal, we need to remind her that she needs to mean it. She must mean it—that she cannot just simply let the 60-40 arrangement with the oppositionists as if the country is up for grabs, as if it were a cake for the cutting up by those who are salivating for the icing.

The proposal is one for the moon—like a jack-en-poy or bato-bato-pik for quarreling juveniles.

We say: the young delinquents in the dirty and crooked streets of Manila, Cebu, and Davao have more manners and morals than this proposal that is premised on elite privileges and the need to appease the impertinent princelings of Philippine politics.

Velarde must have forgotten that faith moves mountains—but not in the way he translates it—not with the seductive prayer rallies he holds in the Luneta and elsewhere that, at times, create traffic gridlocks because they simply capitalize on despair and disappointments—and that sophomoric sociology of passive believing among the uncritical masses.

Velarde forgets that he does not need to remind the people to be stronger in faith.

He needs to remind himself that his work of evangelizing is not for the masses who are easily duped into believing in man-made miracles—like the waving of passports so that the Lord would bless those who are dreaming to go to Japan and serve the caprice of the drunken masters.

In all these grandstanding ways to proclaim his faith, the evangelist forgets that he needs to give way to the master—the one who is the bearer of the good news of salvation. The evangelist is always lesser.

In the history of faith in the Philippines, evangelists have come and gone.

During the 70s, the Italian Catholic congregations came, both men and women religious.

The missioners came to recruit vocations since Italy had a zero vocation rate and none was entering its convents and seminaries. These massive edifices were all being turned into hospices for the old people or simply abandoned—and the Italian congregations looked to the Philippines for some kind of a succor and salvation.

Many gullible young Filipinos, from the provinces mostly, took the words of the missionaries completely and they eventually conditioned themselves into thinking that God was calling them to become harvesters in the field.

Many were brought to Italy for formation—and to do the things many missionaries would not do—all in the name of charity, love, and compassion.

We think here of the politics of faith—and those taking advantage of the malleability of mindsets molded by medieval perspectives. We think here of the politics of charity. We think here of the politics of love. And we think here of the bad politics of compassion.

Of the many Filipinos brought to Rome and other places in order to learn Italian and the virtues of spaghetti and pasta, many too ended up more Italian than the Italians, their ways too Italianized to see the wisdom of rice-eating.

Many ended up bringing in the goodies the Italians did not want like that bad chocolate that had expired but was still good for the eating in the Philippine seminaries. And well, the medicines too for the poor squatters and slum-dwellers near the seminaries and convents.

This is the problem with evangelists ending up more God than God: corrupt in morals, decadent in the way they look at the project of building up a society based on justice.

They are blissfully ignorant of the need to address the issues relative to arranging, boldly and bravely, the unjust social structures that are responsible for the menace that the Philippines finds itself in at this time.

The social structures are the problem.

They are the breeding ground for the young and yet so corrupt congresspersons. We have so many of them now in the Philippine Congress.

They are the breeding ground for presidential wannabes who have for long known and imbibed the corrupting ways of their elders. They are so many now in the Senate, among the ranks of the opposition, and even among evangelists. Some even believe that God anointed them to lead the country to national redemption.

They are the breeding ground for witnesses of the faith in politics and the politics of faith whose multiple testimonies do not amount to anything. The value of what they say—of the word they utter—is simply zilch.

The Marcos regime, with all its faults, had the fanatics and fundamentalists.

The fanatics believed in the God that wanted to annihilate the communists. And so they became barangay tanods that did not guard the people but terrorized them. Some, with their voodoo ways, ended up chopping the heads and ears of their enemies.

The fundamentalists came as well, praising Marcos, aligning with his forces, always on the ready to announce the meaning of salvation among thieves, racketeers, and percenters—and also among the people who have lost faith and reason, faith in reason, reason in faith, and faith in themselves. Martial Law with its brutal remedies produced the masses that believed pidginized prayers that amounted to nonsense.

Here we go again with these religious forces. The cycle begins—and the cycle knows no end.

What we need to do is translate faith into action—and the present dispensation has been sorely lacking in this.

We have prayer for a show—and the pronouncements about God bestowing upon presidents and pretenders and the oppositionists the power and authority to lead. That one is not neat—it is for the nuts.

What we need is to keep pace with the requisites of a faith that moves mountains—the faith that is not said but is acted upon, translated into action.

It is none but a faith based on the meaning of social justice. Unless the political elites and power brokers understand what this faith based on justice means, we have only one for the cabaret, for the zarzuela, for the comedia. It is, at best, an inutile extravaganza.

We arrange the unjust political structure so that we allow a genuine participation of the people; we have translated what it takes to have faith.

We arrange the unjust economic structure so that we allow a genuine distribution of the nation’s wealth and resources; we have translated what it takes to have faith.

We arrange the unjust cultural structure so that we allow the constant formation of a committed consciousness among the masses; we have translated what it takes to have faith.

WAYAWAYA, Kabanata 10

Wayawaya. Kalayaan. Kuwento ng limang henerasyon ng isang pamilya na testigo sa kasaysayan.

Simula kay Ina Wayawaya noong huling bahagi ng ika-19 na siglo hanggang kay Wayawaya sa kasalukuyan, ang kuwento ng rebolusyon ay nananatiling di tapos na dula ng buhay ng mga Filipino.

Mailap ang katubusang pangako nito. Laging lumalampas sa palad ng mga nangangarap ang kalayaan para sa inangbayan—ang buong-buong wayawaya para sa sambayanan.

Isasadula ng nobelang Wayawaya ang masalimuot na kuwento ng mga kababaihan sa pamilya Agtarap na nag-alay ng sarili para sa higit na malaking sanhi—ang wayawaya na nakabatay sa panlipunang katarungan.

Magsisimula ang kuwento sa kasalukuyan—sa People Power II—at magtatapos din sa kasalukuyan. Subalit pumapaloob ang kuwento sa iba’t ibang pook at panahon ng mga pangyayaring kinakasangkutan ng limang Wayawaya. Ang pagsasaksi ay sa kanilang puntodebista.

Limang Wayawaya ng limang henerasyon ng mga Agtarap—silang mga malay at mulat na tauhan sa di natatapos na kasaysayan ng pakikipagtunggali para sa pagkapantay-pantay, para sa kaunlaran, para sa kapayapaan.

Limang Wayawaya—limang pangarap. Limang Wayawaya—limang kuwento ng pakikibaka. Ng kaligtasan para sa sarili. Ng kaligtasan kasama ang kapwa.

At sa gitna ng lansangan ng mga galit at ngalit ng taumbayan, sa gitna ng tila walang katapusang pakikibaka, sa unang gabing iyon ng panibagong rebolusyon sa EDSA, naisip ni Bannuar, ang isinilang nang ibaba ang batas militar ni Marcos, ang larawan ng bansa.

Gabi na ng matapos ang kanyang panggabing kurso sa unibersidad sa Diliman, ang unibersidad ng estadong humuhulma ng isip ng mga kabataan.

Iba-ibang pag-iisip, sabi ni Bannuar sa sarili. Ramdam niya ang samyo ng hanging ibinubuga ng mga malalabay na puno ng akasya sa oval. Iba-ibang hitsura ng pakikibaka, iba-ibang larangan ng pakikipagtunggali.

Guro ni Bannuar ang isa sa mga ghost writer ng mga libro sa rebolusyon ng isang nasirang pinuno na ang bangkay ay magpahangga ngayon ay naghihintay pa ng kaukulang libing.

Muntik nang pumayag si Erap Estrada sa ganoong panukalang bigyan ng karampatang pagdakila at karangalan sa pangulo.

Nagalit ang taumbayan—o ang taumbayang gising.

Natututo na ngayon si Bannuar. Hindi lahat ng taumbayan ay mulat—hindi lahat ay gising sa mga mapapaklang katotohanan ng sambayanan.

Tulad ng mahikang nagaganap sa hueteng sa mga bayan-bayan, sa mga nayon na kakambal ng pagdarahop.

Tulad ng mga salamangkang ginagawa ng mga kapanalig ng pangulo tungkol sa mga pangingidnap, sa panghoholdap ng mga bangko, sa paglaganap ng drogo, sa pagkakakalbo sa mga kagubatan.

Tulad ng mga pagbasbas ng akademya sa pangulong Erap Estrada—sa pagbibigay nito ng pagbubunyi sa binitiwang salita: Walang kamamag-anak, walang kai-kaibigan.

Nandoon si Bannuar noon sa parke ng Luneta nang sabihin ng pangulo ang mga katagang iyon.

Nandoon si Bannuar sa Malolos nang bigkasin ng pangulo ng buong drama ang kamukha ring katagang pasakalye ng ganoong mayamang kaisipang isinaksak sa kanyang bibig ng kanyang mga manunulat.

Sabi ng mga kaibigang artista ng entablado na kinakailangan daw isadula ang araw-araw na balita mula sa diyaryo.

Hindi nagbabasa ng diyaryo ang pangulo, sabi nila.

Hindi rin daw nagbabasa ng alin mang dokumento.

Ang kailangan daw ay i-akto ang lahat ng mga nagaganap sa bayan, isadula ito habang humihigop siya ng kape o nag-aalmusal.

Tanghali na kung magising ang pangulo, sabi nila.

Tanghali na rin kami madalas bago namin maisadula ang balita sa bawat araw.

Yan ay kung hindi masama ang gising ng pangulo, sabi nila.

Yan ay kung meron siyang kakayahan umupo at manood sa aming ipapalabas.

Hindi lahat ng araw ay ganoon ang kanyang timplada.

Hindi lahat ng araw ay gustong manood sa amin.

Dangan kasi’y actor.

Dangan kasi’y ang buong akala ay siya ay marunong sa lahat ng mga marurunong.

Ang hirap kuhanan ng atensiyon.

Mahirap palalimin ang isip.

Mahirap ilagay sa bibig ang dapat niyang sabihin kahit naglingkod siya bilang senador, bilang mayor, bilang tagapagtanggol ng mga mahihirap.

Ang tunay na namumuno ay yaong marunong makinig, sabi ng mga kakilala na sa bandang huli ay naging kasama ni Bannuar sa pagkilos.

Hindi marunong makinig ang pangulo, sabi nila.

Wala rin siyang kakayahang makinig.

Hindi rin nakikinig.

Ang buong akala ay ang bansa ay isang pinilakang tabing.

Ang buong akala ay ang taumbayan ay pawang mga extra sa isang eksenang kailangan ng tao sa kanyang pelikula.

Ang buong akala ay ang taumbayan ay kumpol-kumpol ng mga tanga, langkay-langkay ng mga hindi nag-iisip.

Kaya hayun, ang tingin sa mga nagaganap ay mga bahagi ng isang pelikulang siya ang bida.

Siya ang bayani.

Siya ang bayaning pinapahirapan.

Siya ang bayaning magdadala ng pasanin ng sambayanan.

Siya ang bayaning magbabalik ng dangal sa tao.

Siya ang bayaning magpapanumbalik sa tao ng tiwala sa kanilang mga sarili tulad ng ginagawa ng lahat ng mga bida sa pelikula.

Alas nuwebe na noon nang makatanggap si Bannuar ng text sa kasama. Nasa oval na siya noon, naglalakad patungong Krus na Ligas, doon sa kanyang kasera, isang maliit na kuwarto ng mga double deck na apat ang nagkakasya sa iisang electric fan na kasing-ingay ng mga traysikel sa humaharurot sa mga looban.

Walang pakialam ang kanyang mga kasama sa nangyayari sa bansa. Mga taga-probinsiya, isa sa Sorsogon, isa sa Bacolod, at ang isa pa ay sa GenSan. Pawang mga enhinyerya ang tinatapos at nangangarap maging kontraktor o opisyal ng public works.

Malaki doon ang lagayan, bay, sabi nila sa isa’t isa.

Mga paaral tayo ng bayan, sabi niya minsan.

Paaral ako ng mga magulang ko, sabi ni Carlos, ang taga-Sorsogon. Ilang niyog ang inaakyat ang aking Tatang upang makapagpadala lamang ng aking panggastos?

Nagsisikap ang ina kong maglako ng isda sa mga bahay-bahay. Ang alam niya ay matutulungan ko siya pag-uwi ko, pagkatapos kong magtapos, sabi ni Aris, ang taga-Bacolod.

Wala akong panahon sa mga rali, bay. Kelangan kong paaralin ang aking sarili, sabi ni Efren, ang taga GenSan. Matanda na ang aking tatang, hindi na kayang pumalaot ng pumalaot at makikipag-agawan ng kapalaran sa mga malalaking trawler ng mga negosyante.

Ngayon ay kasama ni Bannuar ang mga kasambahay, kasama sa gabing iyon ng panibagong pakikibaka para sa bayan.

Tangina, bay, ngayon ko naisip ang pagsasalaula sa atin, sabi ni Carlos. Kapit-bisig kay Bannuar. Nasa kahabaan na sila ng EDSA mula sa kampus ng Diliman.

Walang hiyang pangulo, bay, sabi ni Efren. Hindi ko akalain.

Tiningnan lamang ni Bannuar ang mga kasama. Sa unahan ay mga pulutong ng mga kabataang nakikipagsugal sa kapalaran.

“Huling-huli, huling-huli!” sigaw ng babaeng may hawak ng megaphone na may tatak ng logo ng Liga ng Kabataan. Kasunod nila ang babae, mga ilang hakbang lang ang layo sa kanilang hanay.

“Huling-huli, huling-huli!” sagot ng hanay.

Mag-aalas-onse na noon nang makarating sila sa EDSA Shrine.

Naroon ang Ina na saksi ng unang rebolusyong nangako ng katubusan para sa bayan.

Nakatanod ang Ina sa mga hanay at pulutong ng mga batam-batang mandirigma.

Minsan nang pinintasan ng isang kritiko ng sining ang Ina. Sinabi niyang isa itong pangit na bruha ng EDSA.

Sinabi niyang hindi marunong ang kanyang eskultor—na siyang sanhi ng pag-iiyak-iyak ni Virginia Ty na nanaginip sa hitsura ng Ina.

Mula sa mga sinag ng mga poste, naaaninag ni Bannuar ang Ina.

Naalala niya ang kanyang ina, si Teresa na minsan ay naging si Ka Wayawaya.

Naalala niya ang kanyang ama, si Ili na minsan ay naging si Ka Bannuar.

Pinugutan ng ulo ang kanyang ama, ipinarada ng mga sundalo ang walang ulong katawan sa nayong iyon na umangkin at kumupkop sa kanya.

“Walang kukurap! Walang kukurap! Si Erap, warak-warak!” sigaw ng mga hanay.

Sumabay si Bannuar sa hakbang mga mga batang mandirigma sa lansangan sa gabing iyon na hindi binuksan ang enbelop ng kahihiyan ng bayan.




Part 4
Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD.

I came to the United States of America in the light of this conviction about what stories are. With an openness of heart and soul, with a certain degree of understanding of the forces of history that pre-formed and pre-shaped this nation of (im)migrants, I arrived in March 2003 with that major purpose of telling the migrant’s story in a way that respects his voice.

I promised myself: that I will not speak in the migrant’s behalf. Instead, I will make him speak—and speak out loud so that those who are not listening may listen, those who have acquiesced to the stodgy conditions of existence may take courage and boldness and daring and may speak out loud and clear for and in the name of the nameless, the voiceless, the powerless, the marginalized.

In coming to “this America”—the kind of naming some present-day political leaders of this country would want to use minus the term “United States”—I brought with me all the socio-cultural biases that go with being born in a multicultural society and living in that same society as an advocate of culture and language, learning and education, social renewal and commitment to justice.

Likewise, I became aware of the learned fondness for stories and goodies that relate to America or may even obliquely refer to being American.

For a time in the Ilocos of my childhood, the concept “imported”, “PX”, “American”, and “the best quality stuff for the mind and the heart and the body” were all synonymous. Anything not American was no good. At the time that I was growing up, Japanese products were having an inroad in the country but the way the adults looked at these goods were never at par with the “imported” from America. Such was the consciousness that I came into—and the concept of America as the country of the best was what we kept in our heart.

Carlos Bulosan, of course, arrived at the conclusion that America, in the end, is not a place. Carlos as Allos was a trope—a prototype—of the wandering Filipino in search of something better, something more than what the old country offered. Allos the main character in the novel-cum-memoir America is in the Heart was a window to the aspirations and dreams of every Filipino—that dream of being able to go to the United States and there eke out a life, and there struggle hard, and there, succeed.

The America as Promised Land is not exactly the literal and factual America of Western geography, history, geopolitics, godly democracy, and commerce of the global kind—or so Allos as Carlos Bulosan would argue.

America, Bulosan clearly told us in that autobiographical novel-cum-history-cum-memoir is a beautiful topos where justice and peace reign. As such, America is more of a symbol, a metaphor of a dream, a vision of a kind place—in effect, a place without a place, a land without land, a geography without the borders and boundaries, a place located in the heart of each man actively looking for the good and decent and dignified life anywhere whether in the United States of America of the “red Indians” and migrants or elsewhere.

But all these strange ideas were not known to me at this stage. Like all the young rural children of the Ilocos, we would dream of going through the rites of getting rich in America like the Hawayanos in my father’s barrio, the Hawayanos going home from their sacada work in Hawaii with boxes and boxes of corned beef and sausages and oatmeal and chocolates and candies.

My father’s barrio was a tightly-knit community of clans and tribes and families all linked up by marriage and/or by sanguinity. That barrio was known for sending at least one member of the family to Hawaii to work there, to live there, to marry there, to raise a family there—but always, always, with that wild idea that the one who had the luck to get on ahead and get that visa to work and stay in America is duty-bound to “order” the others soon and fast. I remember clearly the phrase I would hear so often during each despedida: “Tawingennakaminto met, a!”

That was a hard language—a hard expression that evoked a dream and a duty. Tawing—this drawing of water from the well. I would tell myself even when I was a kid.

Images would come to me so quickly.

I have the image of water.

I have the image of a well.

I have the image of water to be drawn from the well.

I have the image of the poor barrio people all in that well waiting—and dreaming—of getting into the pail one uses to draw water from the well.

It was a life linked with water, a life fluid and flexible, inseparable from the rest.

In the tawing is the ancient clan in reality—the primal tribe speaking in earnestness and demanding recognition, insisting to be given a name, resisting change even when one family member has gone to Hawaii and has started his own family. No, marriage and its responsibilities is not the end of the tribe, the clan, and the old family. He who starts a life in Hawaii as that proverbial potential or real Hawayano has to share his Hawayano privilege and power, imagined or real, possible or fantastic. And the civil status is not a marker—never a boundary. Married or not, you bet, the whole clan is your responsibility, the whole tribe is on your shoulder, the barrio is yoked on you.

So: the manong or tata Hawayano ought to send the tuition money to the nephew of the second cousin.

He has to send the sab-ong to the erratic brother-in-law of a sister whom he sent to school but finished another M.D. instead—a marriage degree.

This was the consciousness that I was reared and nurtured into while taking in all the pangs of becoming aware of the pains of innumerable leavings and departures among the members of my father’s clan.

This experience was no better than the arrival of wooden coffins one after another in that same barrio—the coffins of young relatives who had gone to fight the war of President Marcos in Jolo or in the other parts of Mindanao, the wooden coffins shining bright in the orange Ilocos sunlight, the wooden coffins sealed for a purpose, the wooden coffins during the wake always closed and never opened and guarded by soldiers who held vigil as if they were candles without feelings or eyes or ears, unable to hear the wailings of fathers and mothers who would invariably start the dung-aw to narrate of the heroism of the dead, their heroism defined at that time by the regime and its brand and concoction of truth. This was a difficult time, not the time of peace but the time of so many occasions of going away, so many goodbyes, so many sad farewells.

But this was also a time of awakening for me: of the contradictions governing our lives, of the extremes taking hold of our future, of the polarities steeling us into facing life more fully in the round.

For those who had left earlier for Hawaii, many had been able to acquire more lands in the Didaya—and their immediate family members had better chances to improve their lot in life. They began to build stone houses like those in the ili, many as big as the stone houses left by the Spaniards when the ili was still a municipio of the whole province of Ilocos.

There were concrete proofs of the economic betterment of the families left behind. There was passion in this proof—and this spread like wildfire among the Ilocanos who had nothing better to do except to coax the parched earth of the lonely Ilocos land. I wish to advance a thesis now: That this is the same reason why Allos as Carlos Bulosan and his brothers had to convince their farmer of a father to allow them to leave for the lands beyond the seas—to the America of progress and development, to the America of every young Filipino man’s dream of the good life.

There was news of good jobs, many jobs, and high-paying jobs.

There was news of sugar cane plantations their vastness the eyes cannot measure.

There was news of canneries always looking for workers all year-round.

There was news of this idea of the good, quality, satisfying and productive life in the United States of America. It was news—and it was the idea of being news. It was also the news of an idea.

Today, many decades after, after more than half a century of wandering of Filipinos in this land of contradictions and contrasts, these news as reasons for their coming over to the USA serve as the main reasons for the continuous and unabated (im)migration of Filipinos to this land. We see them now as we have seen them before in the pages of the history of the immigration of Filipinos to this nation of immigrants.


Hydra's Haven

Let us paint the homeland in another light: the haven of a hydra.

Ancient literature tells us of a terrifying multi-headed-monster, its body that of a serpent. Its mother was a half-maiden, half-serpent; its father has 100 heads. By the law of biological inheritance, the hydra is pure terror.

The hydra, the many versions of the story tell us, has between five and 100 heads. Some say that the hydra has nine heads and one of them could not be harmed by any of the better weapons known at the time of the ancient people. If one warrior would be able to cut one head, another or two would grow on its place—and thus the hydra would become more powerful, ravaging the communities and cattle, and the people and their faith in themselves and their ability to totally destroy it.

With the beso-beso season of the political elites inaugurated after the constant flagging of the presidency has died down a bit, the hydra is reborn, resurrected, reinvigorated. It is dancing time again—and the time of the fiesta that knows no end, the fiesta of thieves and hustlers and opportunists.

With the opposition not being able to present its case with credibility because of its character flaws, their kind of social play and gaming cannot give a kick. Its argument has lost steam and the praise releases from the regime and the balimbings have begun to sing alleluia to the kings and queens and princelings of the monarchic and medieval country.

In pun, Erap Estrada the deposed president has been said of snubbing the fresh call to reconciliation by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In an interview, he even said that the sitting president would not last, that she would go the way of Marcos and him—driven out of the Palace by the dirty Pasig, Marcos on a chartered plane to Hawaii, and him on a boat to somewhere else.

The former president said that President Arroyo would be driven away from the Palace as well but this time she would go on a stroller—not on a chartered plane, not on a boat to escape the wrath of the angry mob by the Mendiola or the enclave’s narrow streets and alleyways.

So the President Arroyo is extending her hand to reach out to all her opponents.

If this act is to cauterize the chopped head of the hydra wreaking havoc on our life as a people, this is what we need to drive that hydra away from this land, pulverize it and mix it with all the typhoons that lose their destructive force on the waters surrounding the islands.

It this act is to finally cut that head of the hydra that cannot be harmed and, like Heracles, club it until it is crushed, then that is going to spell salvation to our people and to our homeland.

But when reconciliation is meant to appease the forces of evil that can afford to author destabilization and other political plots to wrest power as if these questionable acts were a screenplay to be acted on by B-class actors of heroes and pretenders, then the hydra will not die, not yet, but it will live long enough still to torment us—all of us, people in the country and people who have chosen exile as an honorable, less courageous option.

The only real and genuine reconciliation that is meant to finish off the residency of the hydra in the country’s swamplands in the corridors of power is to go to the bottom of things, crush that core problem, diagnose the disease, and say the final, definitive word—one that is sacred because it is meant for healing, one that is sanctified because it is meant for the ultimate act of redeeming the land and our people: social justice.

Social justice demands that the institutions of social life are to be arranged such that the basic demands for a full life are met: land and liberty—and food and freedom. Include here the need to account the excesses of politicians and infantile leaders—the meting of punishment for abuse of power.

For the hydra feeds on social injustice—and the hydra is none other but the people who are supposed to be our rulers, protectors, leaders.

If reconciliation does not ground itself on social justice, then, the homeland continues to be the haven of the hydra and it will continue to torment us yet in the years to come.

Inquirer, Aug 26/05


(Part 3)

Dr. Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD.

I told Ka Domeng as a counter-warning: “Dangadang is part of a quartet. There are three more coming up. Same length, a continuum.”

Even as I responded to him, the image of exiles in all of human history came to me in a flash: the Israelites sent out of the promised land; the Diaspora peoples settling in strange places; the Ilocanos coaxing earth and sun and rain in Mindanao; the Filipino service workers in the Middle East pampering the oil-rich merchants and making them feel good; the teachers nursing and nurturing other people’s children in Hong Kong, Singapore, England, Taiwan. The stone in my heart cries out: “Oh, my people, my people!”

But what scenes! What words! What concepts! What technologies of oppression! What economies of suffering! “Oh, my people! Where are you all going, my people?”

Perhaps I read so much of the social and political philosophy stuff for my undergraduate and graduate classes in philosophy in a number of seminaries I had the privilege of getting an adjunct teaching appointment for many years.

Perhaps I remained the dreamer despite more than twenty years of getting stuck up in the classroom and teaching my students various methodologies and approaches to understanding what reality is all about.

Perhaps I took some part too much of a number of useless revolutions in the homeland: the “today’s democracy: revolution” of Apo Ferdinand Marcos that went pfff; the green revolution of Imelda Marcos that turned rotten dark and dank; the yellow revolution of Cory Aquino that remained yellow and a hodge-podge of other oligarchic and dynastic colors; and the EDSA Dos revolution of so many opportunists in government and in civil society that has not brought any meaningful reforms in governance and in the distribution of the goods of social life.

Two EDSA Revolutions happened before me and I took part in both of them. Both revolutions happened in the twenty-one years that I taught college and university and helped form young minds. I watched the years go by and realized soon that both did not bring about any structural changes in the political, economic, and cultural life of my people. And the sadder fact is that I was a witness to both, that I could testify to the way these twin opportunities could have been used to effect the needed social change.

Day by day, I read stories of my people going to faraway lands, to destinations sometimes unknown just to make a difference, to figure out what is at stake for them. Some days, I read the stories of their deaths: hit by shrapnel from a suicide truck, or from a tanker blown-up, a hanging, a frame-up, getting bonkers, leaping to their deaths from a cold tower of a condominium reaching up to the heaven of heavens, a hundred lashing, an incarceration—all kinds of reasons and causes, many imagined, concocted by authorities to whitewash the police report but many too are real.

Some days I read a customary rescue by a consul or an ambassador or even a president’s husband.

Think of media mileage, good news, and public relations campaign.

Think of image management in one minute. In the meantime, my sister whose husband works as an overseas contract worker or OCW—“our cows and carabaos to the world” some pundits would spell out what that acronymic OCW means—in a military base in Guantanamo Bay, points to me the warehouse near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport where the government keeps all the arriving remains of migrant workers.

Frozen, my sister tells me. Cold like ice. Some are kept there for days and months on end for lack of documentation papers. Relatives could not just mourn and grieve and bury their dead without the documentations.

Ay, manong, my sister tells me: Talk of government neglect, inefficiency, and bureaucracy.

My sister knows the whole set-up from the heart: her brother-in-law worked in Guantanamo Bay as a handyman and died there in his sleep. Heart attack, a massive one, she recalls to me. And so the brother-in-law came home in a box and to four young children and a young wife who all had depended on him in the many years that he worked his sweat and soul away from his family. What luck!

Put together, all these stories helped inform my desire to work on that book that will try to understand what is in the stories of migrants. I hold on to the magical, enchanting, and epistemological power of stories. As a story-teller myself, a fictionist and novelist if you want—I have realized that every man’s life is a story, that in the end, stories are all we are and have and nothing more.

Published in the Inquirer, Aug 26/05

Weekly Inquirer Analysis: Joint Rule and Other Misrules

In a series of moves, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has since extended her hand for reconciliation with the opposition.

At the 22nd anniversary of the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino, we have seen a spectacular sight: President Arroyo attending mass at the memorial park where Aquino was laid to rest. In the front row with her were former President Corazon Aquino and Senator Franklin Drilon.

Never mind that Arroyo was an unexpected visitor. The elite political class’ first lesson in manners is civility in public.

Never mind too that in the heat of that presidential hullabaloo stemming from the “Hello Garci” taped conversation, Aquino called for the resignation of Arroyo.

Never mind too that the taped conversation has become an industry of production and reproduction, with both fake and the alleged genuine copies going around the country for the consumption of both the kibitzers and destabilizers.

It is the season of rains and typhoons and flashfloods in the country—and it is the season as well of the elite political class reclaiming its own once again. Here is the season for the elite political class to be saving their own kind’s skin once again in the face of the political storms and deluge.

Never mind that some were wayward—that they did some excursions in the prairie of democratic ideals, in the meadows of power.

Never mind too that many of the politicians have been so drunk with the perquisites and pelf of ruling over the lives of 84 million Filipinos—us whose only claim to the country is our remembrance of some rule and much misrule. It is no wonder that politicians keep on resurrecting—and their addiction to power knows no end. Besides, they have developed that extraordinary talent and ability to seek shelter and protection from the wrath of lightning and thunderbolts.

A presidency that has that capacity to extend the hand of reconciliation to its enemies may be described as magnanimous. This is leadership of the highest order.

Nevertheless, we need to qualify what kind of reconciliation is being offered and what are the terms.

Already, we see the leaders of organized religion with dubious intentions, rites, rituals, and practices jockeying for a position to broker the reconciliation. We only hope that these leaders will not claim that God spoke to them and that He gave them this vision to unite the warring factions of the land’s power holders.

Already, too, we hear from Sec. Mike Defensor of a peace pact between the camps of the deposed president Erap Estrada, the deposed president Ferdinand Marcos, and the sitting president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

There is something to worry about here.

While the ordinary citizens want peace—it is the dream of every man and that dream is the very reason for the existence of a society—that peace is not peace based on the mutual agreement of the parties of the ruling elite class alone.

More importantly, the peace that each Filipino deserves is one based on the pursuit of justice. Any political accommodation that will not give credence to the right of every Filipino to exact justice on the erring leaders and politicians and their pawns is out of the question.

We have yet to see who will issue an apology first: the ruling power or the opposition and its allies. When that day comes, we will be tickled to death once again since we will be reminded of the same happy-times-are-here-again antics and tactics of rulers who do not have the decency to rule. We can only laugh at our tragedies—at the tragic that is the lot of the Filipino people these days.

At the Ninoy Aquino anniversary, for instance, the picture perfect image of reconciliation and that act of making amends is already put in place.

Already, we see the presidential ambitions of Senator Franklin Drilon going into the back seat.

Already, we see the signs that he now has to wait some more time until that cha-cha comes with its quick cadences and foot works and then in that national assembly of rulers and has-beens, the lords and their fiefs, and the patrons and their protégés, the dancing will go on and on to their hearts’ content.

The problem with the presidential reconciliation with Estrada is the magnitude of the sins of his regime against the people.

We know he has denied every charge hurled against him.

We know too that the uncritical masses of our people—those who see in him only as a celluloid hero with all the redeeming and savior-like qualities and abilities—have blessed him more when they send his wife and his son to the Senate.

Therefore, we see here a scenario: Arroyo to change strategy and open to political accommodation in order for her to sail smoothly until the one among the many traditional politicians from the present Congress shall have risen to assume the throne of Prime Minister.

They are many now—the aspirants to the position and each day, their antics have become more visible. We have watched them in the past and we have seen their thirst for power: unquenchable.

The cha-cha has to do it good to assure us of the end to misrule—if that cha-cha cannot be helped in order to save the honor and dignity of the president. We know that we have to change—and the president is not only obligated to share the power with the opposition and her political foes but share the same with the people.

The people deserve the rule more—more than her deserters, her loyalists, her defenders, her enemies—and her family.


Kabanata 9

Wayawaya. Kalayaan. Kuwento ng limang henerasyon ng isang pamilya na testigo sa kasaysayan.

Simula kay Ina Wayawaya noong huling bahagi ng ika-19 na siglo hanggang kay Wayawaya sa kasalukuyan, ang kuwento ng rebolusyon ay nananatiling di tapos na dula ng buhay ng mga Filipino.

Mailap ang katubusang pangako nito. Laging lumalampas sa palad ng mga nangangarap ang kalayaan para sa inangbayan—ang buong-buong wayawaya para sa sambayanan.

Isasadula ng nobelang Wayawaya ang masalimuot na kuwento ng mga kababaihan sa pamilya Agtarap na nag-alay ng sarili para sa higit na malaking sanhi—ang wayawaya na nakabatay sa panlipunang katarungan.

Magsisimula ang kuwento sa kasalukuyan—sa People Power II—at magtatapos din sa kasalukuyan. Subalit pumapaloob ang kuwento sa iba’t ibang pook at panahon ng mga pangyayaring kinakasangkutan ng limang Wayawaya. Ang pagsasaksi ay sa kanilang puntodebista.

Limang Wayawaya ng limang henerasyon ng mga Agtarap—silang mga malay at mulat na tauhan sa di natatapos na kasaysayan ng pakikipagtunggali para sa pagkapantay-pantay, para sa kaunlaran, para sa kapayapaan.

Limang Wayawaya—limang pangarap. Limang Wayawaya—limang kuwento ng pakikibaka. Ng kaligtasan para sa sarili. Ng kaligtasan kasama ang kapwa.

Sabi sa akin ng Ina Wayawaya: Paulit-ulit ang ating masaklap na kapalaran. Paulit-ulit at mauulit-ulit.

Hindi ko siya noon maintindihan, ako na ipinanganak sa panahon ng pagpapalaganap ng wikang Ingles ng mga Amerikanong guro sa aming lugar.

Guro ko noon si Mr. Smith, isang puti at matangkad at maginoong Amerikano na laging may dalang butter ball para sa aming mga bata. 1936 na noon nang magsimula akong bumubuntot-buntot sa eskuwelahan ni Manong Manuel.

Fidela ang aking ngalan sapagkat ipinanganak daw ako nang ganun ding buwan ng kamatayan ni Manang Liwliwa, ang disin sanang Wayawaya ng aming angkan.

Sinasabi sa akin ng Ina Wayawaya noon, sa mga katagang hindi ko masyado naiintindihan, na lalaganap ang kamanhiran sa buong sambayanan. Magbabago ang ating panlasa, sabi niya.

Magbabago ang ating pagtingin.

Magbabago ang ating pandama.

Magbabago ang ating pag-apuhap sa mga bagay-bagay.

Magbabago ang ating pagsalat.

Magbabago ang ating pag-alam, pagdanas, pagbatid.

Mahuhulog tayo sa kamunoy ng ibang kabatiran at tayo ay makukulong doon, masasadlak, mababaon hanggang sa wala na tayong kakayahan umahon.

Hanggang sa wala na tayong kakayahan makaahon.

Hanggang sa matatanggap na nating bilang natural na pangyayari ang pagkabaon natin sa kamangmangan sanhi ng bagong aral na di atin, na di kayang ipaliwanag ang karanasan, ang ating isip, ang ating puso.

Maliligaw tayo, Wayawaya, aking apo.

Maliligaw ang ating kaluluwa, Fidela ng ating mga ninuno.

Tayong lahat ay mawawala ang landas.

Tinitingnan ko lamang ang aking Ina Wayawaya. May bituin ang kanyang mga mata habang siya ay nangungusap.

Nasa habian siya noon at hindi ko alam kung bakit napunta sa ganoong usapan ang aming hapon na iyon sa Santa Maria. Maliksi ang kanyang mga daliri sa pagtulak ng mga sinulid na ipapasuot sa nakaayos na sinulid na may iba’t ibang kulay. Ang sabi ay sa reyna ng piyesta daw ang hinababi ng Ina Wayawaya. Ang reyna ay asawa ng mayaman sa bayan, ang isa pang Agtarap na mayaman.

Hati na noon ang mga Agtarap: ang mga taga-away at mahihirap sa isang hati; ang mga taga-ili at mayayaman ang isa pang hati.

Sa isang angkan daw kami nagmula, kaming mga Agtarap.

Mga mandirigma.

Mga rebelde.

Mga suwail na nagbigay ng pahirap sa mga sundalong Kastila at mga prayle.

Nagmula kami sa angkan ni Aring Almazan at ang aming mga ninuno ang pumugot sa ulo ng prayleng umapi sa amin.

Saka ko nalaman ang kuwento—nung may isip na ako, nung abutan na ako ng aking unang regla at muling si Ina Wayawaya ang tumahi ng aking unang pasador.

Wala noon ang Nanang. Nasa karsel ng bayan.

Doon nakapiit ang Tatang at si Nanang ang kanyang tagapagtanggol, nakikisuyo, nakikiusap sa mga pinuno doon na pakawalan ang Tatang.

Hinuli daw ng mga Amerikanong sundalo ang Tatang habang nagpapalabas ng isang dula sa tanghalang bayan.

Isang agilang kakaiba ang pakay sa kaparangan ang kuwento ng dula.

Isang agilang suwail, ganid, matakaw.

Isang agilang hindi hinahayaang mabuhay ang ano mang maliliit na may buhay.

Si Tatang ang huhuli sa agila sa pamamagitan ng kanya ring pagsasaagila.

Tulad sa mga inaalay na mga manok na kurrarayan, alay namin sa mga di nakikita na naninirahan sa mga gubat, sa mga malalabay na puno, sa mga pahingahan, gigilitan ng Tatang ang leeg ng agila.

Lalakihan ng Tatang ang paggilit sa leeg gamit ang kanyang talunasang pamana sa kanya ng kanyang ninuno.

Si Tatang ay si Bannuar, ang kauna-unahang humingi ng ganoong pangalan sa mga Agtarap.

Sakitin si Tatang at sabi ng baglan, kelangan niyang mabinyagan. Kelangan niyang mabigyan ng bagong pangalan. Sa panaginip ay kinausap ng baglan ang kaluluwa ng Tatang.

Sabi ng kaluluwa sa panaginip: Tatawagin ninyo akong Bannuar.

Tatawagin ninyo akong Bannuar.

At nawala ang panaginip na iyon ng baglan subalit natandaan ng baglan ang ngalan.
Bannuar, sabi niya. Bannuar.

Ginanap ang antigong seremonya ng pagpapangalan at itinapon ang pangalan sa libro: Fidel. Matapat. Tapat.

Ipinalit ang Bannuar—at iyon na ang simula ng tila walang katapusan kaparusahang kakambal ng ganoong pangalan.

Ganito ang paggamit ng asado, sabi sa akin ng Ina Wayawaya.

Sa buwan ako nakatingin. Bilog na bilog ang buwan.

Kinurot ako ng Ina Wayawaya sa tagiliran, isang pinong-pinong kurot.

Opo, sabi ko. Pero noon, noon ay naaalala ko si Bannuar, ang aking kaklase sa kabilang ibayo.

Pinadalhan ako ni Bannuar ng sulat at magpahangga ngayon ay wala akong lakas loob na buksan ito.

Alam ko na ang laman at di ko na kelangan basahin pa.

Sa pahina ng lumang kuadermo namin niya isinulat ang saloobin.

Doon din niya isinulat ang kanyang mga pangarap sa buhay.

Isang matiwasay na buhay.

Isang maligayang tahanan.

Mga anak na nagsisipaglaki na walang karanasan sa pagdarahop, sa kakapusan.

At higit sa lahat, isang iling tahimik sapagkat maunlad. Isang pagiliang maunlad sapagkat makatarungan.

Heto ang pasador mo, sabi ni Ina Wayawaya.

Tiningnan ko si Ina Wayawaya. Inarok ko sa liwanag ng kanyang mga mata ang katotohanang nakatago sa kayang pagiging saksi sa mga naganap sa sambayanan, siya at sa kanyang angkan, siya at sa mga mandirigmang nag-alay ng buhay para sa isang simulain sinlaki ng mga bundok, mga pangarap, nga panaginip.

At sa tag-init na iyon, kinuha ko ang palangganang yari sa kahoy, ang palangganang inukit ni Tatang sa molave. Kinuha ko lahat ang mga labahan at binagtas ang masukal na daan patungong ilog.

Sa ilog ako maglalaba. Doon magpapalublob ng kalabaw si Bannuar, ang pangalawang Bannuar na sasanib sa aming angkan. Alam ko, alam ko, sa kaibuturan ng aking puso, alam ko, alam ko. Si Bannuar ay mag-aalay ng buhay para sa bayan. Ganun din na iaalay niya ang buhay sa bayan.

Doon sa surong, nang unang araw ng tag-init, nakita ko ang mga kabinataan. Pila-pila sila sa isang matandang may hawak na talunasan.

Naglolokohan sila, nagsisigawan.

Nandoon din Manong Manuel. Tinanong ko kung ano ang nangyayari sa surong.

Ngumisi lamang ang Manong Manuel. Pagkatapos ay lumakad ng papakang-pakang.

Nandoon si Bannuar, sabi sa akin ni Manong Manuel. Nanguna sa pilahan. Nag-aaral nang maging tao.

Nagngata ng bayabas.

Lumuluhod sa subukan.

Pagkatapos nun ay malalaman niya ang maraming kababalaghan.

Sabay tawa si Manong Manuel.

Alam niya, alam niya ang sulat sa akin ni Bannuar. Siya ang nagbigay sa akin ng sulat, ginawa siyang mensahero ni Bannuar.

May kung anong init na gumapang sa aking katawan.
Bannuar, sabi ko.

Bannuar ng ili, Bannuar ng pagilian.

Muli kong nakita sa hiraya ang bituin sa buhok ng aking Ina Wayawaya. At nakita ko ang aking Nanang, siya at si Tatang sa kulungan ng bayan.

Nalathala sa Inquirer, Ag 26/05


The basket case that is the Philippines is one of a kind. Satirist and comedians have popularized a phrase for the pathological condition the country is in at this time: “onli in da Philippines.”

The phrase is instructive. It suggests the guts of the Filipinos to face head-on the odds; it suggests as well their gumption to search for a way to get out of the rut the whole nation is mired in.

On second thought, though, the onli-in-da-Philippines linguistic claim to extraordinariness is some kind of a misrepresentation.

In that phrase is the gall that many politicians possess, a conditio sine qua non to their being politicians in the first place. You have the gall to lie and cheat and deprive people of their dignity and self-respect, you become a politician.

This is the reason why those who have the integrity and self-worth choose to stay away from anything that has something to do with defending the presidency, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the other social institutions that have become a laughingstock to the world that values what democracy is all about. Take the military and the Comelec anytime as prime examples.

The gall of politicians and play-acting leaders is to claim leadership roles that do not exist because their roles have never been part of their political agenda for greatness.

The charade that is democracy, Philippine-style is, in reality, its being a democracy of the same beneficiaries of the unjust arrangement of the basic social institutions.

It is a democracy of misappropriation with the elite class owning the fruits of labor of those who cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars in order to authenticate the “Hello Garci tape.”

It is, at best, a misnomer, as it is a democracy of the elite class qua political and economic class.

We do a quick accounting of the politician’s genealogy of power—not to mention morals—and we see clearly that the gall to become a politician is definitely part of faux art that is not different from that abominable “art” of con persons, whether in the Philippines or abroad. They lie to our faces and they call that care and concern.

The politicians have the gall to highjack the Filipino people of their fundamental rights to jobs and justice, food and freedom, land and liberty. Deny these rights to people and they find the way out of hell. Curtail the right of the people to a decent home and a full meal and they go find these even in the ends of the earth.

In the news, for instance, is that terrible fact that for the last three years beginning 2002, about half a million of the country’s brightest and most skilled professionals have left the country for greener pastures in foreign shores.

To think that these professionals are the greatest human and intellectual resource of the country makes the situation tragic—and ironical.

It is tragic because the resource is scarce and yet the country does not have access to it even if, in fact, it owns it.

It is ironical because other economies get to have access to this resource and this access boosts their productive capability.

We allude to a brain drain in the 70s when the only way out of the hell that resulted from the kleptocracy of the regime at that time was to seek work abroad.

Now this brain drain comes visiting us again as if in a cycle, as if part of a reassuring rhythm that when kleptocracy has replaced democray, the price of redemption will always be the exodus of those who have the means to go away—and to go away quickly.

But this is not easy—but a life’s text filled with difficulty. To go away from the familiar place is to accept the wages of disorientation and dislocation and depression. It takes guts and gumption to take this alternative of figuring a way out. In many ways, this could be the way of cowards. But all told, this can be justified. The first of the moral principles is to survive.

We do not see an end to this exodus. Unless we see a promise of redemption in more meaningful and concrete terms, we will continue to see the Filipino diaspora in alarming numbers.

With the gall of politicians to deprive us of what is guaranteed by the Constitution such as the right to live fully, many of the most brilliant of Filipinos will always find a way out.

Well, we can only hope they will not.

Published in the Weekly Inquirer, Aug 19/05



There is a poem about a blind man touching the parts of an elephant. The blind man calls the abdomen of the animal wall.

There is also this movie about that dichotomy between good and evil and the villain says: Words—words are all that matter.

Put two and two together and we are headed to that slippery character of truth most especially when we refer to the truth being vended as some kind of a testament covenanting the politicians in the home country and the unsuspecting masses.

The truth as the politician’s commodity is packaged in accord with the highest advertising and promotional standards, with endorsers no less whose only claim to leadership is either their outright dash and daring to inflict pain and suffering on our people or their being heir to power once held by their notorious elders.

We need to translate here the meaning of the politicians’ capability of demonstrating outright dash and daring: shameless, walang hiya.

There is no reassuring rhythm in this endless social drama about our affections for the play-acting leaders. The lies tell us all what we can expect in the coming days: more play-acting, more charges and counter-charges, more suits and counter-suits, more media mileage and exposure, more call for sobriety addressed to us ordinary citizens even as we are bombarded with the inanity of the national situation.

Truth in the last few days has been the handiwork of public relations specialists and spin-and-spawn doctors—they who have been paid handsome amounts to re-make the image and public persona of their clients from the barangay to the Palace by the Pasig.

Truth in the last few days has also been in accord with the words of witnesses—and defenders--from both warring camps. Thus, we have become plain consumers of what these people have seen, heard, felt, tasted—but not necessarily known with integrity.

Knowledge we can hold on to with that sense of plausibility is what should be the net-effect of seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, tasting.

But we question whether we have this kind of knowledge in the number of witnesses presented by the actors of the social drama that is unfolding before us, a social drama with a sordid and bleak and grim and ugly quality.

Many of the testimonies we got to know from those who have seen and heard some of the backroom dealings of the power holders are sordid and bleak and grim and ugly as well.

The sordidness of these testimonies is grounded on the fact that they can be recanted after some time that we do not know whether some robots or zombies or parrots have the capacity to resurrect or take possession of the lips of these unreliable and unstable wordsmiths.

They are not unreliable and unstable because they use words.

They are unreliable and unstable because they do not respect words as word-becoming-world.

These witnesses have lost sight of the primordial nature of word as language, that universal instrument that makes it possible for people to think and think again, to know his world and know himself, to test his knowledge against the falsities of other knowledge.

In the social drama that has started to unravel, we see the oppositionists guilty of the same sin of omission and commission of the ruling power.

We learn of some tactics that is not only a case of black propaganda but desperate, with so much money changing hands.

Where does the grease money come from—the money that guarantees the robotization of the human mind of the supposedly human witnesses?

Who is preparing the script for these robots and zombies to sound and appear credible?

Are these witnesses not phantoms and ghosts and non-entities lurking in the dark shadows?

Are these witnesses the handiwork of puppeteers, the strings on their hands and legs extending invisibly but with mechanical predictability to their brains, lips, mouths, eyes that when put together can say, with correct pitch, tone, and timber that they love the country so much—their love for the country more than the love they have reserved for themselves—that they are compelled to say their piece that will save their country from perdition?

There is one solution to the unreliability and instability of the logic and language—the testimony—of these witnesses. They all should be subjected to lobotomy so that they will not have the chance to recant before the highest bidder.

We can only think of the connection between money and truth-making, between economic benefits and lie-telling.

This lie-telling phenomenon ought to be copyrighted and then transformed into one of the industries of the political and economic elites. The return on investment here is certainly high—and it will assure them of their seats in the chambers and corridors of power.

Before the regime of lies was the regime of truth.

In this regime, word was covenant: you only needed to tell you piece and that seals the social contract. No one can break that—the sacred word is the only thing that can break the seal.

This is witnessing—it is living one’s word.

The witnesses that have shocked our sensibilities do not seem to live their own word.

The truth of their word is seasonal, temporal, tentative and contingent upon what the sly master has to say, the master who thinks that the salvation of the world and the country is in his hands.

Because the witnesses—bribed and paid and coaxed or not—do not know anymore the meaning of the sacred in the word, they will continue to haunt us in the coming days.

But the Filipino people now know better—in the same way they have known that it does not make sense calling another EDSA because the oppositionists say so.

It is the same sense and reason the Filipino people did not do another EDSA not because President Arroyo asked them not to.

Theirs is witnessing of the higher order; there is living the sacred word covenanting them with the truth they have in their heart. As such, the future is with them, not with the incredible witnesses of false covenants and false testaments.

Published in the Weekly Inquirer, Aug 19/05


Wayawaya-Kabanata 8

Wayawaya. Kalayaan. Kuwento ng limang henerasyon ng isang pamilya na testigo sa kasaysayan.

Simula kay Ina Wayawaya noong huling bahagi ng ika-19 na siglo hanggang kay Wayawaya sa kasalukuyan, ang kuwento ng rebolusyon ay nananatiling di tapos na dula ng buhay ng mga Filipino.

Mailap ang katubusang pangako nito. Laging lumalampas sa palad ng mga nangangarap ang kalayaan para sa inangbayan—ang buong-buong wayawaya para sa sambayanan.

Isasadula ng nobelang Wayawaya ang masalimuot na kuwento ng mga kababaihan sa pamilya Agtarap na nag-alay ng sarili para sa higit na malaking sanhi—ang wayawaya na nakabatay sa panlipunang katarungan.

Magsisimula ang kuwento sa kasalukuyan—sa People Power II—at magtatapos din sa kasalukuyan. Subalit pumapaloob ang kuwento sa iba’t ibang pook at panahon ng mga pangyayaring kinakasangkutan ng limang Wayawaya. Ang pagsasaksi ay sa kanilang puntodebista.

Limang Wayawaya ng limang henerasyon ng mga Agtarap—silang mga malay at mulat na tauhan sa di natatapos na kasaysayan ng pakikipagtunggali para sa pagkapantay-pantay, para sa kaunlaran, para sa kapayapaan.

Limang Wayawaya—limang pangarap. Limang Wayawaya—limang kuwento ng pakikibaka. Ng kaligtasan para sa sarili. Ng kaligtasan kasama ang kapwa.

Mula ito sa mga kuadernong naiwan ni Padre Ili sa kanilang kumbento sa Krus na Ligas bago tuluyang sumanib sa kilusang lihim:

Enero 1981, Manila

Dito ko isusulat ang lahat ng aking naiisip tungkol sa maraming mga bagay. Sa sarili. Sa lipunan. Sa mundo. Sa buhay. Tungkol sa realidad na tila napakahirap arukin.

Nangako ngayong araw na ito na babawiin na ni Pangulong Marcos ang Batas Militar na nagpahirap sa maraming mamamayan.

Kung meron man naidulot na kabutihan ang ganitong uri ng rehimen, ito ay ang pagpunla ng takot sa dibdib ng mga tao.

Alam ko ang tunay na dahilan ng pagbawi sa Batas Militar: Ayaw masira ni Pangulong Marcos ang kanyang reputasyon bilang tagapagpatupad ng kahingian ng mabuting buhay.

Parating ang santo papa upang simulan ang proseso ng pagsasasanto ng Lorenzo Ruiz ng Binondo. Sa pagdating ng santo papa sa Manila, dito ang magiging sentro ng atensyon ng buong mundo.

Ismarte is Marcos. Naniniwala sa mga imahe na likha ng midya, na likha ng mga manlilikha ng kapalsuhan, na likha ng mga konsorte ng korte, ng mga alipores ng palasyo, ng mga tagapagsilbi sa kapangyarihan.

Mga imaheng nagpapakita ng kadakilaan ng kanyang isip tulad ng kanyang made-to-order na iskolarsyip, mga librong gawa ng mga mukhang pera sa unibersidad ng estado, mga akademikong naniwala sa kabulaanan ng pangulo, mga propesor na hinunghang ng kanilang pagdakila sa pangulo, siya na gumamit sa mga utak ng mga may utak kapalit ng posisyon at pagkilala sa kakayahan, siya na marunong sa lahat ng mga marunong sa pang-uuto sa mga bayaran at mga may presyo.

Ang unibersidad ng estado ay nakulong sa ganitong pagsang-ayon.

Ang mga nakakita ng mga kabulaanan ay nagsabi ng totoo, naghimagsik, nakipaglaban.

Marami sa kanila ang namatay at pinatay, kinulong at tinortyur.

Marami rin ang namundok, nagtungo sa kanayunan sa pag-aakalang naroon sa nayon ang butil ng pambansang katubusan.

Sa kabila ng hirap na dinanas sa kamay ng mga berdugo ng pananampalataya ay nagawa pa ring ipahayag ni Lorenzo Ruiz ng Binondo ang kanyang paniniwala sa Poon.

Ang katumbas ng pagpapahayag sa paniniwalang iyon ay ang kanyang buhay. Tulad ng mga tinotortyur ng mga tauhan ni Pangulong Marcos—mga gradwado sa akademya military sa Bagyo karamihan—tinortyur din si Lorenzo Ruiz, ibinitin patiwarik, inilublob sa balon ng paulit-ulit.

Paulit-ulit ding ipinahayag ni Lorenzo Ruiz ng Binondo ang kanyang pananampalataya.

Ang mga paraan ng pagtortyur ay iba-iba. Pawang malikhain, pawang ginamitan ng utak.

Naroon ang pagkuryente sa ari habang pinapaupo sa bloke ng yelo. Sa ganito pinahirapan si Lorenzo, ang aking kaklaseng itinumba ng mga berdugo ng Batas Militar.

Naroon ang pananakit sa pamamagitan ng pagbugbog habang ang preso ay nakatali ang mga kamay at paa. Sa ganyan namatay si Deus, ang aking kasamahan sa hanay ng mga kabataan.

Nariyan ang pagkulong sa preso sa isang bartolinang ang tanging lagusan ng hangin ay isang maliit ng butas sa makapal na sementadong dingding. Sa ganyan nasiraan ang ulo ang isang ketekista ng simbahan.

May utak ang kalaban ng katotohanan at katarungan. Malalim mag-isip ng mga paraan upang magapi ang totoo. Katulad sila ng mga batang sundalong pinag-aral ng mga mamamayan sa akademya militar upang pagkatapos ay magiging numero unong mang-aapi ng mga mamamayan.

Nang ipatupad ang Batas Militar noong 1972, marami ang naniwala sa kadakilaan ng ganoong kapasyahan ng Pangulo Marcos.

Inambus si Ministro Enrile bago pa man.

Panay din ang protesta at rali at ang galit at ngalit ng mga mamamayan ay di na kayang ikulong pa sa ilusyon.

Nangangawala ang bigas, nangangawala ang dangal.

Nangangawala ang trabaho, nangangawala ang hustisya para sa karamihan.

Nangangawala ang bukid, nangangawala ang kalayaan, inaangkin at inaangkat ng mga makapangyarihan.

Kaya hindi na nakatiis si Lorenzo, ang aking kasamahan.

Sumali sa lihim na kilusan. Una, sa prente ng mga kabataan hanggang sa lumalim ang kaalaman sa rebolusyon. Di naglaon, nasa prente na ng mga manggagawa sa mga pabrika sa Kamaynilaan.

Taga-organisa ng mga hanay, ang trabaho ay magpaliwanag tungkol sa kalagayan ng bansa, ang sitwasyon ng sambayanan, ang kahingian ng rebolusyon, ang dahilan kung bakit kailangang maipatupad ang rebolusyon.

Nasa seminaryo pa ako noon. Sa gitna ng mga alalahanin sa pag-aaral sa kung meron nga bang Panginoon at kung meron nga ba ay bakit kayraming hindi kumakain ng husto at sapat, naiinggit na ako noon kay Lorenzo.

Kaya niyang magpasya para sa sarili.

Kaya niyang harapin ang hamon ng rebolusyon.

Kaya niyang ipahayag ang pananampalataya sa paraang di pangkaraniwan.

Walang ama si Lorenzo, parang galing sa kawalan, sabi ng mga pari sa aming seminaryo.

Minsan isang araw, nakita na lang daw sa harap ng simbahan, nababalutan ng lamping yari sa katsang nag-aanunsiyo ng “Harina para sa masa. Alay ng mga mamayan ng Estados Unidos sa mga mamamayan ng Pilipinas.”

Duguan ang pusod, tahimik lamang daw si Lorenzo na dinedede ang hinlalaki na animo’y nakakakuha doon ng katiwasayan at kabusugan.

Inampon ng kumbento si Lorenzo, inaruga bilang anak ng kumbento at sa paglaki, walang nakakaalam kung saan siya nanggaling, kung sino ang kanyang ina, kung sino ang kanyang ama.

Ang sabi ng mga tsismoso ay anak siya ng isa sa mga pari roon sa isang madreng umalis sa pagkamadre sapagkat natutong mamundok at makisalamuha sa mga mamamayan.

Yan ang sabi sa akin ni Lorenzo isang araw na nakasama kami sa hanay ng mga nagsisiprotesta laban sa rehimeng Marcos.

Nasa tapat kami noon ng Welcome Rotunda at dahil pinigil kami ng mga military dahil wala daw kaming permiso upang ihayag an aming damdamin laban sa pamahalaan, naupo sami sa gutter. Sa sinag ng tirik na araw at sa basbas ng aming mga pawis, nag-usap kami tungkol sa alternatibong pagkilos ng mga katulad namin.

Doon ko nakita ng buong-buo ang kahungkagan ng aming buhay bilang mga relihiyoso, mga benepisyaryo ng pananampalataya.

At habang pinapalayas kami ng mga militar dahil wala kaming permisong sumigaw ng
“Imperyalismo! Ibagsak!” sinabi sa akin ni Lorenzo na tuluyan na siyang papalaot sa larangan ng paghihimagsik.

“Magpupultaym na ako, bro,” sabi sa akin habang ipinapasayaw ang kanyang karatulang “Batas Militar! Buhaw-buhaw!”

Kinaumagahan ng pagdating ng santo papa upang basbasan ang unang proseso ng pagsasasanto ng Lorenzo Ruiz ng Binondo, si Lorenzo ay natagpuang bangkay sa liblib na lugar ng Binangonan.

Butas ang kanyang tagiliran, walang saplot ang duguang katawan. Isinilang si Lorenzo ng ganoon. Ganoon din siya namatay.

Habang isinisigaw ko ang “Totus Tuus! Totus Tuus!” para kay santo papang di duguan ang katawan, naiisip ko ang hatak ng rebolusyon sa mga kabataan.

“Totus Tuus! Totus Tuus!” sigaw ng mga tao sa palaruan ng unibersidad na iyon ng mga prayleng kasama ng kapatiran ng mga nagbasbas sa mga sumakop sa atin.

Hinayaan kong mabingi sa ganoong sigaw.

Inilathala ng Inquirer, Ag. 19/05


(Part 2)

In the first part of this essay on migrant life in the United States, I wrote about my coming-into-an-awareness of what awaits the (im)migrant in this country and perhaps elsewhere. I was, of course, zeroing on the Filipino experience of (im)migrant life in the US.

I wrote that in graduate school, I did a rereading of Carlos Bulosan and realized that the metaphors of “land of milk and honey” and “greener pasture” are true to some extent but are also false to some extent. The migrant’s life is a metaphor of sorts, a metaphor of a country wishing it were something else. It is a metaphor of a private soul going public, exposing the tall tales of milk and honey and golden treasure and narrating the pains of taking roots.

But back to the book on (im)migrant life that I would write. This book was the raison d’etre of my coming to America. My university wanted me to push through with the project and one Philippine summer, a day after turning over all the grade sheets and test papers and class cards, I flew to Honolulu on my way to some other immigrant communities in the US mainland.

I remember that when I came to the United States for the first time, I talked in a conference of language educators and scholars about the value of heritage language. I elaborated on the pedagogical requisites of including the epistemological and cosmological realities embedded in the heritage language in order for the second language learner to learn about the cultural categories and concepts used in the language to be learned. I explored this in the way Ilokano language and literature is to be taught and demonstrated how that could be done with much success. If there is one university in the world that takes pride in its innovative concepts on heritage language appreciation and teaching, it is the University of Hawaii. That conference introduced me to a world other than my Ilokano world as I touched based with other Pacific Islander languages.

The next time I came, I talked in another conference on the necessity of studying exilic texts written by Filipinos if only to understand the complex nature of exilic life. So here I was coming full circle with my obsession on the Filipino Exile and Diaspora theme to rationalize my analyzing narratives of exclusion. With my coming back to the United States—with my returning to America to write that book on the life of Filipino immigrants and Filipino Americans—the book was taking shape in my mind—and in my dream.

I would daydream and in the dream I would title my book with “Philippine Exilic Narratives in America: Negotiating Identity, Transacting Nationhood.”

I would be the quintessential social researcher and ethnographer, with notebooks in tow, pencil and pen on the ready, alert on so many things crucial and not so. This is the way of the fieldworker, the researcher who goes to where the action is, become himself an agent in the production of what could be purported as a liberating knowledge.

I would come and live in the America of (im)migrants, connect with the struggling nandarayuhan, the excluded exiles, listen to them, record their stories, and retell these stories in the way I thought it best: Each story-teller listening to himself telling his own story, his manner and mode of telling consciously preserving his voice, intelligently structuring his history in accord with his own sense of meaning and truth. No, I would not intervene in his manner of telling except for some artistic and communicative considerations.

I would want the voice to be there, the texture of the telling to be there, the tone of the narrative to be there.

I would sharpen my listening skills, mark out nonverbal cues, and pursue leads the way a disjunctive logician does.

I would eliminate those narrative clues that would not lead to a productive telling and retelling of the migrant’s story in order to preserve the grander story that I would be after: his story of surviving America.

That was the grand plan: to come to America and execute the research.
To come to America and write that definitive book on the Filipino Diaspora that seems to have no end.

In the meantime, four days before my departure for Honolulu, I went to Laoag to direct a national teacher training institute, deliver a professorial lecture on my novel Wayawaya, and facilitate the workshop with the help of colleagues at the state university in Diliman. The colleagues are literary historians and critics who know Iluko literature the way they know the back of their hand: Dr. Adel Lucero, Dr. Noemi Rosal, Dr. Marot Flores, and Prof. Derick Galam. Galam has since left the university and has taken the route to self-exile by working in London. In the institute, I presented concept papers and methodologies to approaching exilic texts in general, and Iluko exilic texts in particular. I had, of course, the book in my head—always imagining it as the definitive book about some other exile’s experience—and never my own. I did not know that I would be a subject matter of the book as well.

While the teachers’ institute was going on, I was at the same time absorbed in my thoughts about the book. It paid that resident experts on Iluko life at the Mariano Marcos State University helped me in facilitating the institute. It paid that Dr. Visitacion Mamuad was there; it paid that Dr. Onofrecia Ibarra was there as well. Both are the pillars of Ilokano studies in that university, if ever there was one.

One expert, Dr. Shirley Mina, served as encargada primera while my thoughts took me to Hawaii, Guam, California, Alaska, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Texas, and Arizona—to the very lands setting the spatial dynamics of American Adobo and partly that of Tanging Yaman, two films that have somehow successfully portrayed the life of Filipino exiles.

I would create and recreate the lands of the exiles: the farmlands of Hawaii, the recreation spots and hotels and resorts of Guam, the canneries of Alaska, the farmlands and care home of California, Arizona, Hawaii, New York, and Texas.

I would cry in my thought, cry out loud like a stone crying out in the Old Testament of the exiled “people of God”: “Oh, my people, my people!”

I would imagine how the book would look like: the cover red, a flaming one, with some shades of blue and yellow superimposed by an alibata of freedom and justice and fairness and humanity. The inside pages would be newsprint, the cheapest kind so that in this way I would be able to redeem myself from that novel Dangadang that is sold in the market for six hundred pesos. Dangadang is the first novel in the history of Philippine letters to be priced that much according to Dr. Domingo Landicho. That meant I would not expect much royalty from Philippine readers since it was not affordable by Philippine standards, what with the purchasing power always going down. Dr. Landicho said, “You better trim down your pages or else no one will ever buy you much less read you.”

But I had other thoughts other than listening to what Dr. Landicho was saying.

The thoughts of Filipinos in Stockton, California would come rushing.

The thoughts of the farmhands in Oahu would seduce me and entice me to go after them.

I thought of beginning my excursion with the story of Manong Amado Yoro, his story of surviving the sugar cane fields.

I thought of beginning with how Manong Loring Tabin took root in Utah by accounting how he survived California with his plain guts. Or that Terry Tugade who wrote that novel, White Gold, by just simply imagining where Alaska is and imagining as well its abused workers in the canneries and then abruptly exiled his writing when he decided to migrate to the United States.

Well, there were many beginnings. But the writing had to begin somewhere.

Published in The Weekly Inquirer, August 19/05; some earlier portions published in Life Today USA, 2003.

Pannakabukel ti TMI Global

Maipakaammo met ti pannakabukel ti TMI Global a pagsisinnarakan dagiti amin a mannurat nga Ilokano iti intero a lubong, uray no sadino a sulinek.

Kas iti TMI America, ti pannakaitandudo ti Literatura Ilokana ti kaskenan a panggep ti TMI Global.

Rakraken ti TMI Global dagiti beddeng iti utek, iti heograpia, iti naggapuan a tribo wenno away wenno ili wenno probinsia wenno pagadalan wenno ania man ditan a konsepto a mangwarawara kadagiti mannurat nga Ilokano.

Ketdi, ipapilit ti TMI Global ti pannakarebba dagiti amin a pader ken beddeng ti panagsurat nangnangruna no dagiti ikurkur-it ket pakaseknan ti LI.

Ditoy a mabalabala--kas met laeng iti pannakabalabala dagiti muhon a konsepto iti TMI America--dagiti kapampanunotan maipapan iti kinaasinno ni Ilokano, maipapan iti lengguahe ni Ilokano, maipapan iti kultural a praktisna, maipapan iti padasna a kas makikappeng iti maysa nga etnolingguistik a grupo.

Adu dagiti muhon a konsepto a pangrugian ti maysa diskurso maipapan iti global a padas ni Ilokano.

Ipangpangruna ti TMI Global ti pannakabigbig kadagiti gapuanan ni Ilokano iti benneg ti panagsuratan ken kaarngi a kultural a praktis.

Ala, dumaw-askayo pay ngarud.

A. S. Agcaoili

Another Border Crosser is Dead

Another border
crosser is dead.
The Los Angeles Times
calls it death
& deliverance.
It is the peak
of summer
& the heat kills
even the dream
of the good life
as is the case
of this mother
who could not go on
who could not run away
who could not walk
another mile
just another mile away
from the preying birds
from the praying patrons
of her forsaken land.
I have not yet
gone to mass
to ask for grace
when I saw her father,
his back to the reader
reaching out
to the merciless sun
& surrounded by cacti
that thrive on
the barrenness of the Phoenix
as if the riddler
is just around
asking quixotic questions
about resurrecting
from the graveyard
from all those
that yoke us
to the ground.
Her father roams
in quiet grief
the empty spaces
between a last hope
& its absence.
This is her story,
the young Mexican mother,
two young children in tow
crossing the border
between trying to live
& resisting to die
between hunger
& want
between a dollar
in the pocket
& a peso promised
by political leaders.
In Mexico, there is hunger
in much the same way
we have nothing
in my homeland.
This is why we always
run away, run, run, run, run, run
to where the idea
of life is.
To America, for instance,
in this northern part
where the lunch buffet
is the standard
for pigging out
to eating to your
heart's content
until the only act
you can do
is vomit
is vomit
is vomit
& vomit
& vomit
& vomit
some more
some more
some more.
You pay the equivalent
of half a sack of rice
in Payatas in my famished Manila
& you choose
between so much
& so much more
you do not know
what to pick
to stuff your mouth
to masticate
with dining etiquette
the way the pretenders
of Malibu
of Hollywood
of Tijuana & its smugglers
of Ayala Alabang & its cheats
do, they who have so much
w/o having done anything
to plant a seed
to plant goodness
in their hearts.
& so we cry
to dry our eyes
of the dam of tears
welling up,
we cry for mothers
to cross borders
the borders of our trying
to cross more
border to cross more
to give a chance
to our dream
of food aplenty,
just food
for the body,
just for the body,
never mind,
never mind the soul,
just for the bored
bruised, brutalized body
so that the children
would live
to learn laughter
after taking a full meal.
Such is our story,
we who cross borders,
we border crossers,
in life or
in life after.

A. S. Agcaoili
Carson, CA
Aug 10/05
11:00 PM

Metaphor Man and Migrant, I

I wish to share with all the visitors of this site this piece, "Metaphor Man and Migrant, I". This piece won 2nd place at the 2005 Palanca Awards for Essay in English. This is my story as a metaphor man in flesh and a migrant in blood.


By Aurelio S. Agcaoili

I am a metaphor man and migrant. I write metaphors to live—and I have become a migrant of another land. Twenty years of higher education teaching, two years of this latest EDSA Revolution, and the long and arduous decades of waiting for democracy to bear fruit have prompted me to move out of the country for a while. I now carry an OFW Card with the glowing morning sun on the left, the hero in his coat in the middle, and a white dove reaching out to the spaces beyond on the right. I am Bagong Bayani Number 03-4569525. And I am sad.

A former student in the radical movement once emailed me and asked me one question with the finality of a verdict meant for the dark chambers in the Munti: “Why? Why did you leave?” This could have easily been the ultimate why asked of someone who has committed a big blunder for reasons beyond the logic of the popular and the proper. And then that declaration of a double whammy: “I learned my metaphors from you and now you abandoned us.” I looked at the computer screen. The words were menacing, the sentence a real one—a sentence, indeed: univocal and singular,

It is not easy assuming a new position and negotiating a new identity after long years of living under the security of the academe and books, the certainties of syllabi and course outlines, and the prestige that go with getting that toga with the sablay and the insignia that bestow upon you some forced recognition from colleagues and the world outside the classroom. Professor this, doctor that, writer this, award-winning that. And more: this metaphor man of a poet wrote about the brutal mercies of Martial Law and he stood his ground. You bet: the resume of the metaphor man and now migrant gets to be richer each time as the recognition—sometimes from incestuous intellectual relationships—multiplied. The perks could never be inconstant. And so is the pelf, the power, the personal aggrandizement.

But when the metaphor man in a new land has negotiated his identity and has assumed the legal personality of an OFW, the honorifics end and nobody ever cares what his principles were as he formed minds, critiqued thought, and revitalized consciences. Who cares about what letters he now puts after his last name? These might as well look like the notorious SLN—sa lungkot namatay. Or the other notorious big L in the mind of the wild man on the furlough for what pleasure the peso can buy. Or the more morbid acronyms that you find in entrances of tombs, promising rest in the quiet and peace of the graveyard or some kind of an eternal sleep in the home of a muted and silenced creator somewhere.

In the state university, you got the psychic rewards teaching the committed and the non-committal but at the end of the day, you go back home and face squarely the domestic issues that have nothing to do with academic excellence and intellectual pursuit but concern you as you worry about the decreasing possibility of putting food on the table: crude oil and gasoline whose importers and commerce-men have forgotten the meaning of price rollback; the transportation fare that eats up more than one-fourth of the daily wage when the worker has the capability to cling on the jeepney’s extended parts during the rush hours and more when he sometimes takes the Metro or the mega-taxi to catch on some sleep between work and home; the eternal galunggong playing hide-and-seek games with presidents and housewives, the former declaring that henceforth the great GG would no longer suffer the dictates of market forces, and the latter endlessly complaining of the fish’s unpredictable freshness and price; the antics of acting leaders—the appellation stressed--and their factotum confidently announcing the coming of the new morning for all Filipinos who could afford to hold vigil before corpses and wax icons of salvation, in Honolulu and elsewhere, in Santo Domingo and elsewhere, in Batac and elsewhere.

You get tired teaching the whole day, you get tired listening to the newscast on what is best for the Filipinos according to the wit and wisdom of those who have seen the fullness of revelation and you just sleep it off hoping that the dark would give you strength and love and grace and perseverance.

Twenty years of the same and you get stressed out and you want out. One can only take in so much of the same—to justify your leaving the land of your birth, to rationalize in your mind that something has to give somewhere, to explain to your activist first child that you have finally called it quits with the land because you have to earn the tuition money so he can go on with joining his teenage and youthful rallies and exposures with the suffering masses in faraway villages where trees are logged and are never replaced.

You couch that of course with polite metaphors and you say, with the cadence and the rhythm of an alleluia for the rising-to-life-again of the small messiah of the heart that bleeds because it understands the sorrows of going away from the nameless and faceless and numberless masses that have known nothing else but suffering throughout the ages:

This is for you, son, a poet

Of the people lost a long time ago.

Evenings here come early in the autumn

And I read your email announcing

Your coming into the dark dawns.

We are a people with no memory, I know.

We are a people with no story, you know.

Together we string the litanies

Of failed tunes because hunger has

Raped our throat with a singsong

We borrow from the eclipse of moons.

Perseverance was my clue to having stayed put for twenty years as a teacher, writer, father, husband, socially-conscious advocate of human rights, non-government organization leader, book writer, storyteller, a poet of some sort—a metaphor man, if you so wish. It was a result of a conditioning in the brain of what was needed to survive religious life—a life I tried to entertain, with much anguish, for a number of years.

Persevere, persevere, a grandaunt of a nun who was mistress of novices would always tell me, sometimes would write to me from her convent secluded from the burdens of the everyday.

Persevere, persevere, some other relatives in the religious life would tell me.

Persevere, persevere, friends of friends would tell me.

Each day of perseverance became weeks; the weeks became months; the months became years—and then in one full sweep, one day after Ninoy Aquino got assassinated by falsehood and ambition and the dictatorship of unreason and delusion of grandeur—I finally called it quits.

Within convent walls, I could not speak of metaphors, I could not catch the metaphors, I could not create the metaphors, I could not seize the metaphors. The religious mind with the vows was regimented, compartmentalized, fragmented. This mind was in a kind of a limbo, a reclusion perpetua, a Gulag, a monastery of dying to your senses so that the sensuous is seen as evil, earthly, mundane, and transient. That is why poets are killed in monasteries and seminaries—or they allow themselves to be killed. In my getting out of my walled world, I resolve to be a migrant of this world and to will to create metaphors from words to create a renewed world.

In the twenty years that I kept my footing in the land of my birth, I have talked of some form of a gospel from within when, in the finality of that inspiration coming from some light, we would soon realize where we were and therefore project where we were going. That was neat—and it kept me grounded, rooted, rational.

Or so I thought.

So each day I formed metaphors of being rooted. And I thought of the metaphors of being grounded. And I created metaphors of helping save the land that was now about to collapse. I would scribble on my notebook some metaphors that soothed my wandering soul—and then the thought of wandering would lose its novelty and its capability to incite me to rebellion:

David sashays before Alvarez

And the putschists

Laugh the numbness of prophets.

These are the doomsayers of smoke.

The harvester’s final act,

He who makes burial plots out of planed furrows.

This is also the gift of life

To the harbingers of apocalypse at Libis.

One time, and this haunts me now as I read the accounts of the wars in Iraq, an incident of salvaging hit me hard. I was a young instructor in a college seminary and the euphoria of the first EDSA was still at its height. A few months back, Kris Aquino before she become the Kris Aquino of the showbiz industry, cut the ceremonial ribbon for the opening of that center of formation of the metaphorically castrated and figuratively celibate Filipino young men who would dedicate themselves to the cause of social justice and freedom and liberty and equality—big words that they read from Thomas Aquinas to John Rawls and the other political philosophers who meant well for all of humanity.

Kris Aquino cut the ribbon and I put her on the cover of that mission magazine I edited and that announced the formation center’s slogan of serving the poor and the sick. It had not been a year after the People Power revolution and the word coup d’ etat was just becoming familiar until eventually it became fashionable when some soldiers who laid siege on our rights during the mayhem of the regime of the then dying dictator arrived at the conclusion that the liberation of the inang-bayan from the hand of the communists and red warriors depended on them. Some even said that the gods spoke to them, the gods commanding them to end unbelief and return to the ritual of fear and trembling.

Before sunrise, before the first bells announcing the matins and the lauds were rung, a series of shots pierced the silence on that hillside in the enclave of the elect. The shots were quick, punitive, and metallic. In the investigation afterwards, the celibates would tell police, they heard the roar of cars navigating the steep incline that reached the foot of the sierras where the Katipuneros once passed to take part in the Malolos constitutional convention, a foot trails away from the prying eyes of the civil guards and traitors. But now, a little bit less than a hundred years after, the rat-tat reminded the celibates of what was happening outside their walls, outside their chapels, outside their convent security. They only peeped through the heavy drapes, the celibates, fear possessing them in the dark hours. And then they saw the small fire starting off from the flicker of a lighter and then the fire engulfed the hillside and the dry grass and the banana grove perhaps planted by a kaingero when the hillside was still a lonely possibility of a presidential promise to the landless for them to own a corner of the country and keep it and guard it. In the face of that fear, even the prayerful and the fiercest of believers could lose sight of their gods and they can succumb to impotence in the mind and soul. And I wrote that and I remember now what I have written even as I impotently watched the homeless on Skid Row down on Fourth and Los Angeles Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles.

This impotency that visits us sometimes is not a fiction; it is as real as the desire to live life to the full in the country of one’s birth or outside it. Terra firma is the same everywhere. It is the same earth that will receive the body that turns into dust when the time comes. As did the salvaged victims on the hills—their bodies charred beyond recognition even with the early morning sunlight.

The police came many hours after. That was usually the case in these parts—and that was normal. The leaves of trees and the cool mountain air wore the smell of burned skin and human flesh—and the smell made you vomit till there was nothing more left to throw up. No one among the clerics did anything to save the lives of the nameless that were now faceless. There were three who died that early morning hours before the prayer began—and they became a number: three, as if it were a trinity of woe and despair and hopelessness. With that incident, I was beginning to be a migrant of my own land—this incident becoming stranger and stranger to me until I had nothing else but hope for the best days ahead. Nevertheless, I kept on with the metaphor-writing thing and I scribbled again:

The innocence of the blade

Put an end to your adolescent daydreams and cheers.

The pain that came after

I could only imagine, child, brother, cousin,

As you welcomed the depths of aloneness defined

By your celebrating executioners on that moonlit night

That was also theirs by might.

I wrote some more:

Speak now to me in aggrieved silence,

You, nameless son of a betrayed land, also

Now nameless in the silences of false springs

And April rains and fallowed fields and tilled gardens.

It is the beginning of summer here and spring has just said goodbye. The hillsides are still abloom with poppies and elsewhere there is that riot of colors. I see the salvage victims even here in the strange land that I have come to eke out a life from that metaphorical death we have in the old country. They are there in the hillsides, the sinews of their namelessness and facelessness fertilizing the welcoming and expecting earth. I see them in my mind and the metaphors come to capture the unnamed sorrows that I have kept buried:

Stand up, rise up, rise again for us the living,

We who will still have to see the fruitfulness of sins.

Tell us of an M-16 on a captain’s drawer

Rusted by a song

A 29 in the neighbor’s attic still shines

And goads white-robed men to preach,

Talk about the loving, giving act of bees

As you lay there my son, my friend, my cousin

Your body fed to the wild dogs of seminaries and convents

And churchmen singing lauds and vespers

And filling up their tummies with the sweat

Of your father, your mother, your sister, your cousin.

Did the churchmen ever hear you wail

And tell of the glories of dying for stories

Grander than ourselves?

On the twentieth year of my getting out of the walled life to commit myself to embark on a mission of coaxing word to become world, many things happened. There was Ground Zero in New York and the destruction was swift, immediate. The rebels blasted off the centuries-old Buddha statues of Afghanistan and taunted the American freedom fighters to come get them. The United States with its allies voted to invade Iraq and finish off the terror of Saddam for the last time. In the meantime, bin Laden kept on with his metaphors of creating migrants of the faith with his promise of heaven and virgins to those who would be willing to kill themselves for his cause.

Such was the frenzied history that I came into when I decided to look for metaphors from the land of my self-exile. In that same year—in 2003—I went on a voluntary exile in the land where the guns and bullets and the metaphor of democracy was originating. I had hoped to gather the narratives of migrants as they locate themselves in the fringes of mainstream society. I would listen to their stories, document their fears, give name to their hopes and aspirations, and verbalize their needs and wants. I would be the committed ethnographer of sorrows and sufferings of all migrants who were willing to allow me to enter into their secret world. Moreover, I would write about this world with the metaphor that would best capture their tenuous life in a new land—the metaphor of the hard place—the metaphor of the Promised Land that has been lost or about to be lost forever. My notebook told me:

We are all migrants on earth,

This life too if you still remember.

Naked we were born and naked

We will all go to the grave

Here or elsewhere as we go on and on

With the crooked lies and avenues

The days and hours offer to us

Even in our sleep.

We have come this far,

You have come this far

And there is no turning back the tales

We leave behind as we all

Splurge in sorrow, despair too,

Loneliness sputtering, stopping

Us on our tracks as we keep the song

In our generous hearts, one of love,

Solitude, as we nurse each pain

That keeps us alive, the senses searing

Our souls, making us marked by time.

Welcome, migrant, lots of good luck.

This I wrote for a new migrant. There was metaphor in the welcome—but it was for me as well, a metaphor man, a migrant.