Pasarunson a Ballatek

If only curses could kill those bastards in the government. Ramon Tulfo, Inquirer, Sept. 29, 2009

Isu met laeng nga isu a rikna

ket unget ken balikas:

ti panaganaktisal-it kadagiti sinalbag

a malalaki a kadagiti ngiwatda

ket ti agbusi a kinapalangguad

iti panagaramid iti naimbag

uray iti panawen ti delubio dagiti gasat

nga iyanud ti layus kadagiti karayan

ti kinadaksanggasat.

Kas ita, iti daytoy a kapitulo ni Ondoy

nga iti biagtayo ket bersikulo ti tarukoy

datayo a kadagiti ig-igid laeng nga agur-uray

iti panagsangpet kadagiti saranay

idinto a dagiti dadakkel a lames

kas kadagiti artista ken annak dagiti bakes

ket ti agtaray-buagit a lantsa

para iti ipatpateg. Saan, saan a patas

dagiti buya ti layus kas iti pabuya

dagiti biag a maan-anud!

Sabali ti pannapadso dagiti marigrigat.

Sabali ti pannaipatli dagiti addaan iti gasat.

Sabali ti ipupusay dagiti awanan.

Sabali met ti pannakatay dagiti aglablabonan.

Kadagiti estoria ti didigra ket ti estoria

ti kinapimpiman dagiti agkamata iti panagtagiuray

isuda a mabati a kadagiti salakan

a di maikari mabati nga agbuybuya.

Siudadanoak iti ili a kastoy

kas idi punganay agingana ita:

kas idi punganay dagiti amin a bagio

a kadagiti sagumbi makikabbalay

kas iti apokalipsis ti linak

a kadagiti arubayan pumanaw.

Isu ngarud a pasaransanan

ti mangiballatek iti nabiag a sao

tapno dagiti di manangngaasi

sumukoda iti alinuno.

A. Solver Agcaoili/Manoa/Sept 29, 2009


Food, please. Survivors of Tropical Storm "Ondoy" await for relief goods in Cainta, Rizal on Monday. Thousands of people are desperately short of food, water, and clothes. Inquirer, September 29, 2009.

Maitanggaya dagiti ima
iti rupa ti lawag
nga ita a Lunes
ket ti di makaidna
a pasamak.

Agkalamri ti rikna
iti panaguray iti kaasi
dagiti darikmat nga agpalpalama
kadagiti dungngo kas iti inayad
ti danum tapno iti apres
dagiti dalluyon iti kulay-ong
ket ti pannakapnek
iti agngangabit a taraon.

A ngem ta Ondoy daytoy
dagiti amin nga unnoy
nga iti segundo dagiti abuloy
ket ti pumusay a panagkapuy.

Ta kasano nga allukoyen
ti bagi kadagitoy a kalak-am
a kadagiti didigra a kastoy
ket pannakaibati iti walangwalang,
datayo nga in-inabo dagiti dekolor
a rigat iti amin a panagbirok
iti biag a nasayaat:
bigat malem bigat rabii
bigat aldaw bigat dagiti layus
amin dagitoy ket karaman ti kapay-an
nga iti udina ket ti al-alawen a biag
ti aramang iti nariper a danum
ti agbakbakwit a pakaragsakan?

Uray ti taeng dagiti mabibi a rikna
sadiayda kadagiti apres
iti sirok dagiti rangtay
kasalada dagiti gabat
a ti Ondoy laeng ti agsagrap:
gabat dagiti amin a gabat
a kadua dagiti uleg
nga uray iti bigbigat
ket kumarab-as: kas iti panaglemmeng
dagiti sardinas bagas asin
kas iti panagtalakias dagiti rasion
tapno kadagiti tiendaan sadiayda
a maiwaras kadagiti addaan a pirak
idinto a ditoy, kadagiti lenglengleng
ditoy, kadagiti purok ti pimpiman
ditoy nga agsagsagaba dagiti tedda
ti danum dagiti tedda ti layus
dagiti tedda dagiti adu a kari
ti pangulo dagiti panangngaasi
a baliodong!

Kadagiti arrawis
ti rikna, sadiay dagiti beggang
sadiay dagiti agkatkatawa nga apuy
agpaspasanaang kadagiti amin a dunor
agpalpallailang kadagiti amin a pakabtakan
ti ulo nga agpuerong!

Mabati dagiti rikna a bakwit,
mabatida kadagiti aldaw
nga agsubli dagiti uleg
tapno iti maysa nga addang
ket ti maikanatad a bales
kadagiti kaliado nga isip.

Idinto ta kunatayo dagitoy,
itag-ay ti ima tapno agsippaw
ti lukong ti palad kadagiti kaasi
nga iti panagsubli ti init maipalag.

A. Solver Agcaoili/Manoa/Sept 29, 2009

Features/Biographical Notes

A Regent Remembers the Mementoes of Exilic Life

By Aurelio S. Agcaoili

During one of the more recent telephone conversations I had with retired circuit court judge Artemio C. Baxa at his Maui base to return his call, I asked for some specifics he wanted me to tell those attending the 2009 Nakem International Conference when I would do the introduction of the keynote speaker, of which he was one of the two.

“Nothing,” he said, his voice firm, almost biblical in its timber and tone, the one we hear echoing when watching the classic movies of the Christian faith.

One senses a hint of a judge in that voice, one used to saying statements that meant only one thing and never suggesting any other to avoid a case of not-so-good legal hermeneutics that might lead to a bad play of words and a bad case of legalistic maneuvering based on an ambiguous semantics.

But there is a trace of a hopeful note in that voice, almost coaxing me in a fatherly way, even encouraging me to go slow with him and to say only the modest things the he knows he has done.

“Nothing extraordinary,” he reminds me, his voice full and energetic in that almost noontime return call I made to him that segued, for my benefit, into a conversation with a man imbued with mindfulness of so many things including that capacity to understand diversity in its myriad, surprising forms.

He has received our invitation for him to grace the conference by sharing with us his insights on the legal basis of cultural pluralism and the legal ethics involved in reframing linguistic and cultural rights from a human rights perspective.

At the Nakem Conference, we wanted to understand more fully what is the score in the eyes of the law—whether federal or international—insofar as education to justice and cultural democracy is concerned.

He said, “Yes” to our invitation—and he said, “yes” with some reservations as he said he was neither a scholar nor an academic who had done lots of researches on the issues.

I told him we wanted his insights and that he had so much of those and that our people would be so glad to have gotten a piece of those insights that could only come from years of study and reflection and experience.

That also gave me the opening to pry open the almost hidden sanctuary of a man who is respected as a legal luminary, one of the few that have been able to get past the usual practice of law to blaze a new trail for immigrants like him.

In that classic sense, he is a model for the young—a role model for the Ilokanos and all Filipinos who have come to these islands to take part of the bounty Hawaii offers.

Here is a concrete exhibit—this Baxa success, this Baxa triumph—of what we can do to ourselves when we strive hard, strive harder, and strive hardest.

Here is a man from the ranks of the immigrants that wanted to get into law in the State of Hawaii, was ready to sacrifice in the pursuit of that dream, and lo and behold made it.

“It was hard work,” he says, matter-of-factly now, one of those understatements you hear from a man who knows well the meaning of humility.

The practice of law or the chance to assume the position of a judge did not come easy: both of these were opportunities beset with challenges that only the tough-hearted could hurdle.

I egg him on, almost forcing him to tell me that he is a poet of the Ilokano people, writing a major poem in Ilokano at age 15 and having it published, on the front pages of a major weekly magazine read like a sacred text by the Ilokano community dispersed all over the country.

It mattered that some of the members of the Ilokano reading public were from the State of Hawai’i, where several years after starting a career in law in the Philippines, he would soon go to search for that proverbial paradise that offers something better, something more meaningful, something with more chutzpah. His decision to leave the Philippines when a career in law was in its cusp was indeed a gutsy audacity rarely seen among the children of immigrants in his generation.

We would see that same chutzpah in the years ahead as soon as he set foot in the islands.

His father had moved to Hawaii years before, his father a sugar cane plantation worker who originally came from the northern part of the Philippines, the majority of those who came to Hawaii as sakadas, the popularized name of those who were recruited by the plantations to work in the fields.

Before moving to Hawaii, he had earned his degree in law from one of the better law schools of the country, the Ateneo de Manila University.

From the Ateneo, he went on to the University of Chicago Law School to earn his master’s degree in comparative law.

After his master’s studies, he went back to Manila, worked for a law firm for a number of years, and then decided to join his father in a plantation camp in Pu’unene in Maui.

There were no law firms in Pu’unene in need of his knowledge in comparative law.

He was trained as a lawyer, true, but found work as a part-time bellhop at a local hotel and as a community aide and project supervisor.

A study grant in urban and regional planning brought him to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, completed that study grant, and went back to Maui as a planner and coordinator of Maui Economic Opportunity.

Even with a master’s in law at the University of Chicago Law School, he could not practice law in the State of Hawaii; at that time, the processes and procedures for professional training equivalency had not been put in place.

But law was in his blood; he dreamt of doing a lawyer’s work, studying cases, looking into arguments, and reading through the human stories in the cases that would take hold of his time.

He decided to go back to law school—and practice in Hawaii. He was well aware of the social cost, even the inconvenience this decision would have on his young family.

The logical step is to register at the Williamson S. Richardson School of Law.

That decision required the sacrifice of his family, even moving his family to Oahu while he studied law once more even after he had gained some knowledge of comparative law in an American setting.

It was a difficult process of unlearning what one mostly had already known.

But he wanted nothing less than a lawyer’s work and he would go for it, pursue it, and in time, he knew he would get it.

His wife, now deceased, understood. She did not complain. She was there to do her part in the pursuit of that dream, always ready to sacrifice for her man.

That sacrifice would pay off. By 1978, he had finished law and had gotten his license to practice.

Between 1978 and 2004, the year he was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court, he tirelessly worked for the local government of Maui particularly at the county’s Department of Human Concerns, even serving in that office as deputy director. He also served as deputy prosecutor at the Department of Prosecuting Attorney.

Because of his dedicated work for the DHC, he was awarded Employee of the Year; in that same year in 1988, the county of Maui honored him with the recognition Maui County Employee of the Year.

During the centennial of the coming of the sakadas to Hawaii, he served as member of the State of Hawaii Filipino Centennial Commission.

In a “proem” from the book “Anak” put together by the Maui Centennial Celebration Coordinating Council, Baxa lauded the sakadas, saying, “In the order and cadence of time, slowly but surely/ The cane cutter, throughout the State and every industry, / Has inspired kindred faces toward other occupations, / Though yet a minority in some genteel vocations.”

Truly, there is much to remember, as there is much to hope for as we get hold with care the mementoes of our immigrant and exilic, even diasporic, lives.

Our numbers are increasing but we want some more: those in the genteel vocations Baxa says that are a minority becoming, in the end, a majority.

I put the phone back to its set after our telephone conversation, relieved that in the October of our celebration of the Filipino American History Month, a model of what we need to recall, to remember, to revisit, is the model of a life of giving and sacrifice that retired judge Artemio Baxa demonstrated and continues to demonstrate as a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii since 2008.

Observer, Oct 2009

Manoa, HI

Fil-Am History Month 2009


Linked with the memory of an immigrant people is their capacity to tell their stories of struggle in the land they have come into.

That capacity can only mean the ability to create their own history, not in the way history has been mistakenly understood as the story of the big man, of the one who has become a hero, of the victor who has surpassed all odds.

It is not this triumphal mindset that we want to see in the celebration of the Filipino American History Month each October.

It is not this flag-waving ceremony and ritual that, when devoid of context, will render the celebration hollow, really lacking in the hallowedness that we expect in each rite of remembrance.

It is not this sense of the cold and mushy museum understood in the myopic way that we want for each October that we celebrate our history of immigrant people.

For the narrow and misused definition of the museum is only by way of exhibits and exhibits galore of the artifacts of a material culture without the song and sadness, without the context, without the substance—in short, without the stories.

When we miss the spirit of celebration, what we have in the end is the assault of forgetting, the assault eventually rendering us unable to see the connection between these artifacts of our life and the songs and sorrows of those who, with the inspired energy of their hands, formed these artifacts they gathered from the bowels of the earth.

It is not this kind of fossilization of memory that should define our celebration but our ability to courageously sing of the promise of life and to recite the sorrows of remembering what could have been.

For even as each October we do the obligatory recollection of some greatness we truly deserve, some greatness possessed by our people, we must continue to put before us the fact that so many things have yet to be done to make our Filipino American History Month relevant because the celebration strikes at the familiar and not the foreign, the welcoming and not the aggressively hostile, and the fair sense of inclusion and not exclusion.

We need to tell our stories—and we know there are a lot.

We need to tell our stories as immigrants—as Filipino Americans—because if we fail to do that, nobody will, and if we are not going to start doing it now, we will never be able find the right time to begin doing it.

For in the telling of our own stories, we will get to reflect on what have we have been able to achieve despite the difficult circumstances we went through and which we are still going through.

For in the telling of our stories, we will get to name our pains and joys—and in our naming them, they become part of the dynamic of our communal remembrance.

For in the telling of our stories, we will get to affirm one thing: that stories, in the end, are all we are as immigrants in this land.

It is these same stories—these stories that we all are—that will spell the difference between our coming to terms with our leaving the homeland and our arriving here in this land of our dreams, the very land that has become the new homeland of the next generation of Filipino Americans.

A S Agcaoili/Observer Editorial/Oct 2009

Ondoy and other tragic tales

Ondoy and the Vagaries of Official Succor—Or Why Typhoons and Floods Ought to be Banished in the Philippines Together with Incompetent Leaders

By Aurelio S. Agcaoili

This latest of the tragedy in Metropolitan Manila, the center of politics and culture and commerce in the Philippines, is one of the many litanies of force majeure that we recite each year.

But this force of nature is made worse by the incompetence of those who are tasked to give succor and relief during emergencies such as this one.

For days beginning Saturday, Manila Time, I was glued to anything I can hold onto in order to keep on communicating with my family in Marikina City, some miles from the famed Marikina River that is known for its sale of Marikina shoes in the summer and the festive bustle of commerce during Christmas.

Some hours prior to the great onrush of waters from the mountains—or from some others sources if one were to believe in the conjectures of the angry victims—I had my young daughter on the phone, telling me, among others, that an actress of a friend had asked her to accompany that actress of a friend for a relief operation in one part of our city.

There had been days of rain prior to that deluge and some communities near tributaries and rivulets had needed relief goods. The television station the actress was working for had deployed her to do the relief operations.

“I am going to accompany her,” she told me, and the line went off.

That was Saturday, Manila Time. It was our Friday in Honolulu.

After a few hours, I got a call from Los Angeles telling me that something awfully wrong was going on in the country’s big city.

Frantically, I dialed the numbers my fingers knew too well. The line was dead.

I searched for other numbers: cell phones of children, the cell phone of the missus, the phones of neighbors, the phones of relatives in my directory.

No luck.

Friday night in Honolulu came and the distance between Honolulu and Manila could not be bridged.

From Friday until Monday, the line was an eternity of silence, except for one short line from a text the missus sent on the morning of Sunday, Honolulu Time, telling me that I needed not worry because all of them were fine, just fine.

I texted back many times over after that but no luck: there was only the eerie silence and the assaulting images on YouTube and anything on video I could hold onto.

Worried, I called up the emergency numbers of Marikina City. Tough luck.

That text, a short note of faith and hope and grace that I received at 2 AM on a Sunday morning, Honolulu Time, was a lifeline to a blessing I kept deep in my heart.

In that text was the news that some rice was still left in the bin and some canned goods were still in the cupboard perhaps just enough to last them until the rains stopped and the sun came back streaking through the mountains again.

The missus, with an appointment for an examination in her graduate class, said she was stranded somewhere in Cainta and was able to come back only the morning of Sunday, Manila time, after almost twenty hours of evacuation time, first at a store, and then at a public elementary school where all others congregated to watch the storm lose steam and the murky waters lose those hydraulic energies that could have otherwise been tapped to produce electricity that is sufficient to give an electric shock to callous politicians.

The details of her one-text update were wanting.

They were sketches one gets from a hurried response even as you run to your YouTube, search for anything on Marikina and Metro Manila and that horrible deluge that affected 26 of the populated places in this metropolis of wealth and misery, of power and helplessness, of faith and facetious display of devotion and religiousness.

Then again, there was the capacity to get by somewhere in that scant news of home and one can only give thanks to that power that gives grace to all.

It is withstanding the tragic that matters; it is standing up again and facing the challenges of the days ahead.

It is dusting off the mulct—and shaking the filth from your body.

It is picking up the pieces and run to where the sun shines through and there, in that extraordinary glow after the storm, bathe in the warm light of morning.

It is Marikina on my mind that I see, the city I have grown to love, the city of my children, the city of my youngest, and the city of my hope.

It is the city where I remember what the Cory Aquino People Power I was all about and the numerous coup d’├ętats that came after to challenge the legitimacy of her reign.

It is the city where I remember EDSA People Power II and the countless marches and rallies one logically joins to express your creative rage against those gangsters of government, against the abusers of power, and against the excesses of presidential mischief.

It is also the city of my fears even as I try to live in hopefulness some seven thousand miles away, on this other side of the same ocean.

It is the city of my modest memory of how to raise a family despite the challenges of doing so in between two EDSA People Power revolutions and the smaller ones that assumed the name of revolution but soon to be usurped by those who are capable of the usurping for the political symbol they offered.

Shall I send my message to the waves, tell them to tell those who did not have the same tough luck to stay put, live in grace, live in hope, live in the love of the Maker despite the destruction, despite the havoc, despite the pain of remembering what happened that could have been avoided if those who were tasked to help people in difficult and challenging circumstances like this one fat chance of an Ondoy were more careful, more caring, more conscientious?

From the YouTube are the assaulting images of shock even as people, in the spectacle of the tragic, run to others for help, some of them throwing that rope into a bunch of people on a makeshift raft of flotsam and flimsy hope for a rescue at the end of the murky waters that rushed wildly through the deep and then leapt through the waves and met up with the great dirty waters of Pasig and then to Manila Bay by the Rizal Park where there, the heroes of revolutions, Jose Rizal, Ninoy Aquino, and the rest of them, stand stiffly to watch at the horror called Ondoy, a horror true, but one made more terrible by the incompetence of those who should be ready to help.

I call up home—I have been doing that for the last three days.

No connection, no answer. It is silence welcoming each touch of finger on the number keys.

It is that hollow toot-toot I hear whether I use the landline or the entire cell phones of family members.

No luck.

On Sunday, 1:30 PM Honolulu Time, I call up again, frantic as frantic can be.

The YouTube suggests the truth of the devastation but does not offer much hope for the morrow.

There is nothing but the absence of distances—this was all I was getting in the news and my family was right at the place where the devastation was, with a first-born that worked the night shift and a daughter that travelled distances in order to get to her school.

I Google the all emergency numbers of Marikina City only to end up with the same result: the hollow toot-toot of technology rendered inutile.

I dial the number after moments of hesitation, knowing that I would not be able to get through.

No luck.

The whole Sunday consumed me so, trying every now and then all the numbers I have come to memorize, my fingers knowing which number came after another.

No luck.

I go home after a Sunday of work at the university. It is night—and darkness becomes a good cover for fear of the unknown, for some doubts we register for some divine goodness.

The pile of papers to be checked, the work for the upcoming Nakem conference, the poems of exiles to be translated, some books to be read—all these forced me to sit down and gather the good thoughts I could bank on while the coffee maker stood guard to watch and memorize the contours of an anguished heart which was my heart.

If this gathering and re-gathering of my thoughts was a form of a prayer, let it be that way.

On a Monday morning, at 3 AM Honolulu Time, I forced myself to rise from bed, unable to sleep the whole night through.

The National Public Radio was on a standby and occasionally, a soothing music would waft through in the dark night, get past the window screens, get past the backyard towards the hills on the west, reach Kapolei where the waves await the lyrics of a tortured mind trying to sing that song about the abiding love of God.

Days of not hearing anything from family are centuries of anger and sorrow, pain and self-doubt, rage and more rage. You cannot bottle these feelings up—there is no way you can.

I stand to watch the outlines of mountains in the dark, the lights of streets and homes yonder flickering but reminding me of a home smacked right in the middle of a storm but remaining intact, filled with laughter still.

I grab the phone, dial the already memorized numbers the fingers now know too well even in the dark lights of the early morning hours.

The landline is dead, still.

I dial a cell phone number.

It rings, its ringing full and promising, breaking the silence of the Waipahu morning hours where I reside to dream of God’s love despite the storms of life, despite Ondoy and its aftermath.

The older daughter picks it up, the same daughter scheduled to help out in the relief operations of an actress of a friend.

“So?” I asked. “I could not get hold of anyone of you.”

“We are ok. But not everyone is A-ok. Many of my friends lost everything. And mom had to wade in the floodwaters rushing through, at a level by her shoulders, to get home to us after an overnight of vigil in the evacuation centers without food or dry clothing or blanket or newspaper to dry her wet body with. All of them were like that.”

I hear her, her voice crackling seven thousand miles away.

“Others were less lucky, father,” she says. “Some children were simply washed away by the waters—what have they done?”

I hear the existentialist philosophers here, their questioning of the tragic and its contradictions, their disappointments of the unevenness of life, with the corrupt politicians not affected by it all, this deluge of this magnitude that finds its reference in the story of Noah.

The storm, on this Monday, has officially subsided and the wrath of the wild winds has gone away, banished to some other places, other lands, and other communities.

One can only hope that the incompetent leaders went with these wild winds of Ondoy.

Manoa, Hawaii, September 28, 2009