Saturday, December 22, 2012

End of the World

I watched the end of the world tonight.

They came in full force; the women with babies in their arms, the men with their tattoos and the smell of hangover, together with the pot-bellied children with mucus on their faces. They all came.

And I made them wait for two and a half hours. Their impatience and collective frustration showed. The children were already lying on the floor, barefoot and disheveled, the women talking in the manner they would haggle over fish at the wet market while some of the men have already started smoking and all decorum the courtroom commands was quickly forgotten.

My arrival was greeted by an impatient hush. I knew that every eye in that courtroom became immediately transfixed into me, watching my every step as I moved through the aisle, crowded with wayward limbs and bodies, and parting it the way Moses did the Red Sea. And as I took my seat before the bench, I cringed at the thought of tomorrow’s tabloid headlines: Lady Judge Lynched by Angry Mob.

Take a hundred hungry and angry people and keep them waiting in a cramped spaced that could only accommodate at best a fraction of that number and you might as well be doing a home-made bomb experiment. The atmosphere was volatile and frightening even for a judge.

“Your Honor” the young lawyer was addressing me with the calculated expression of one already at the edge of his temper yet trying desperately to maintain his composure. Lawyers are good at pretending that everything would turn out fine especially when they address judges even after a two-hour wait. “The folks at Sitio Maligaya have reached a consensus that they would accept a compromise if the lots are sold to them at a price they can afford. They realize the folly of litigating over the long haul and frankly, I told them we are looking at a ten year trial at least, if we cannot agree on a settlement. Hopefully, this honorable court would assist the parties to reach a reasonable agreement.”

The opposing counsel, an old balding veteran lawyer chimed in. “With all due respect your Honor these people should not dictate what terms are acceptable. The land was occupied by them for more than twenty years without paying a cent so as the true and rightful owners, my clients have every right to evict.”

I knew right away, with lawyers like these, it was going to be a long night. I rattled off worst case scenarios and conversely, the possible win-win solutions. Scaring them back to their senses if they don’t settle and why, for everybody’s peace of mind, both must be willing to accept sacrifices “because one can’t have his way all the time” and “sometimes it is better to take a little and give a little than lose everything”.

I wanted to be equally sensitive and open minded to the sentiments of both sides but the hard realities of this world makes it even harder to keep that neutral stand at some point. These people wanted a piece of the earth; their whole lives, they felt the pain of deprivation and social inequity. Poverty drove them into the slums, the dark and slimy and crime-infested section of the city where they try to fit in, to try to survive and live a semblance of life in the midst of dirt, poverty and decay, to make sense of what fate had given them, where fate had pushed them until fate they accepted. Yet now, despite the acceptance and surrender to fate, they are about to be driven away.

The old man had taken to the floor now, arguing fiercely about “social justice not being a solace to the scoundrels, and for rich and poor young and old alike to have their fair shake”. In between jabs at empty air, he would throw glimpses at the crowd, contemptuously and with an air of utter disdain. He would reserve the fiercest glare at the other counsel, the younger lawyer who is himself keeping a brave front, and a swagger only lawyers feel the need to show, as if arrogance would translate into something brilliant and produce legal miracles and indeed I would sometimes find myself craving for the same miracle, even as a judge myself.

They were worlds apart, these party litigants and it didn’t help that lawyers have this flair to disagree on the most mundane and trifling. We spent hours fighting over price per square meter, the manner and duration of payment and which side will advance the cost of survey and documentation. The longer we spoke the wider the division seemed to grow. I lost track of the many times I pounded the gavel and the instances I wish it’s the lawyers’ heads that were taking the pounding. A drunken man made a scene quoting excerpts from the bible and pontificating that society must stop this injustice now or the end of the world will rid us of our petty quarrels. I threatened to walk out if his companions would not make this crazy man leave. Gladly they listened and kicked him out.         

Three hours into the stalemate, I was beginning to accept the futility of our situation. It was already past dinnertime and ours were the only lighted room in the whole five story building, in the whole compound of the city hall for that matter. Courts adjourn at five, at times earlier and when sessions are held well after dusk it’s either because a military coup or a hostage taking is keeping the judge up.

And then it happened.

It occurred to me that most of these people are uneducated and uninformed, relying on gossip, if not the exaggerated explanations of those similarly uninformed and uneducated to form their own personal opinion of the world. I absent-mindedly reached for the calculator icon on my i-phone and tried this simple mathematical equation: price per square meter (or P3,500.00) multiplied by the number of square meters in a lot divided by sixty, which is the number of monthly installments over five years, equals the monthly amortization. I turned to the fat woman on the front row, the most vocal of the group and asked the measurement of her lot. Per my calculation, her ten square meter lot would cost P35,000.00; divide that by 60 and you get roughly P585.00 which would be her monthly amortization over five years.

The woman regarded me with misty eyes in a manner I have only seen just once before in my whole life when the priest touched a cancer patient on the forehead to administer miracle healing. She self-consciously asked if she can borrow my phone and showed it to the rest, like it was the holy grail. Just like that, a long line of people immediately formed in front of me, inquiring about the formula and if “please your honor, madam judge can you help me find out how much I should pay monthly for my lot?” By all means, I obliged to their pleas, my hands in fact were trembling in the rush to get it done. By all means.

I wouldn’t mind breaking protocol and I would much rather have this moment last for as long as I can help it, for as long as there is peace, seeing them smiling, relieved at last, their lawyers shaking hands and exchanging high fives. Even the drunken fellow had returned, sober now and self-consciously and politely standing in line.

The significance of this moment will make it to become one of the high points of my life as a judge. This people for whom society seems to frown forever, to whose hands, the blessings of the earth are hard to come by, these people who fall prey to politicians' promises and government's neglect, will finally get their due, not in the manner of dole outs or of alms thrown at them out of pity, but something they would have to pay for, something that they would earn, something that they would accept with their heads held high because they will pay for it no matter how modest and trifling their means. From now on they will no longer be called and treated by society as some unwanted, illegal, some unfortunate outcasts among men because by the sacrifice they make these people are going to earn back their pride and their dignity. Sometimes, where law or religion fails, a simple mathematical solution may just provide the answer to the greatest problems of man. Yes. I watched the end of the world tonight. The world that these people used to know has ended. Thank God, it was a happy ending...

Friday, December 7, 2012

As This Sun Bleeds

Coming home from a meeting with Grace
On a jampacked train at Boni Station
I realized that something special
Had taken place

Rising up to offer my seat to a septuagenarian
I already knew that having a seat
On a rush hour trip is such great luck
That to give it away for someone else
And sacrifice what I wanted so badly
Makes me a fool or just plain crazy

Standing up and facing west
I caught a glimpse of the sun descending to rest
A ball of fire on crimson sky
I looked around and I saw red
The faces of passengers
The ground below
The buildings and rooftops
The solitary dove
The skies above
The world is on fire as the sun comes down
With such magic spell
To turn the heavens into bloody hell
Without regrets and bleed to death

Losing the vision of the sun’s last dance
Across the horizon
When the train just passed Kamuning Station
I was filled with longing
To turn back the train and return to the scene
To capture the moment all over again
While the dying embers fade out of sight
To take flight during the night

Reminiscing now, through the paths
I’ve travelled, 
The loved ones I’ve lost
The sunsets I’ve seen
Like yesterday’s sunset
That I watched from the train
At least I can say that unlike those people
Who looked the other way
Or fell asleep during the trip  
The ones who missed this masterpiece in red
Compared to them I am much more blessed
I’m coming home with a poem in my head

Coming home from a meeting with Grace
I realized that something special had taken place.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

On Sadness...

          An empty room
          A faded portrait
          A telephone call
          That came too late
          The missing piece
          Of a photograph
          A walk in the rain
          That never stops
          These are the things
          That make me sad

          To find the letters
          That were never sent
          To say the words
          That were never meant
          To stare at the sunset
          From a moving train
          To watch the feather
          Drifting in the wind
          And then realize
          That life is the same

          When you know
          You should stay
          But you said goodbye
          When your heart is breaking
          But you have to smile
          When you ask yourself
          The reason why
          And find no answers
          You could almost cry

          For the smallest sins
          That were not forgiven
          For the acts of kindness
          That were easily forgotten
          For the faith and promises
          That wouldn’t last
          For the ghosts of the past
          It’s just too bad

          These are the things 
          That make me sad...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hey Jude, how are you?

Not many people are like me. Thank God.  

I do understand that there are but only a few of us who get misty-eyed over a song, a scent, or a passing memory. So when Sir Paul, one of the only two surviving Beatles unexpectedly belted out the classic Beatles hit “Hey Jude” during the highlight of the Olympic Opening Rites, the younger generation must have been caught dumb-founded, wondering if the song has any place or if it would serve any purpose at all during the occasion.

I say hell, yes!

True. “Hey Jude” during my time was nothing more than pure pop music of the cheer-up and smile, pick up the broken pieces type of thing. Heck, it was almost juvenile. And guess what, it still is. And it didn’t help that the inspiration that pushed the very young Mr. McCartney, freckles and mop hair and all, to write “Hey Jude” five decades ago was the specter of a sulking Julian Lennon, John's first child, then a chubby and neglected toddler who was drowning in tears over his parents’ divorce.

But what can I say, I got goosebumps just listening and humming along….  Na… na… na…. na-na-na-na…. Nananana… Hey Jude…. I could still hear the music reverberate and pulsate with pure joy among the crowd. Nananana…. Hey Jude…

I wouldn’t say Sir Paul had completely lost his mind but I perfectly understand that he was caught up in nostalgia and couldn’t quite get over the past. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact his latest caper had reinforced my conviction that I made the right choice in making the Beatles my real-life heroes and role models when I was myself a kid.

The Beatles were flawed, like everyone of us is. They were brave but stupid. But when we were young, are we not cut from the same mold? I developed a personal attachment to the song because somehow, “Hey Jude” captured the humanity of our imperfect lives and that aching need to make it a little bit better. If anything, I am profoundly touched by the gesture of Paul, taking the trouble of consoling the sulking little boy, when a million fans out there were dying to get his autograph. My heroes were not selfish spoiled brat superstars afterall. And if you think that Paul, now a gray-haired senior citizen had already outgrown the cool teenage kid who composed "Hey Jude" coax little Julian out of his misery, well, think again. Paul's talent fee for that London Olympics gig was a staggering one dollar and fifty seven cents!  

I would like to think that I am equally capable of such small act of kindness and that just like Paul, in a rare moment of compassion I would also be willing and able to stray off the gold-laden path and rise above the glow of personal success to do the right thing - to sacrifice my own needs so that someone else can live through the heartaches. 

“Hey Jude” strikes a chord somewhere in the heart because it reminds us of the time in our lives when life was simpler and our idea of happiness does not require a monumental effort to achieve; when all that it takes was a familiar tune, with all of us singing our hearts out, not even knowing the lyrics but having fun just the same while humming together to the music, which might as well be the music of our collective soul. 

That magical moment came back once again, actually with Paul's help we were able to bring it back, on that night at the Olympic stadium in London. Paul could not have found a more fitting occasion to remind us of who we are and the way we used to be. For one night, he made us be the child Jude once again.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You’ve Earned the Right to Make Me Cry

I love the way you make me smile
And smile I did a million times
But when it’s time to say goodbye
You’ve earned the right to make me cry

I guess I’m spoiled by your humility
Enjoyed so much your comedy
While others do it for fortune and glory
There will never be another Dolphy

I thought I’ll hear the laughter forever
But I was wrong
I should have known better
The best things in life won’t last forever

But I won’t give up or sulk in a corner
Because of you I’ll try to be stronger
I will survive, I’ll really try
Until the tears have all run dry
Sooner or later, this pain will fade
A brand new smile will take its place

And so for now, I say goodbye
Just give me time to grieve for a while
For all the times you made me smile
You’ve earned the right to make me cry.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

On Venus Crossing the Sun

There must be a reason why it only happens once in a hundred years.

As dot moves across another bigger dot in the blue vastness of a post-summer skyline over this sweltering tropical archipelago, millions of stargazers around the world watched transfixed, even spellbound, savoring every passing moment of a phenomenon that will never happen again in this lifetime. By the time the passing of Venus over the sun is repeated it would be already a hundred and five years from now, year 2117 to be exact, which means every single human being young and old, that breathes today, and in fact including those still in the formless stages of conception will not be able to live long enough to see the moment happen again.

If only the planet Venus could speak, maybe she would have profound stories to tell us not only about her journey. I do feel that she would have a whole lot more to tell us about ourselves.

She might tell us that the first time ever that she strayed across the sun’s path, there was no earth to speak of, at least not the earth as we know it today, but just another dark, barren and lifeless piece of rock, one among the countless millions of such objects floating perpetually in space. Maybe she didn’t even notice earth at all.

Several hundred years later, when it was time to cross the sun again, Venus looked back to the direction of planet earth and saw man-apes scurrying to their caves in terror at the sight of a dot emerging on the face of the flaring sun fearful that a monster would emerge from somewhere in the vastness to devour them.

Still several hundred years later, Venus was amazed at how far we’ve come. The man-apes no longer cower in fear, running for cover, but instead they waited and watched her arrival with the same perpetual curiosity that actually propelled them from a primal state of oblivion to civilization. They have learned to question, to plan, to improvise. Where before they watched with their naked eye, now they had instruments with which to catch a closer glimpse of a rare occurrence millions of miles from where they were.

Maybe by now Venus feels differently after every rite of passage. And just like us, she now awaits the event to repeat itself with the same perpetual curiosity that we have. Curious at how much we have excelled in nearly the same manner and extent that we have ruined ourselves.  Curious that so much of us have remained the same, yet desperately we insist on becoming different in trying to create division, to put up barriers and to live in the illusion that the world should only revolve around our own needs. Curious at how much we have loved and how much more we have hated, Curious about all the wars that we have fought, for God, country and ideology. Curious at our imperfections, at our self-inflicted pains and curious even more at our quest for the perfect self.

Maybe, Venus is already exasperated at us, because her every journey across the sun follows the same painstaking pattern in the time clock of eternity – that of happening once and only once every hundred years…  and in fact her journey delivers the same message to us over and over again but for some reason we refuse to comprehend and accept the meaning of that message over the course of several hundred years from Jesus Christ to Adolf Hitler… we refuse to comprehend the message about life in this world being fleeting and transitory… that when this life is finished, the whole pattern is bound to be repeated with or without us waiting and watching for the moment when Venus once again would drift across the sun… the message that our faiths and convictions are pitifully tiny and gravely irrelevant no matter how much we exaggerate their worth because eternity doesn’t give a damn about what we think or how we feel, the message that no matter how desperately we try we could not make a dent in the universal order, let alone to inflict a heartbeat’s delay in the general cycle of birth and death and renewal because we are just humans and our understanding of our wisdom and energies borders on the delusional. Venus is telling us all of these, over and over again, and she has been doing so every hundred years. Someday we shall all be gone but the universal order goes on and on.

To accept that we are miniscule compared to the infinite realm is not to lose our self-worth. On the contrary, it is one significant step towards the discovery of the great secret of making every moment count and leaving an indelible trace in the course of our journey through life, just like the life well lived that will continue to inspire and to give hope long after it ended. The journey that Venus takes every hundred years across the sun speaks not so much of the fact that we are too small, and our life too short. Those things incidentally are facts and we cannot change them. However, the reason why people would like to witness the journey of Venus should not be overlooked or ignored. They do, we all do, because that one moment in time is so rare and unique and it is in the nature of man to value and covet that thing that we couldn’t have. But we must realized that these very attributes of rarity and uniqueness are inherent attributes in every man, the same way we find them in the journey of Venus across the sun. There will not be another sighting of Venus crossing the sun in a hundred years but we don’t have to look too far to realized that the bigger irony is this: there will be no other person quite like you or me forever and ever and until the end of time.

Each person is not quite like any other and for that matter, each one is a bigger miracle than all the journeys across the sun that Venus will ever make.

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Completely Worthless Opinion on the Impeachment Trial

From the very start, I never wanted to comment on the issue. But I changed my mind in the end.

Now that everything is said and done the conviction of the disgraced Supreme Court Chief Justice should make you think twice before you despair or celebrate – whichever side of the fence you chose to be. With all due respect, I do not find the Chief Justice, rather the former Chief Justice as someone who could inspire me to get off the couch and take to the streets and try to rekindle the old flame of idealism of my youth. To be honest about it, were if not for the high-handed manner he was unseated, perhaps I would be among the first to march in the streets and call for his immediate removal. Fighting his fight can be disheartening, and in fact just the mere thought of doing it depletes my enthusiasm instantly, because frankly, there was no cause worth fighting for with him at the forefront. For nothing in this man or whatever he stood for or symbolized to us could reasonably agitate my hatred for corruption and the social ills.

I couldn’t relate, much less identify with his torments because as we all should know by now, he had it coming. In fact, I am almost completely swayed by the argument, as beautifully articulated by both the suit-clad lawyers from congress and by the sidewalk vendor that I spoke to, that the disgraced Chief Justice must be understandably measured against a yardstick of moral and ethical fortitude that rises over and above the standards by which we must judge the ordinary men. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I should quote a line I overheard from the loud conversation of neighborhood drunks just last night that, Corona’s lying declarations on the senate floor are unforgivable as the specter of the Pope committing an act of indiscretion. While the comparison is grossly exaggerating the point, it only meant that no allowance for human frailty should be given the man who stands alone and without peer in accepting the role of the ultimate symbol of justice and faith and hope to his people. Whether we like it or not, forgiveness is not for everybody.

However, that doesn’t mean I have been converted overnight into a believer of the Senate and for that matter, of the current administration. For every single reason I have to despise Corona, I have ten more reasons to feel like, figuratively, pounding the balding head of the man in Malacanang with the Senate President’s gavel. Here is the man who has done nothing to deserve the Presidency except that he remembered to insert his parent’s bio-data in his job-application. In between speeches calling for moral reforms and a shifting of the national direction into the straight and righteous path, he would emerge from some showroom behind the wheels of a mean slick Porsche and would be dating the likes of Grace Lee, although as of this writing, they are rumored to have already broken-up.

And while 80% of our people eke out a living on a dollar a day, the President’s sister would heroically wage a courageous battle against dandruff and oily skin by endorsing the latest beauty products for which she was being paid a “measly” talent fee of a few million pesos. In fact, his nephew Baby James at such tender age, is already taking his own share of sacrificing for the country by enduring the monumental task of gulping down a glass of milk before the cruel and heartless television camera for which the boy was paid predictably, talent fee the equivalent of a “paltry sum” by his family’s standards. Now that’s public service.

I wouldn’t applaud either, the act of the senate as a demonstration of high principles as all this funfare is plain and simple politics. The impeachment trial is flawed right from the start not having emanated from the legitimate cry for help by the poor and the oppressed but rather it was made to serve the purpose of the oppressor himself. Heck I will build a life-size monument of the 23 senators who voted yes and kneel in front of them every night and say a prayer in their honor before I retire to bed had the impeachment trial been the product not of presidential manipulation but of a simple and honest to goodness complaint from an ordinary citizen who got the wrong end of a Supreme Court decision. Then and only then can I say that the intention behind the whole exercise is laudable and pure. That the end justifies the means. But the way I see it, the senators have gladly accepted their demotion to a baby-sitting role next to a power-tripping spoiled brat of a president, who had already been served everything he wanted on a silver tray for no reason other than his pedigree.

Those who keep harping about the argument that the moral standards by which  to judge the Chief Justice must be of the God-like level of infalliability, let me throw these questions back to you. Wouldn't it be fair to expect that since we are dealing here with the Supreme Court's highest leader, don't you think it follows that the persons to judge him should themselves submit to the same exacting standards? If I were Chief Justice, would it be too much to ask that the person to pass judgment on me must at least be intelligent enough to know highschool-level English, or someone who did not earn his fame as a former comedian? And that the person to lead the whole process of my impeachment has no shady past? 

You can say all you want. Cite every legal citation there is to be found in the books. But all the legal doctrines and all the lawyers in the whole world cannot change my opinion on this one.

It’s not about principles. It’s all about politics.

Thank God, I’m not a lawyer. I’m a liar. Ha-ha-ha…    

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Story of Sam

I had to rush to catch that 8:00 o’clock dinner with Sam.

Coming from far south of the crowded Metropolis, I was desperately  praying that traffic would be a little bit lighter at that hour, and that the gridlock, if there is one should happen on the opposite direction, stalling motorists travelling from Makati to the neighboring areas down south. But quite unfortunately for me, chaos spread both ways, where ever you are coming from, north or south of EDSA with no escape in sight.

I have a confession to make. I dread meetings with Sam because of the mixed emotions heaped upon my self-esteem by such meetings. The sooner I get there, the sooner it would be time to leave, I assured myself.

So when he stood up from the dinner table he had reserved for the two of us at one of the mall’s better diners to acknowledge my presence, I was inevitably struck by the familiar sense of anxiety. A quick glance at my wristwatch showed I was more than an hour late for the meeting. It’s almost ten. Time flies, indeed, but damn it, I’m not even having fun.

“Kumusta bro, how are you doing? Tooth-paste commercial smile radiated all over his handsome, flawless face, accentuating the rose-colored cheeks that seemed to glow under the light, as he reached out to offer the customary handshake. It felt like pillow. The palm of his hand. And for one second, I hesitated to grip it tight I might injure the immaculate, almost lady-like hand. His perfume left a slight residue in my hand that was both a distraction and a sensory pleasure.

“You looked harassed pare. It must be a really long day. How’ya doin’ bro?” He repeated.

“Just came from Sta. Rosa, Sammy Boy”. I retorted mindlessly. “My butt is already starting to burn from sitting through four hours of horrific traffic”.

Suddenly he stood up and I was instantly looking up and it felt awkward. We’re almost eye-level when he’s seated but standing up, his 6-foot frame dwarfed me by a full feet. I wanted to push him back down to his seat and tell him to stay there.

Sam is everything I am not. Someone I could only hope to be, but could never quite come close to compete with in terms of physical gifts even in my wildest dreams. In the corner of my eyes, I could see the ladies swooning, wait, it’s more like they were drooling, frothing in the mouth like mad dogs do at the sight of meat from their vantage point on the next table across the room and I really don’t blame the ladies. Sam simply oozed class, breeding, and drop dead male sensuality most men like me would die to have. I would rather be in another place than be sitting right here next to him where I think those ladies have already thought of me as Sam’s personal chauffeur.

The last time he called me up on my cellphone, Sam was in the process of finishing his latest condominium project, a joint-venture with his college buddies and their foreign financiers that would net them millions in profits and I do expect that Sam would take the lion’s share of that fortune. I had helped them go over the legal hurdles and to finalize side-contracts.  Then I overheard his friends say he will bring Dolly to yet another honeymoon in Boracay.

Speaking of Dolly, she is… well no single word can describe the kind of woman she is. But let me just say from experience that every kid who goes through the process of becoming a man had more or less his own idea of what the perfect girl is, and chances are, without even knowing Dolly, she personifies that girl. Her pure and fragile beauty is the muse of every man. I only met Sam’s wife twice, but both encounters are intoxicating, near-surreal experiences that left  me clueless about the place, time and the circumstances in which they occured. I remember taking her handshake and staring straight into the most sensuous almond eyes I've ever seen, and wondered if by the grace of God I have just died from a stroke and this angel was sent over to fetch me. That’s the kind of woman Dolly is. She and Sam indeed are meant for each other. Incidentally, it was my idea to call the two of them – Sam and Dolly – Sam-son and Do-lie-lah – and our friends who heard the monickers for the very first time, in between bursts of laughter couldn’t help but agree. I still hear them called by those names every now and then, during occasions of friendly banter, and I take credit for having made the perfect monicker that really stuck.    

“So, what’s the deal now? I’m fed up with seeing you guys get rich so quick while I starve.” I was in a playful mood, but what I said were honestly half-meant, especially the fed-up part. I do feel that my envy is completely justified.

I realized Sam had ordered a late dinner for the two of us. His favorite t-bone steak, medium rare, and I could see the blood still dripping off the meat and I felt suddenly being swept with nausea. He was methodically starting to pick the meat off the bone with the steak knife, trying to keep the conversation going without looking at me.

“Well, actually, we’re planning to bid for the North Rail Project, as soon as the French financiers give the go signal. But that’s not what I called you for. You see bro, Dolly and I…”

“Oh yeah, how’s Dolly, send her my regards will you, by the way, that North Rail Project is making such a buzz. I know a lot of investors are licking their chops as we speak, if you and your friends nail that deal, then you’re made… you don’t have to work a single day in your life after that.”     

“It really is…  by the way, Dolly had just…”

“Tell me what can I do to help.” I stopped Sam in mid-speech and steered the talk back to business, which is, as I said, the reason I came here for in the first place.

“Expect tons of paper work and legal skirmishes but don’t worry we’ll have it all figured out like we always do. The main thing is, it would be all worth that North Rail deal. We’re raking up hundreds of millions here.”

“Dolly and I had an ugly fight”…. Sam’s words seemed to get drowned over my  ranting exuberance about the prospect of another multi-million, possibly billion peso deal, and I had trouble grasping the idea at once. Still, I came here to talk business. I won’t dare drift away from that. Besides, it’s getting late.

“Oh, sorry to hear that… But hey, relax, Sam… we all do fight… Can’t live without it. You’ll be kissing and hugging in no time, I bet.”

He paused for a moment and focused on the bloody meat, slicing it carefully like a surgeon. Then he put down the steak knife and reached for an envelope. “She’s suing, bro. I want you to be my lawyer. Here, I want you to look at these photographs.”

The pictures I pulled out of the envelope unleashed a shockwave I have never ever felt my entire life. I felt numbed by the sight of so much blood, of busted lips and bloody broken nose, the dreadful aftermath of a violent rage unleashed on defenseless and vulnerable flesh, suggesting a screaming, excruciating pain. For a moment I was completely disoriented and I wanted to believe the pictures I am looking at were those of a mangled doll, or those of a crash-test dummy. But this is no illusion or make-believe. This is true flesh and blood. This is what he did to Dolly…

The ladies giggled from the table next to us. Sam was scooping the last morsels of meat off his plate while I struggled to keep myself from leaping across the table and plunging a steak knife into the throat of this monster next to me. During the next hour or so, I had to endure listening to his story, his self-serving excuses, his twisted truths and desperate lies while I stifle the voice of my own conscience not because i wanted to but because it was my job to listen. Because that is what I am getting paid for. 

That night, I went home with the weight of the whole world on my shoulders.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"The Mother of Mayhem"

Without a shred of doubt, I am now convinced that Pacquiao versus Mayweather is not the best fight to be made in our lifetime.

Why, last Sunday, the battle to end all battles, the fight that really mattered had actually already been made and you must be dumb and blind or you’ve been living in a cave to miss out on all the action. Brief as it was, fleeting even, the spectacle was unscripted, unannounced, and completely astounding!

We were treated to a fight way more profound and intense than Pacquiao and Mayweather fighting a hundred times over, could ever produce, if by any remote chance that fight could still be made.

I was gripped with suspense and glued to the teevee set, and so was the entire nation of tens of millions of rice-eating, rumor-mongering, and debt-ridden Filipinos when Mon Tulfo and the husband and wife tag team of Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barreto got down and dirty during a hilarious and highly entertaining punch fest at the NAIA 3 mezzanine floor.

Pound-for pound, I would dare say Claudine Barretto, all beefed up and with bulges her clothes could barely hold together must be tough to beat. I was worried her skimpy shorts would rip apart when she bends and expose her assets all over the cameras during the fracas.  

Having literally “outgrown” her young and wholesome image, Claudine had been typecast for mother roles of late. But following this public embarrassment, I doubt if even mother roles would come knocking at her doorsteps these days to salvage what’s left of her fast-fading celebrity.

Ironically, she would probably end up losing all the “meaty” roles for throwing her weight around, pun intended.

As for Tulfo, the poor fellow was clearly in queer streets while trying to regain his footing from all that bashing on the head that he took that perhaps in the aftermath of the confusion, he must have thought of calling for help on the program Isumbong Mo Kay Tulfo until he realized when the cobwebs cleared, that “Goddammit! I would be calling myself!”

If anything, he was lucky his toupee was not yanked off during the attack!

Imagine this, Claudine’s shorts bursting at the seams and Tulfo’s wig blowing in the wind! It should be one for the books.

Before you bash my head for being insensitive and for making fun of people’s public humiliation, I stand by my choice to take everything in stride and see the whole picture for what it is, a ridiculous case of people being people and letting off steam in a savage, if comical way. I see no point in turning this incident into a feminists rights or a freedom of the press debate. With all due respect, Claudine is not worth bearing the banner for the typecast aggrieved women of the world in the same manner that Tulfo is not deserving to wear the mantle of the crusading journalist. I don’t know about you and I respect your opinion whatever that is, but for me, we shouldn’t dignify this incident.

Let’s save the argument for the real life heroes out there.    

In the meantime, let’s sit and watch the aftermath, as the Senate with yet another investigation in aid of legislation in the offing, tries to get into the act while the Tulfo brothers grit their teeth waiting in the wings. Overall, it was wacky and wild, it was fun to watch. It was an advanced Mother’s Day bash.

And it truly was the Mother of Mayhem.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Slavemaster Society

I had just overheard from the radio of a passing jeepney that employers’ groups have offered to raise worker’s pay by a staggering twelve pesos (P12.00) a day. Bring on the brew and celebrate. This is great news! Talk about manna from heaven, a windfall from jolly old Santa at the height of summer – but wait, first things first. Hurry up. Let's all get down to work and invent the time machine ASAP because that's just about the only chance we've got in a billion years to get back to the 60’s – that time in the distant past that we can never bring back ever again, a time when a peso can buy you a hundred king-size pan de sal or treat you and your date to the movies. That time when life was a little bit easier and when it seemed only the misfits were the only ones who starve not because they could not afford food but because the ‘hippies’ of those days think it’s cool to be a walking zombie. But anyway, my message to these employers – capitalists in the socio-economic sense is whoa... wake up dudes and get real. Hello… Most of us will have no problem giving twenty bucks to the parking lot attendant. And those billionaire businessmen are dangling twelve pesos. Give me a break. Twelve pesos is a slap in the face… a bone thrown to the hungry dogs. I would even dare say the offer is inhuman. It’s bullet to the old dying horse’s head.

This is the reason I always dread the coming of May firsts. Ironically it brings floods of very joyous memories to me that only add more pain to nostalgia. May firsts were occasions to the many rites of passage that filled my life. It was I think on the first of May that I painfully transitioned from boyhood to manhood, well, I’m not so sure about the exact date actually, but what I am very sure of was the pain. Just remembering the experience still hurts to this day.

In college, the first day of May offers a perfect outlet to our angst. They make bearable my embarrassment that I am taking summer classes instead of bumming around in the beach because I flunked Algebra in the worst possible way. At the height of summer, we would protest in Mendiola, students like myself who crave for some self-affirmation would find themselves happy to spend sweaty summer days in the company of the starving masses. The unwashed, unfed and disconsolate to the core that we used to ignore when social issues take a back seat to happier times, the people who assume an unexpected significance because it’s May first. When the chips are down, we tend to gravitate towards each other, united under the banner of discontent with society’s double standards. Somehow we all find a commonality in the struggle for better working conditions and higher wages for the working man which, come to think of it, have long been going on perhaps since the beginning of time. Long before you and I were ever born.

This social inequity is as old as the air that we breathe, and the ground we walk on, feeding the greed of the privileged few with nourishment that grows from the servitude of those whose destiny is to live, to work, to die and to be forever forgotten. We would like to believe we could change that. We were young and those were the days.

There were those times when outcasts and activists transform into heroes because of their defiance of the system, the willingness to rise to the occasion at the risk of losing their lives. They were my first role-models. Ka Cris (Beltran) was much younger then but he and Ka Satur, were the firebrand that would energize rallies with their impassioned pleas. I could listen to them all day. They were not especially eloquent but they satisfy my idealism in a way that no politician or celebrity can. They have a cause and to me, it was more than enough. Afterall, I was lost and searching for meaning to my young but empty life. I needed something to lift my lowly assessment of where I stand in the system. These activists showed the way. They take their mission to heart. They have a faith that just like flame must keep burning or darkness shall claim our lives and take away everything that we work so hard to achieve. We have something worth living for, a cause, a duty, a fight to be won.

I wish I could say the same thing to Ka Cris wherever he is now that I am old and my hair gray, now that I am nearing the age that he was when we first met,  if indeed there is a way the spirits can get in touch with the living. Maybe I shall confess my lifetime of embarrassment to him, beginning with the way I had transformed from social activist into a corrupted bureaucrat who not only became part of the system but willingly sold out to the system part of his soul. I wonder if he is at peace with himself after the ignominy of his death, the circumstances in which he lost his life, not from the beating of truncheons of anti-riot police or from an overdose of tear gas, which we already accepted as the likeliest end for people like us after every close brush with death during May day upheavals. The closing chapter to his biography is so unfair to Ka Cris how I wish I could do something about it to claim for him the dignity in dying that was robbed from him by fate.

Ka Cris had achieved modest success and joined Congress as partylist representative at the turn of the millennium. But as they say, you can take the man off the street but you cannot take the street off the man. Outside the august halls of Congress, he continued to live the life, the only kind of life that he knew. Having spent most of his life on countless rallies and riots in the streets the blue collar worker in him rules his life, even in a period of relative affluence.  One day, the congressman slipped and fell off the roof of his modest house while repairing a leak and cracked his skull on the pavement. At the time of his death, he was lobbying for a one hundred twenty five peso (P125.00)across the board wage increase. Years later and after a series of oil price hikes coupled with the plummeting value of the peso, his capitalist enemies could only offer twelve pesos. They are not content with the knowledge that the man is dead. They want his cause to die with him. Our slave master society never forgives. That's why May first makes me feel sad - resigned to the misery of mourning the sheer ignominy of the passing of a good man. It is not a pleasant thing to remember.

Sometimes the thing I hate about life is life itself...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Hard-Rocking Days

The 90’s were a crazy time in pop music. As music fans across the globe staggered to their feet from the new wave hangover – where Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, Spandau Ballet and all the colorful bands that emerged came to define the sound, the attitude and the hairstyle of the time – the same music fans who once worshipped them were ready to move on. While new wave was crazy, the grunge era that followed was dark and way more violent.

Nirvana and Metallica epitomize the milieu with their take on drugs and violence while Guns and Roses, and oh yes, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers added an overdose of sex, so what we have then was a deadly musical concoction that was all set to explode. As a footnote to that period, Kurt would shoot himself in the head at the height of his popularity, leaving a young widow and a hapless baby girl as well as millions of heartbroken Nirvana fans. I was at the RPN-9 newsroom when the news came off the wire from Reuters and instinctively I fed the story of Kurt’s death to the hourly newsbreak anchor and the late Frank Abao (RIP, Manong Frank)gave me a piece of his mind for putting such “obscure” story on the foreign news banner. I couldn’t blame good old Frank. He thought Elvis was the last late great action hero and after him, no one else deserves to die and have their death announced on teevee.

Just like the last Japanese straggler, I refused to surrender unconditionally to the grunge invasion. Although I must confess I nearly did, when new wave was “in”. However, I am a Robert Smith loyalist to the grave and I refuse to define him as new wave or grunge. The Cure had been spreading the word to whoever would care to listen since the 70’s. He’s just a guy with the hairstyle of an electric chair miracle survivor and a voice from somewhere between heaven and hell. Simply, there is no cure to my addiction to “The Cure” and I feel vindicate because Robert and his band are still around long after the rest have disappeared. “In Between Days” will remain on my list of favorite soundtracks in case my life is made into a movie, which I imagine will have plenty of torrid kissing scenes and maybe a little bit of frontal nudity.

Yet, I was ready to give the new breed of rockers of that period a chance. On hindsight, I think I was actually left with no choice. The airwave is heavily polluted with the so-called “alternative rock” that there was simply no escaping their evil spell. The defunct NU 102.7 made sure of that, and so did the handful of local FM bands that rode the alternative rock band bandwagon. There was even one obscure FM station that completely dedicated itself to alternative rock music, and so they play non-stop the very raw and edgy early recordings of The Wuds, (where the hell are you now, man, I miss you…) Tropical Depression, Coco Jam, and of course the very young and still dirt-poor E-heads who are, as we know by now, already filthy rich (but no longer as prolific).

My life was at crossroads during the 90’s. It was a time when I do believe I have moved away from my angst-filled days, and was beginning to accept compromises at the expense of my idealism, which translates to growing old. It was also a time in my life when I strongly felt that my gripes and whining against the world are justified and legitimate. Afterall, I paid my dues as a student. I learned as much from the schools as in the streets. I had my collection of battle scars from the riots, the rumbles and the rallies in Mendiola. Then suddenly I graduated. Forty two, again forty two companies rejected my job application outright. When I was in college, at least I had my allowance to feed me, and what I was doing seemed to make sense, education is big deal, right? After that, I wasn't so sure anymore.

But I guess it wasn’t asking too much if I had expected that the real world, the one I could only watch from a distance from my classroom window, would be more kind and accommodating to someone like me, or at least, it would have a little bit of something to offer like, perhaps, a fairly decent job, which wouldn’t necessarily pay much but would at least make you feel useful and maybe proud enough to think that the four years of college was not exactly a waste of time. For some reason, that proud moment just wouldn’t come to me. Instead, I was continuously confounded by the pain of rejection. I lost count of the number of times I heard “no.”

Those were the times I would turn to music. I want music to sing my angst, to rebel against everything that has been tailor-fit to the standards. I want it to be defiant, to stray off the track, better yet to go out of tune. For some reason I can’t quite explain, you find a communion that way, you feel a certain bond, a sense of belonging with people like you, the people that fate did not seem to treat too kindly. You may not speak the same language or your political loyalties may strongly differ, even you faith may set you up as foes, but if there is a particular music or a song or a sound that you like, it was already a good start to a breaking of the barriers. The atmosphere of a rock concert validates that observation. There is a sense of collective bliss from all that noise, and depending on which crowd you belong to, you might end up breathless or beaten up. One late night at a rock concert in Ultra’s football field, I was ready to concede that After-Image had genuine talent. “Next in Line” had the potential to become the anthem of the generation. It was well-written, catchy and with a message that would move the casual listener. Wency and his band of young musicians from San Beda were just as brilliant to hear live, as they would each time their song is played on the radio. “Tag-ulan” was a favorite, partly because I am obsessed with rain and anything associated with it brings joy to me.

The problem was, After Image had the misfortune to play back to back with another rock band whose name I can no longer recall but whose front man left a lasting impression. Karl Roy was his name and he blew Wency Cornejo off the stage. The word badass was not yet spoken this part of the world at that time but if there was an occasion to use it for the first time and if there is one person that personified what it meant, then he is absolutely the man. Karl was a man possessed. His take on “Give it Away” makes you feel like the Red Hot Chili Peppers were on stage playing. The Mohawk haircut and tattoos, I mean the whole attitude simply rocks. By the time Karl and his band were done playing, the audience were booing Wency and his band for having the gall to take center stage next to him. I feel sorry for you guys. Sometimes, a rock concert is heart-wrenching drama, even when people were supposed to have a crazy fun time. Maybe that one incident took the wind out of their sail and After-Image shortly lost the energy to proceed with its journey, riding off prematurely into the sunset of obscurity. After-Image has since faded into an after-thought whereas, Karl Roy continued his quest and was in fact a rocker to his death.

After that night, I forgot about Wency and became a Karl Roy fan for life. And this is how this piece of reminiscences would end, the same way Karl ended his hard rocking days. I feel a tinge of sadness writing about the past, because all my heroes are dying. But I do feel a sense of duty to say goodbye. Roy represented a time in my life when I was young but old enough to deal with life’s heartaches. He will forever be one of the characters, he and Kurt, who populate my make-believe world, the one I will always visit when I feel so low and desperate, the place where I always run for comfort in moments of sadness, and especially when my heart is broken, when I long for the days when I was young, idealistic, creative and free.

Good bye Roy. I hate you for dying on me. I mean that with all my respect and affection.