Thursday, September 14, 2017

2017 Nick Joaquin Literary Awards: Poet of the Year

As if the year weren't wonderful enough with the birth of our silly little boy, Alphonse, I was blessed to receive the Poet of the Year award from The Philippines Graphic Magazine at the 2017 Nick Joaquin Literary Awards. Here we are, giving up on getting a good picture together, since Alphonse decided he was way more interested in the ceiling lights:

It wasn't an easy pregnancy. And it hasn't been easy taking care of our son. I've been working and chasing a career in marketing and advertising before I had to quit and get used to life at home. What's even more challenging is how to take care of such a fragile new life while trying to get my life back in order. But the thing is, life isn't this chronology of events nor is it some shelf where everything is ordered and labeled. Things fall in and out of place. This time, things did fall into place, and the years I'd spent exploring poetry, sound, words, spacings and the meanings these create have allowed me to reap such an unexpected honor.

Left to right: PGPI VP for Finance Adebelo Gasmin, rep of PRU Life U.K,. Yours truly with her Poet of the Year award, Second Prize winner for Fiction Scott Lee Chua, First Prize winner Christian Ray Buendia, Third Prize Winner Wayne Benitez Castillo, PGPI president Benjamin V. Ramos and Philippines Graphic publisher T. Anthony Cabangon. Picture borrowed from Sir Krip Yuson.

The event was Alphonse's first formal event. Victor, my husband, told me the baby was looking at me while I was on stage. And then I thought, "Hey, there's a poem in that gaze."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

When Did We Filipinos Collapse into Factions?

Conversing at length with a friend, we came upon an agreement. It is that we cannot be distracted from what we truly must do for our country. You know, at the end of the day, we want a fair society. We want safe streets, without fear of being killed by riding in tandem vigilante, or mugged by thieves. We want hospitals and affordable healthcare. We want trains. We want roads (decongested). We want sidewalks. We want decent jobs with decent pay.

This is why we awoke. We awoke in separate factions. Pro-Marcos. Anti-Marcos. Pro-Aquino. Anti-Aquino. Ka-DDS. Pro-Country. But when you look at the heart of the arguments, you will see that we often look back at the times when our nation was or could have been great. And at each of those moments, there were heroes who rose up and there were leaders who failed us.

I doubt that there is a Pro-Marcos brother out there who truly means to say he doesn't give a damn about human rights victims as long as he was able to enjoy the infrastructure boom and affordable cost of living. I doubt that the Anti-Aquino who polices us to remember the Mendiola Massacre means to reduce the problem to a war between two families: Aquino vs. Marcos.

What is being said is that even after everything, even after our great People Power Revolution, there are still profiteering politicians in place. We are still asking, where the hell are the trains? Why the hell is energy so expensive? Why are the fuel giants still allowed to collude? Why are there no new state hospitals being built? Why can't I afford healthcare? Why are so many Pinoys still living below the poverty line? Why are there still haciendas despite all these talks on Agrarian reform?

Some throw up their hands and sigh "Pare-pareho lang yang mga politiko." But no, they are not the same.

Ultimately we must ask: who is/are accountable for what's wrong and how do we hold them responsible? And then, after we have destroyed this longstanding impunity, we ask how do we move on from here?

With so many issues plaguing the country, we do each other a disservice by labeling ourselves or another a Dutertard or Yellowtard or whatever. These are distractions. It merely fosters a culture of forgetfulness because it adds to our inability to focus on any one thing until it reaches its full closure. #NeverForget: this humble hashtag may yet be the greatest finding of our time. It empowers us to seek out our cause, our calling. Empowers us to ACT on our cause with dogged focus, and not to digress into namecalling the opposing viewpoint like snotty children who just lost in a game of marbles. They have their own role to play. You have yours. If today we must march for justice, then we march. Tomorrow is a new day.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Much Ado About a Fallen Dictator

And so my days are filled with food cravings (pregnant), and also Ferdinand Marcos. Due to the recent (sudden) burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, factions have arisen even among my friends. Some are Pro-Marcos, Some Anti-, and Others just Pro-Country. I think I'm Pro-Country, but it's hard to wear labels when you don't even know what they really stand for. I do tend to see Marcos as once a great man but fallen, any achievement overshadowed by his greed.

Some friends frequently correct my stand by citing all the great things they enjoyed during Marcos' reign: infrastructure, power plants, schools, etc. But having read several books and spoken to victims during Martial Law, it's hard for me to see how "great things" can continue to be great when there were enforced disappearances and human rights violations happening at the same time. Necessary evil? I don't think so.

Here are my thoughts:
  1. A Neo-Colonial Philippines: While it’s true that Ferdinand Marcos nationalized several industries like energy, healthcare and education, the explosive growth in development of these sectors came at the cost of a ballooning international debt and an unequally-yoked alliance with the US. The US and international organizations such as the World Bank and IMF generously supported the Marcos regime with aid and loans (The Political Economy of the Philippines Under Marcos, But in receiving “aid” from the US, Marcos, in exchange, allowed the US to build strategically-located US bases in the Philippines (it was the period of the Cold War), with questionable economic returns to the Philippines. “During the early 1970s, Thailand received over $400 million in-military assistance and South Korea received over $600 million. The Philippines received only $50 million in grant aid--at a time when the Filipino Communist New People's Army had recommenced its armed insurrection against the government'” (The Key Role of U.S. Bases in the Philippines, In later post-Marcos years, the social consequences of these US bases became apparent—prostitution, fatherless Amerasian children who receive no assistance from the US and Philippine governments, spread of sexually transmitted disease would become the bane of areas like Angeles Pampanga (Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice Vol. 15 Issue 1; Sex Work in Southeast Asia: The Place of Desire in a Time of AIDS, Routledge 2000).
  2. Debt-driven Development: The Philippines nursed an external debt that rose from US$2.3 billion in 1970 to more than US$17.2 billion in 1980. While it is true the loaned money was used to build infrastructure, Marcos prioritized the interests of his cronies, who were awarded contracts without undergoing competitive bidding. They profited from what are supposed to be state projects--like the $2.3 billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Crony Capitalism denied opportunities for entrepreneurs, thus stagnating the growth of Philippine industries which could have boosted GDP (Martial Law and Its Aftermath,; Marcos years marked 'golden age' of PH economy? Under cronies Benedicto and Eduardo Cojuangco, sugar and coconuts industries became monopolies where farmers on the local level were obliged to sell only to the monopolies and at lower than world market prices. This saw the rise of mass poverty and malnutrition in rural communities (Crony Capitalism,
  3. Marcos Established/Founded State Colleges/Universities: All well and good that there were more schools, but it’s ironic that it was also the students who suffered greatly during Martial Law. Liliosa Hilao was a student activist in the Martial Law era who was abducted and killed. Another was Jan Quimpo. Yet another was Archimedes Trajano. There were also several violent dispersals of student movements, as in the famous First Quarter Storm of 1970. The Hilao and Trajano families will later be among those who will file legal cases related to human rights violations against the deposed Marcos. And they succeeded through a ruling in a court in Hawaii that requires the estate of Marcos to pay $2 billion (almost P90 billion) in damages after more than 9,000 HR victims filed a class suit against the Marcos estate in 1994. While one could argue that it’s “their fault for going against the government,” it’s thanks to their sacrifice that we can freely muse about these things in the first place. Characteristic of Marcos’ authoritarian regime is the control of media (print, TV, radio, etc) and the silencing of dissenters. So what is the use of schools that can’t teach students to think critically and speak up?
  4. Development Masquerading the Loot: Loot gained from taxes and the industries (energy, sugar, coconut, etc.) Marcos had sequestered for himself and his cronies continue to be litigated on to this day. A total of P10 billion allotted for the Human Rights Victims’ reparation was sourced from the Marcoses’ hidden and stolen wealth recovered by the government of the Philippines from their Switzerland accounts (Republic Act No. 10368).

Monday, July 4, 2016

And so... I Got Married Victor. My travel buddy and best friend and greatest fan....

We had Porky as our cake model

Just love this lil' guy

Very modelesque

One more

Great Cake Design by Streetside Bakers
Victor and I were busy planning for the past six months. It was a different kind of challenge, perhaps the first serious marriage "trial". I wanted to go small. He did, too. But we had different ideas on what "small" meant. I didn't think I needed to be in a dress. He responded with big, confused eyes. I wanted us to skip the red carpet walk. The family responded with big, confused eyes.

If it were just me making the decision, I'd have gone ahead and gotten married in a tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe, had a few beers and laughs, read some poems and been done with it. But we weren't doing it just for me or for ourselves.

Milestones like these are big for the family because it's when everything becomes real (not that it wasn't real before). It's when the once-was-a-baby girl and boy are now big enough to fend for themselves. It's when the parents and godparents can trust that they can let go and still see the lives they nurtured flourish in this uncertain world.

When the contract is signed, it's a contract with everyone else invited, to guide and watch us, to help us fulfill the promises we made.

I don't know where we're headed. I just know that despite the shortcomings, the times when we couldn't understand each other, the times when we could never agree, there were more times when we just held hands, where the silence of sitting beside each other not saying anything was dangerous yet comforting at the same time.