Monthly Archives: September 2009

State of Calamity


I write this as the last days of winter in this part of the world drenches the garden.  It is barely audible, this rain.  The cooling fan in this computer I use to write this random thought gives a predictable buzz.

Back to the country of my birth there is massive flooding.  The last I heard from my family, by sms text message, was at 1 AM their side.  They said the water was finally slowly subsiding.  No other word since.

They had been stuck on the second floor of the house since noontime.  Rain from a passing typhoon was the heaviest in decades, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.  Within six hours only the roofs of single-storey houses were visible.

As I write this it is an hour before dawn there.  I am thinking of my mother, over seventy, her two grandchildren holed up with my sister and her husband, along with two other families who had sought refuge with them.

For hours I had been frantically trying to get through to the various rescue teams, and so far no success.

The most recent report I gathered online mentions 46 deaths due to the floods.

It is nearly time for me to go to sleep in my comfortable bed with an electric blanket. The cruelty of this distance is nothing compared to the grim situation back home.

I wait for the next message, hoping the batteries on their cellphones don’t fail before someone rescues them.  I dare not phone in case they have somehow found a way to sleep through the fear, even as the rain continues to come down in dark sheets.

News article from GMANews

News article from Al Jazeera

Video footage from Al Jazeera

Was the Global Wake-Up Call too Festive?

Looks like great fun wasn’t it?

Initially it felt good taking part in this activity — but will this make a difference?  What about a targeted boycott of major products and industries that are major pollutants?  Are we willing to take a walk for a day?  Campaign for cleaner airplane fuels?  Dismantle the military industry?  Wait, how is that relevant?  You can’t put aside the War on  Terror (or was it War and Plunder?) just because of climate change.   Forgive the babbling.

“The One Thing Worse” – Amira Hass

A few days old, but I just read it now.  Here’s part of an article by Amira Hass that appeared in

The Goldstone Commission’s findings are in line with what anyone who didn’t shut his or her eyes and ears to witness testimony already knows.

B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Haaretz and the international media – to Israelis, these have all fallen into the trash bin of the mendacious Palestinians. In the best case, they have become trapped in their own pure-hearted naivete, and in the worst, into collaborating with efforts to besmirch Israel and bolster prejudices against it. Like the Serbs of yore, we Israelis continue thinking it’s the world that is wrong, and only we who are right.

Israel struck a civilian population that remains under its control, it didn’t fulfill its obligation to distinguish between civilians and militants and used military force disproportionate with the tangible threat to its own civilians. Air Force drones and helicopters fired deadly missiles at civilians, many of them children; the Tank Corps and Navy shelled civilian neighborhoods with weapons not designed for precision strikes; soldiers received orders to fire on rescue crews; others fired on civilians carrying white flags; and others killed people in or near their homes. Troops used Gazans as human shields, soldiers detained civilians in abusive conditions, the army used white phosphorus shells in dense civilian areas and, on the eve of withdrawing, destroyed wide residential, industrial and agricultural areas.

There is only thing worse than denial – the admission that the IDF indeed acted as has been described, but that these actions are both normal and appropriate.

Global Wake-Up Call

Today I called President Jacob Zuma’s Office – yep, I did! – as part of the international action called the Global Wake-Up Call, asking leaders to commit to go to the Copenhagen climate meeting in December and agree on a global climate deal that is FAIR, AMBITIOUS and BINDING (“FAB”)

Hey, it wasn’t that hard to gather up courage to get hold of a political leader — or at least the switchboard/secretary… ok, grim thoughts going to the laughing bin.

The staff at the Water and Environmental Ministry seemed more clued up though – thankfully – and said they welcomed this campaign.

Careful Where You Stand – for those who wish to attack another

Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were killed in the attack. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad; The Guardian

Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were killed in the attack. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad; The Guardian

In the past two days I have had three “curious” replies to a post in matangmanok regarding Yvonne Ridley, the British journalist who had converted to Islam.  I have approved one of the replies to show that if there is genuine discussion needed on a subject I am willing to open the doors.  But the two other replies to the same post that are now pending my approval have forced me to wonder if there is a new anti-Muslim wave I am unaware of.

I would like to invite the two people who have swamped me with these strange correspondences to please understand, I prefer to keep this space open for all who wish to contribute their thoughts without attacking another person’s choice of faith.

Mr Fulgente Antonio, I permitted your initial reply to the article concerning reports by Yvonne Ridley.  Your follow-up is far too long and too similar to the other person who posted a reply on the same day, forcing me to wonder if you know each other in more ways than one.

Mr Jeffrey Lang, this is how your reply started:

It is really a pity that an educated British lady converts to Islam and fails to get to know the realty of Jesus, the LIGHT OF THE WORLD. I had earlier went through the same experience of being led astray by the PROPHET OF DOOM, Mohammad, but later I realized that was stepping into hell. I would like to list  a comparison between the Lord of Light, JESUS, and the Prophet of Doom, Mohammad, so that the message would be made clear to Yvonne Ridley and all misled Muslims. I would like also to note that I have returned safely to the Lord Jesus and abandoned the bleak image of Mohammad.
Jeffrey Lang (

The rest of it, I am sorry to say, will take up too much space on my blog.  I will gladly forward the rest of the lengthy text to anyone who kindly requests it.

I grew up in a now predominantly Catholic country.  Before the Spanish colonizers arrived it had been largely Muslim, but there were many other belief systems among the myriad tribes.  The Europeans stayed for over 300 years, and in that time countless lives were lost in the effort to convert the population to the lovely religion of Christianity.  Numerous rebellions took place, villagers took to the hills to avoid being forced to accept a foreign belief system.

If you look at the history of religions – not just Christianity – that tried to impose their belief systems on others, you might just find that weapons of destruction accompanied such flag-waving campaigns.  In the end the “triumphant” religion seems to have taken over the pre-existing one, but in fact it often gets changed as well in the process.

The “subsumed” religion, just like any organism, seeks ways of surviving in the most amazing ways.  I dare say that animism and ancestral worship continue to bleed through the bandages of the Christian faith – one has to know where to look.  Though that is a matter for another time.

For now these are the things I would like to mention.  It is easy to wave a flag and brand someone.  With that, the flag-waver and brander calls attention to him/herself.  What cause are you fighting for?  What box do you stand on?  Or is that a coffin?  Have you measured it?

Choosing a faith – or for that matter, rejecting one or all – is a very personal matter.  And so there is an arrogance that carries with it a terrible blindness when one decries a particular religion, condemning every single person who might be its follower.

A few steps away from that dangerous activity is the closing of doors to a common humanity.

The Gaza Report – now what?

UN Fact Finding Mission finds strong evidence
of war crimes and crimes against humanity
committed during the Gaza conflict;
calls for end to impunity

The Red Door Incident

jagged red

Memory is a ghost.  I have this strange memory from when I was a kid of say seven or eight, of a brief incident that still lingers in my head a good few decades on (no, I am no longer a teenager, in case some insane admirer finds my sophomoric ramblings passably cute).

It was the first few years when my family had moved to a new house in a suburban area that was still being “developed” – a word with Orwellian undertones.  About two minutes on a bicycle going east ricefieds still abound, but the gray concrete roads were threatening to overrun them.  All those bright green saplings in squares of brown would soon go.

Next door to us a Chinese family had moved in.  The young parents both worked and came home rather late.  A yaya (nanny) took care of the two little boys of four and two.  I can’t recall the yaya’s name, but I remember her being very kind.  She had one eye that didn’t function as well as the other. It looked more to her right most of the time.  It also seemed to weep a little.  Like most yayas at that time, she was not from Manila, but down south from the Visayas.

She had long black hair, but she never let it down in public.  I saw her once in her cramped room combing her hair – it made her look older and smaller.  She smiled at me then before closing the door.  Her smile made me think of a sudden shower of summer rain, that just as quickly disappears.

One day my sister and I were playing with the kids as she sat by the verandah.  Nothing for her to see out there but the gray of the concrete road.  Hardly anyone passed by.  She let us run around the house.  Not easy to play hide and seek when the youngest does not even know the rules of the game.  The dining table and chairs became quick and pointless hiding places. But we had fun with them.

At one point the two boys got in the bathroom that had another door leading to another room, their parents’, I think.  I was about to run in to tell them to be careful, but something strange happened.

The door started to close.  They both looked up toward the door knob on their side.  I got right at the door just before it was about to shut and what I saw made me shiver.

There was a red hand, red like it was covered in blood, holding on to the door knob.  I tried to push the door open, but the force from the other side was stronger.

There was a great slam.  I tried to turn the knob, but it wouldn’t even budge.  My ears went hot and it felt like there were ants crawling on my back.  I ran around the house to get to the other door.  Their yaya saw the fear and worry in my eyes; she had jumped at the loud sound.  My sister came running out of her hiding place to join us.

When we got to the two boys they just looked at us wondering what the commotion was about.  The door that I had struggled with was wide open.  My sister and I didn’t linger there that day.

A few months later the yaya left.  Soon after that the whole family moved out without a goodbye.

No Photograph, Just a Glimpse

I once swam to the depths of a river in Thailand before a splendid waterfall.  I was the only tourist who wore silly-looking goggles.  When I started swimming to the surface there was a rush of light.  Near-solid streaks came towards me.

That same light I saw today while I was driving.  Winter skies broken by streaks of sunlight, but the sun was not at all visible.  Just the brilliance, and how I was left gasping for breath.

090909 – The Numbers Fixation

Someone tried to teach me numerology once.  Either I wasn’t ready for it then or I thought the whole thing was a lot of nonsense.  I am fighting the temptation to check out Wikipedia or use Google, so I will throw some random lines:

Colour by numbers.



Number plate (or is that plate number?).

Lucky number.

Winning lottery number.

Your days are numbered.


Feel free to add your silly thoughts.

Language as a Shield, Translation as a Bridge

A professor I had a long time ago, the great poet Benilda S. Santos, once asked me if I found using a second language – English in this case – helped me in any way in expressing certain thoughts and emotions better than my mother tongue.  Back then such a question didn’t really make sense to me.  I was writing in whatever language the poem came.  Or so I declared.

Through the years I started to write some poems in both languages at almost the same time – jumping back and forth, testing the limits of expression in each.  Sometimes I found it necessary to use one language to release ideas and images that the other could not quite capture easily.  I would then translate those parts.  But then I also found that there are some subjects that needed some kind of distancing in order for me to even attempt to tackle them.

The death of my father was one of them.  Perhaps because instinctively I knew that using the very language that I grew up with will rebound even harsher on me.  With using a second language I am somehow afforded a kind of shield, a layer of protection from that which might hit me too hard that I wouldn’t be able to finish the task.

I have to admit that I am a fairly slow reader.  I had a friend back in high school who claimed he could speed read.  He seemed to me like one of those contraptions in an office:  the grand paper shredder.  In goes the sheet, out come paper spaghetti.  Words disposed in a jiffy.  He read A Tale of Two Cities in a week.  I only managed the first half by the end of the semester.

A few weeks ago I chanced upon the slim book Shadow Child by Dutch author PF Thomese.  Written in vignettes, it tells of the loss he and his wife have had to endure when their baby died.  It is a small book but with such devastating power that leaves the reader gasping.  It made me wish I could read it in the original and then translate it into Filipino.  But that exercise (aside from the fact that I only know a few words of Dutch) might be too awesome an experience.

Perhaps it is enough that I have somehow reached the shore by another bridge, that second language of English.  Who knows, maybe one day I can learn enough Dutch and make my own bridge?  Then again, one could ask “Does grief sell?  Isn’t there enough of that in the world?”

Opposites are essential.  You know one thing because of another.  Dry cracked earth that runs in a path is the memory of a river that once rushed.  Burst of sunlight, whip of lightning and storm.