Welcome! I'm Brad, a retired American high school teacher who has been living in Cabanatuan City, the Philippines for more than four years. My adoptive/adopted Filipino family, the Javier-Aldonza-Guevarra-Academia clan, the kind staff at the hotel across the street where I used to live, and the Raguindin family, under whose roof I now live, have been friends and helpmates to me during this time; thanks to them for letting me describe here their trials, successes, heartaches, celebrations, passions, so that American readers can get an idea of Filipino life. It has, for the most part, been a very enjoyable stay. I post every four to ten days, y'all. Tap the lower floors above for earlier posts, and, as ever, click the pics to embiggen them!
You can reach Brad Smith at email@example.com
New Friends, New Sights, and an Earthquake
I experienced the quake without even realizing I was experiencing a quake. At 8:43 am the day before yesterday I was just turning the key in the ignition of the Avanza, see. As I did so, the front of the car bucked up and down and shimmied, and kept doing that for what I guess was about 30 seconds. Oh great, I thought. Nine-plus hours of driving ahead of me and now there's a -- what -- a popped piston, a severed fuel line? No one was around me in the parking lot at Roel's Garden Resort in Cabagan, Isabela, and so I did not have the benefit of seeing others freaking out at what was actually a problem with the ground, and not with my car.
When the bucking and shimmying stopped, I tentatively backed out and headed down the Maharlika Highway. The car seemed fine. Whatever had been wrong with it had miraculously righted itself! Well, I was probably halfway to Cabagan's southern border when I saw there was a text from Jheng. Pulling to the side of the road -- always do that in the car when I have to diddle with the phone -- I read that Cabanatuan had just had an earthquake. You see any damage, Jheng? No, but there had been pronounced shaking of the ground. We went on like that for a while longer and then I started off again, but within half a minute pulled over to the side again. This time it was Gracelyn, who lives in Cabagan and whom I had been visiting in Cabagan. Are you okay? Did you feel the quake? It was only then I realized nothing at all had been wrong with the car.
The quake's epicenter was in the town of Bagued, in mountainous Abra Province, about 200 kilometers directly west of Cabagan. This is fortunate, for Abra Province is about as sparsely populated as Luzon gets, and this was a very sizeable quake, felt by folks on the ground as far away as Manila, more than 400 kilometers south of Bagued -- a 7.0 on the Richter scale. Ten are confirmed dead, as I tap this out, and more than three hundred injured. Highways over much of the northern cordillera have beed closed due to landslides. Four people traveling in one car are missing.
My own long journey home on the Maharlika was a drive without mishap, though there were the usual hair-raising moments one expects spending time on this road. Those nineteen or twenty hours I'll save for my next installment on this blog.
I'd driven so far to the north to spend time with the people joining me in the photo above: Gracelyn Gatan, a single mother, and her children Faith and Matthew. As mentioned in an earlier posting, Grace and I had met on a dating site, and for some weeks we had been epic texters to each other. I really wanted to meet her, and Google informed me that the drive was considerably shorter than it turned out to be -- and so the trip was planned!
Grace had chosen as my home base during the 6-night stay a room at Roel's Garden Resort, and a good choice it turned out to be. A spacious room with a big bed and a TV with good cable channels for P1,200 a night, or a little less than 20 dollars American. No hot water, but that to me is not a major shortcoming. Cella, Alvin, and the rest of the staff there were very kind and took an active interest in this budding friendship between an Americano and a Filipino family. And the pool, where the family and I spent a good deal of time, was clean and quite beautiful, hemmed in by foxtail palms and ashoka trees.
Faith is a reserved but witty young woman, about to enter tenth grade. Matt is rambunctious and a bit combustible, what one often gets in a 7-year-old boy. His way with English is head-turning; Grace told me he loves English and is picking up new words and phrases all the time -- so I introduced Matt to the term "autodidact." Gracelyn herself . . . is a rationalist with a sense of humor, warm, smart, caring. Her children adore her -- yes, adore is the right word. If Matt acts up, Grace calms him down with two or three words. Her relationship with her daughter has this female, arm-in-arm camaraderie aspect to it, replete with inside jokes. I was very glad to spend six days with these people!
What did we do? Well, there was a sightseeing side to our days together. We visited, for example, San Pablo Church, just outside of Cabagan, the oldest still-standing church in the Cayagan Valley. The original structure was built in 1625 by Dominican friars, but the current structure (the third in a series on this site, apparently) was built in 1709, also by Dominicans. It was undergoing renovation, so we could not go inside, but we walked around the structure, admiring its huge facades, is six-level bell tower. I imagined the urge of pious but homesick Spaniards, most with little chance of ever seeing Spain again, to build something European, something familiar in this halfway-round-the-world outback, where the climate, language, customs, and food were so foreign to them.
We visited restaurants in the area -- had to revisit Patio Enrico, which has a marvelous Pancit (noodle) Cabagan dish. Went shopping too. One day we drove north for about forty minutes to the largest city in northern Luzon, Tuguegarao. At this city the Cagayan River, Luzon's longest river, is more than a mile wide; having never before seen up close a river that wide, I can tell you I was a little in wonder of it, staring at the far bank. In Tug City (my own nickname) we visited the enormous Robinson Mall, which must have more shops than the SM Mall in my hometown of Cab City (not a nickname I coined). Interesting, for Cab City has nearly twice the population of Tug City . . . .
. . . And every day but one we took advantage of the pool at the resort where I was staying. Matt and Faith were fans of the slide; I preferred floating on my back in the deep end. I offered to teach Grace to swim, but she was happy to remain a nonswimmer, and walked about with water sometimes at her waist, sometimes at her neck: this nonswimmer is not afraid of the water, at any rate! Each time we were in the pool area, the place was empty but for us, and management waived the food restriction for us so we could have merienda (snacks) poolside.
It all ended too soon, of course. My leave-taking from Grace and her family was a sad one. But double rents do drain a bank account, and I was sure the cats were missing me (though Donaiza ably cared for them while I was gone).
Banged Up and Unbowed
After regaining full mobility of my left hand I noticed something going on with my eyes. Red and puffy, and getting puffier. Hadn't had conjunctivitis since my teenage years, but that was what it seemed to be, and for this an antibiotic ointment was necessary; so, after one of their cleanings of my place, Jheng, Mariel, and I went to Medical City at the mall.
An ophthalmologist happened to be on duty at Medical City, and he told me it was not conjunctivitis but preseptal cellulitis, which often is triggered by trauma to another part of the body (at this point I told the doc about my hand). Treatment for the malady requires not just ointment but also a heavy-duty antibiotic pill and hot compresses.
So I followed the regimen closely and after a few days the swell had decreased noticeably. Tomorrow I drive to Isabela Province -- if I won't be presenting Grace with my best face, it will be a face a helluva lot better-looking than the one I had a few days ago.
Isabela Province Calls to Me
These were heady days in Manila. Binga (the name she uses online) met me at the Red Hotel in the Cubao District. She is a receptionist at a beauty salon with a dozen staffers under her, an affable and level-headed woman who joined me for dinners and talked with me about her two sons (living with her parents on Leyte) and her busy life in Manila. She joined me also on a shopping quest to find pasalubong for my friends in Cabanatuan -- American reader, pasalubong is the Tagalog word for gifts for friends at home purchased by one who is traveling. It is a custom here for traveling Filipinos to purchase such gifts; it isn't a custom in the English-speaking world, which I guess is the reason there is no English word for the practice.
In addition to Binga, I met up with Elma in Manila, a women I had first met in Baguio six years ago, when I was still teaching and in the Philippines on vacation. She moved a few years ago to Manila to work under her brother, who manages a dried goods business owned by their cousin: almost all enterprises dealing in merchandise seem to be family-owned and -operated in this country! It was great to see Elma again: she's become wittier, savvier, and quite entrepreneurial!
How sprawling is this metropolis of 14 million! And how fast life is in Manila, compared to the life in Cabanatuan. People walk faster, cars are driven faster, food is served faster. I hailed a taxi seven or eight times and never had to wait more than two minutes. The driver I hired to take me back to Cabanatuan broke the speed limit regularly.
And now, back in Cabanatuan, I'm pecking away at this using my right hand fine, but using only the middle finger of my left hand. This is because I sprained my left hand two nights ago; funny, didn't even know one could sprain a hand before this. Two nights ago I got up to use the bathroom and promptly stepped on Bob. Quickly lifted my foot at her scream and stumbled, catching my weight before hitting the floor with my left hand. Bob is fine; for me no more sleep that night! I'm treating the sprain with ice. It's coming along fine, though I've read hands need two weeks to heal after most sprains. I could use the left hand to squeeze a toothpaste tube this morning. Tomorrow maybe a doorknob.
This summer is my summer of meeting attractive women, apparently. It took a while to get over the breakup of nearly a year ago (yes reader, Jheng is still my friend, confidante, and hired help) -- but one cannot dwell on the past for months without accusing oneself of being a numbskull, and telling the numbskull to get over it already! I met one other woman on the dating site at which I met Binga; while it always seemed as if Binga was seeing me for a few pleasant evenings of companionship, this other woman is looking for a relationship with staying power, and, now that I've done a great deal of chatting with her online, well, I'm eager to meet her.
Grace lives in Isabela Province to the north of here with her son and daughter in her parents' house. She is 37 years old and her husband left her several years ago. She is principled, quite religious, and funny. Her city of Cabagan, in northern Isabela, is a 7-hour drive from Cabanatuan. She has invited me, we've found a resort at which I can stay, and I've told her I'll make the trip up there shortly after I get a visa at Palayan on Friday.
Jeff, Anna, and Mirah were just across town (Medford, MA). Bart and I were quarantining, at Jeff and Anna's request, and for the right reasons: Mirah is a premie, Anna is recovering from an operation last week for her endometriosis, and Weiya has a history of asthma, and Covid was still infecting plenty of people. So I wasn't able to get out and about for more than half of my stay, but was able to get close to fellow quarantinee Bart. We visited with Jeff and family outdoors, in their garden, keeping 10 feet away from everyone. The SECOND weekend was devoted to getting close to Mirah and doing family things together. Won't bore you with what we did, what we ate, etc. -- to me the time together was wonderful. Thanks to Covid, it had been nearly three years since I had last hugged the Americans I love most. Not nearly that length of time will pass before I hug them again: that is my resolution.
My second-to-last full day on that side of the world, my old friend Mark Facey picked me up at Bart's apartment and took me down to our old haunts, where he had returned from Rhode Island to live in his parent's house -- our hometown of Cohasset. His father died after a bout with alzheimer's many years ago, and his mom passed away recently; he is in the middle of renovations with an eye to turn part of the house into a B&B. Well, we tooted around town, talking all the time, and stopped at Sandy Beach to jump in the ocean. He guessed the water temp was 55 degrees; it seemed colder than that to me; I'd grown used to an ocean temp close to that of bathwater! We drank beer in his garden till the sun got low, then headed back to Medford.
Home again. If you regularly come to this blog, my apologies! So late! Quarantining with son Bart in Massachusetts for a week (my grandchild is a premie and my daughter-in-law is recovering from an operation), I went back to a Filipino dating site I had not been to in many a year, and connected with a woman in Manila with whom I hit it off, online. We decided to meet after my flight, and I ended up spending five days in Manila! Tried to reach my blog's editing page, but was blocked operating from the decade-old, crazy laptop I had brought to the States. My correct password kept getting denied.
Over the past few weeks I've become good friends with Daizee Yabut, a single mother of two daughters, who works as a caregiver. Her main charge currently is a former police lieutenant who has been confined to a wheelchair since an assailant shot him in the back four times. Shootings happen in the Philippines, and they happen here more often than in any other Southeast Asian country, according to Asean Today.
Yet it's interesting. When I'm out and about in Cabanatuan, I feel safer than I do when I'm out and about in the U.S. And it's because guns are very much a part of the scenery here. You see, armed security guards are ubiquitous in the Philippines. They are in banks, remittance centers, government offices, department stores, malls, supermarkets, chain stores, even bookstores. The weapon these uniformed folks most often carry is a formidable-looking shotgun with a silver barrel. During my first weeks in the country, the many armed men and women in public places made me feel a little uneasy. But I've noticed how they're very much oriented toward helping the public: providing hand sanitizer, helping the elderly with bundles, stopping traffic to allow customers to pull out onto the street. At SM there is a curb between the stores and the parking area; whenever I head out of the mall with a laden supermarket carriage, I can always count on a guard to lift the front of the carriage over that curb for me. Of course, where they are, little if any crime occurs. Recently I asked one of the guards at the SM Mall whether his weapon was a 12-gauge. He responded with a smile, "12-gauge! Yes sir!"
Gun licensure can be acquired by Filipino citizens not as easily as it can be acquired in, say, Texas; the requirements for gun ownership here are more in line with those of Massachusetts. Some folderol and waiting. How many Filipinos own guns? GunPolicy.org has estimated that between 2.48 and 3.70% of adults own at least one gun in the islands. In the U.S., 32% of adults own at least one gun -- and, as you might know, there are more privately-owned guns than there are people in my native land.
What about gun deaths? Gun deaths in 2019 -- including homicides, suicides, and accidents -- numbered 9,267 in the Philippines and 37,038 in the U.S. The Philippines has one-third the population of the U.S. (110M to 330M), so multiply the number of gun deaths in the PI by 3: 27,801. Then the rate of gun deaths in the U.S. was considerably higher than it was in the islands in 2019. And I'm guessing that is still the case in 2022.
Mass shootings in the Philippines occur infrequently, according to wikipedia about once a year over the last twenty years; to say the least, this compares well with the situation regarding mass shootings in the U.S. According to yesterday's Washington Post, America's mass shootings so far this year number more than 200.
When at a barbecue two years ago an acquaintance who hires himself out as a bodyguard hoisted a Remington .44 magnum out of a case and asked me if I wanted to shoot it, the casualness and inappropriateness of the action (we had been drinking beer for a while) disturbed me. The size of the gun disturbed me too (I told him no thanks, I'd only break my wrist). That was the only time, in my 4 1/2 years here, that I have seen a firearm in a private citizen's hands. Armed people in uniform are a common sight here, but there apparently isn't the culture of gun ownership one finds in the U.S.
Columbine, Newtown, Parkland, Uvalde: this list of course can be expanded. As a high school English teacher, I trained for the unthinkable: an active shooter in the Leominster High building. Through social media, movies, literature, Americans are taught that guns solve problems, it seems to me. They should somehow be untaught this. In the meantime gun laws with teeth need to be passed at the federal level. That's my take on this, anyway.
In 2020, there were 1,528,684 live births in the Philippines, or more than 14 births per thousand of the country's population -- a birth rate higher than that of almost every other Southeast Asian nation. (American reader, the U.S. logged 11.4 live births per thousand in 2019.)
As far as I can make out, talking with Filipino friends and poking around on the internet, the main reasons for this are the Catholic heritage of the islands and the political influence of the Catholic Church.
Abortion, whether induced surgically or chemically, is illegal here, period. There are no exceptions made for victims of rape or incest, no exception when a pregnancy endangers the life of the mother, no exception when a fetus is found to have abnormalities. The woman or girl inside whose body a life begins is legally bound to bring that life to term. Illegal, unsafe abortions do take place in the Philippines, to be sure; if participants of these actions are taken in by authorities, providers of the abortions can expect to spend 2 to 6 years behind bars -- the ones who decided to end their pregnancies can expect a term of 2 to 6 years, as well.
Modern forms of contraception are not widely used. The Church admonishes parishioners against their use, and more than 82% of the population is Catholic -- private pharmacy chains, for the most part, won't stock the medicines and devices that would keep unwanted pregnancies from happening. The mayor of Manila, in 2000, decreed the selling of contraceptives to be forbidden in the city, and subsequent mayors were influenced by leaders of the Church to keep the ban in effect (it was finally lifted in 2017). Other municipalities in the islands have also had such bans.
With regard to contraception and other reproductive health issues, in the 2010's the national government provided some pushback to Church doctrine in the form of a law on Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH). Beyond mandating a certain quality of obstetric care, reproductive health education, and family planning education in cities and provinces, the law also required that government hospitals make available to the public tubal ligation, vasectomy and intrauterine device (IUD) placement.
It was 2014. Decrying the new law as evil and a threat to life, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines brought the government before the Supreme Court in hopes of getting the law rescinded. The Court found that the law conformed to the constitution; the law would not be rescinded. Later, in 2017, President Duterte signed an executive order that made it easier for poor Filipinos to access contraceptive care.
Yet the pills, condoms, IUD's, and diaphragms inveighed against by the Catholic Church are still eschewed by two-thirds of sexually active Filipinos. And one-third of births in the Philippines are either unwanted or mistimed births. Many mothers and fathers here have their own children -- and stepchildren produced by one (or both) of the spouses in an unplanned pregnancy before marriage. Single women with two or three children who were abandoned by lovers have difficulty finding husbands. Look, I know these situations are not unique to the Philippines, but surely they are more commonplace here than in most countries.
To the American reader alarmed by the leaked draft decision concerning Roe v. Wade -- which makes it appear that abortion in many states will be heavily restricted, and which seems to open the door to restrictions state legislatures could place on other practices (say, involving contraception) -- I'm hoping the Philippines will gradually move in the direction opposite the direction we now appear to be headed. And American reader, how about making your voice heard in the November elections.
It Wasn't Close: Marcos Trounces the Competition
98.26% precincts reporting as of May 11, 2022 2:14PM.
1 MARCOS, BONGBONG (former senator) 31,080,487 58.75%
2 ROBREDO, LENI (current vice president) 14,810,097 27.99%
3 PACQUIAO, MANNY (prize fighter) 3,629,281 6.86%
4 DOMAGOSO, ISKO MORENO (current mayor of Manila) 1,893,495 3.58%
5 LACSON, PING (current senator) 881,724 1.67%
Five other candidates each received fewer votes than Lacson. The people's voice was heard loud and clear on Monday. In the separate, vice presidential election, Sara Duterte, daughter of the current president, emerged victorious by a margin even greater than that of Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.
Jianah Academia turned 10 years old on Election Day (a no-work holiday in the Philippines), and I was at the duplex helping her celebrate, along with Jheng, Luz, Des, Joel, James, Michael, Mira, Arvin, Lara, and Aaron. As election news came in, the adults, dinner finished, sipped brandy while the children ate ice cream. All of the adults listed above are Marcos supporters, and many knew about the wariness with which I regarded the candidate.
"Do not judge him because of his father," Des told me. "Judge him by what he does." She was, of course, right, and I acknowledged that. Then Jheng started talking about land reform, something the elder Marcos apparently got right. Before Marcos, great swaths of agricultural land were owned by wealthy families and tenant-farmed by poor peasants in a system not unlike the sharecropping of the American South in the early 20th century. Marcos, Sr. introduced a process whereby the land these peasants worked could be acquired by them, with the government compensating the landholders.
Marcos had to do this by presidential decree, for the legislature contained many of those large landholders, and his decree focused upon just two crops, rice and corn. But it was an important start. Over the years since Marcos, Sr., farmers have been pressing the government to have land reform expanded, with few successes. Cory Aquino, whose family is a very large landholder, shunted agrarian reform to the legislature, with the expected results. Then the Mendiola Massacre occurred on January 22, 1987. Hundreds of unarmed farmers gathered to march on Malacanang Palace in protest and to ask whether emissaries could meet with President Aquino. They pushed against a police barrier on Mendiola street: a shot rang out, and then several of the police were firing into the crowd of demonstrators. Thirteen farmers died and more than 50 were injured.
Since 1987, more blood has been spilt, in different parts of the country, over agrarian reform. Now, the only other viable candidate in the 2022 presidential race, Vice President Leni Robredo, has long been close to the Aquinos and is the standard-bearer of the political party of the Aquinos. Robredo is in the pockets of the landholders, it was put to me at the duplex on Janiah's birthday, and this is an important reason she failed to win the election.
Have read quite a bit about Philippine history, have watched documentaries on it too; and feel embarrassed that before June 9 I had known nothing of this shooting down of protestors, had known next to nothing of the long-simmering issue of land reform in the Philippines.
And congrats, Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte. The people's voice was heard throughout the islands. Admission: have had doubts about you; but I look forward to seeing what you can do for your countrypeople.
Mabuhay ang Masang Pilipino!
On this side of the world, Russia is waging a WWII-style, damn-the-civilians war against Ukraine, and thousands of innocents have already died; over in India, Modi's politics of hate is encouraging Hindus to persecute Muslims; China is consolidating its new military installations throughout the South China Sea; and North Korea keeps firing "test missiles" into the Sea of Japan. Things could be a lot better.
In the Philippines, there are campaign posters everywhere, and excitement is in the air; elections are just five days away! I haven't seen one defaced campaign poster -- indicative, I think, of the sense of fair play that pervades Filipino society. In other news, pandemic restrictions are lifting throughout the islands. Vaccination cards and personal information cards no longer must be presented at entrances to public places; shops and restaurants no longer are restricted as to the number of customers they can have at one time on the premises; face-to-face learning is planned for the new school year beginning in July. There is a sensibility of greater freedom, of e-x-p-a-n-s-i-o-n, here!
So not all is bad on this side of the world. In the pic above I'm with Darian, Daizee, and Ibeth, the two daughters of Daizee, and the one daughter of Darian. The adults are a Yabut and two Bautistas -- the sister and two cousins of my old friend from the staff of Fred's Hotel, Darwin Yabut.
We're at a restaurant/resort called D'Pavilion, situated in a pond in San Leonardo (two burgs south of Cabanatuan). Yes, in a pond. Groups of diners sit in cabanas with round tables and comfortable benches; the cabanas surround a pagoda-like structure in which, on the second-storey veranda, live music is performed. There's a P50 ($1) per head entry fee, and the food is good and not very expensive. We chose one of the two large platters offered for several people: I was a big fan of the okra.
The bottom left photo was taken from my seat in our cabana. The bottom right image is kind of a mess because my flash is not working, but I wanted to give you a sense of the light display once it had grown dark. The three singers were good and their band tight, the sound system was not deafening, and Ibeth and Daizee beside me joined in on the more popular Filipino and American songs. Fishing poles can be rented (bait is provided) at this unique venue, and we watched a couple of boys haul in a pale catfish each closeby. The pond is said to be stocked with tilapia, too. We left around 8pm, and during our time there I limited myself to two brandies, mindful there was a 30-minute drive home in the dark awaiting me. It was a fine time -- very good to drive out to an interesting place, stretch a bit, and socialize! May this damned virus be whirling round the drain as I type this. Well, I realize it won't simply disappear; read somewhere, though, that a vaccine is being developed that can be conjoined with the yearly flu vaccine. That'll be good enough for this oldster.
Have received some blowback recently, via email, concerning my political writing. Yes, I am a guest in the Philippines, and I'm truly happy to be living here. Lived for three years, back in the 1980's, in China, where I taught English to college students. There I once tried to organize debates in my classes; these were quashed by the political authorities at the school, and never a debate was had. One of the many reasons I love the Philippines is that free speech is honored here. I think I'm careful when I write about Philippine elections: facts are the basis for my opinions, not fake news; my sources are reliable, and they are listed at the end of my postings.
The readers here know that I am dubious about the Marcos candidacy. Among my Filipino readers there are Marcos supporters, for sure; several of my friends in the Philippines are Marcos supporters! And it seems very likely that next Tuesday, BBM will be elected as the country's next president. I can promise you that if that is the case, I will be rooting for him to do his very best for all Filipinos, because he will be the choice of the Filipino people. I'll be rooting for him because I believe in democracy, and want only good things to happen to the people in my chosen home.
Out with the Old, in with the New
The completion of the huge project in the photo above (the bridge is 8.9 kilometers long) underscores a part of the bright side of the legacy left behind by Duterte, who will be leaving office in a few weeks: the attention he has paid to improvement of the infrastructure. As we know, that legacy will have a dark side, too.
In less than two weeks, Filipinos will vote for a new president, and the results of a recent national survey clearly predict the winner. Leni Robredo, the current vice president, gained a few points in the survey before this one (considered for a while there she might pick up the "big mo," pull this thing out). The newest pol, by PUBLiCUS Asia, has 64% of respondents voting for Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. Robredo is a distant second with 21%, Domagoso and Pacquio have 5% each, and Lacson has 2%. Other candidates running make up the remaining 3%.
Marcos (whose current moniker in conversation is "BBM") will be in Cabanatuan tomorrow with the vice-presidential candidate from his party, Sarah Duterte, to parade and give a campaign speech. I have food and won't be going out; the traffic will be horrendous. Besides, I would not vote for the guy if I were in a position to do so.
A number of friends in Cab City will be voting for him -- I've let them know that I hope I'm proven wrong in my feelings about the man. This hope, right now, is not a very large hope. On the same tour that will bring him here tomorrow, Marcos has described his father -- the man who declared martial law 50 years ago, in the last year of his presidency, then ruled the Philippines for the next 14 years dictatorially -- as a "genius." The man who plundered 10 billion dollars using a variety of means. The man under whose rule, according to Amnesty International, 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 tortured, and 3,420 killed, for political reasons. The man who was ignominiously driven out of the country with his family by a popular and mostly peaceful uprising in 1986.
The family was allowed to return to the Philippines after Marcos's death in 1989, and for the last 25 years they have been regaining political power. BBM has served as a senator; currently his sister is a senator. How have they done this? How is it that Marcos, Jr. is now the overwhelming favorite in a presidential race? Well, it is generally known here that the first real surge forward of the Filipino economy occurred during the father's presidency/rule (less well known is the fact that the economy was driven into the ground in 1985 and 1986). Also, the average age of the population is 25.7 years; so many here have no memory of martial law. Add to that the popular allure of BBM's charisma, obvious energy, even his notoriety.
Over the past couple of decades, and especially the last decade, the Marcos family and their followers have been burnishing the family name assiduously in the media, and, importantly, on social media. Family members deny or downplay wrongdoings of the father in TV interviews, while touting his accomplishments. Filipinos are among the world's heaviest users of social media: in 2020 the average Filipino spent more than four hours a day using social media. And YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook are teeming with content that glorifies the Marcos, Sr. regime: the man's great infrastructure projects, his high standing among world leaders, his love for the Filipino people. According to Alan German, president of Agents International, a public relations company in Manila, "They are painting the martial law era of [BBM's] father as the golden era of the Philippines." Now life is hard for many Filipinos. Nostalgia for a time when life was easier and opportunities plentiful definitely has its attractions here.
My hope, as I've stated, is that things will work out well for the Philippines after its new president is inaugurated. It's not a large hope, mind you, but it's there -- I mean, I've been wrong before. My fear? My fear is that BBM will prove to be a bull-headed autocrat, and that when push comes to shove . . . .
Death & Taxes
Summertime in the Philippines happens in the two or three months before the rains come in mid-June. Afternoon temperatures in central Luzon easily swing up into the high 30's, and occasionally low 40'sC during this time: without the low hum of an aircon in one's ears, one is usually sweating. These are days when watermelons fly off supermarket shelves, days when the bed of the Raguindin delivery trike often becomes a makeshift swimming pool.
Traditionally I do my taxes on the last possible day, and three mornings ago I sat down to it. I don't pay Philippine taxes. No one 60 years of age or older pays Philippine taxes, while the U.S. demands taxes of its citizens whether they live inside or outside the country, unto death. Turbotax free filing is not available to me here, so I knew I'd be out 20 or 30 dollars; what I didn't realize was that I no longer had a method to pay. It could not be taken out of a refund: I have no taxes taken out of my pension and ss payments. I couldn't use my U.S. bank card; a new one had been sent to me last year and I've had no way of activating it in Cabanatuan. My Philippine bank card was plain unacceptable. And I haven't carried a credit card since I was a family man (it may sound to you a little crazy, but I really don't believe in the things).
After two hours of answering Turbotax's questions and digging paperwork out of a drawer, I got the final federal payment to make (having worked as a public school teacher, I'm exempt as a retiree from MA state taxes). The damage was not great. I gave Intuit access to my bank account for the federal payment, then punched in the American bank card numbers to pay Turbotax. The payment did not go through. It was only after a second try that I realized the reason.
Got off Turbotax, then got back on it, and filed for an extension. I now have until June 15; will be arriving in the States June 9 for a two-week stay, so I'll clear up this business then. Waste of a morning.
Jheng has the car until Sunday. A much-loved nephew of Larry has died of cancer, and his funeral is to be Saturday in the town of Llanera; Larry wanted Jheng and the children to join him at the sitting and funeral. Jheng's former husband, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 34, had been great friends with this man, who died in his early forties. . . . Life expectancy in the Philippines for a man is 67 years, for a woman 75.5 years: these two each owed a life, but the payment came way too early.
Before Jheng picked up the car, I got in some shopping at WalterMart, and now I'm expecting to spend a cozy weekend at home with Bob and Cy.
The first Gay Pride March in Asia took place in Manila in June of 1994, and the Philippine military has accepted openly gay, lesbian, and transgender recruits since 2009. The Philippine House has several LGBT representatives; there is even an LGBT national political party, the Filipino ang Ladlad party. And Rodrigo Duterte appointed LGBT community members to head the National Youth Commission and the Department of Agrarian Reform. What it comes down to, folks, is this: the Philippines is the most LGBT-friendly country on the continent.
In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center involving 39 Asian countries, when asked whether "homosexuality should be accepted by society," respondents answering in the affirmative represented a majority in only 17 countries. In the Philippines 73% answered "yes." And one asks oneself (or at least I did) why in the Philippines?
Well, it must help that the Philippines is a liberal democracy, and that perhaps its most cherished freedom is the freedom of individual expression. Asia, you might know, is not awash in liberal democracies, and even in a number of Asian countries that have a parliamentary system -- for instance Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Iraq -- Islamic tradition makes sure that strictures, with regard to sexual identity and sexual practices, are in place and enforced. Secondly, thanks mostly to the "U.S. ownership" of these islands for 45 years, Philippine culture is influenced by American culture in ways not seen in any other Asian nation (NBA games take up columns in every national newspaper here). The shifting consensus regarding LGBT issues experienced in the U.S. and the West over the past six decades was bound to be more impactful here than in other Asian countries. That first Gay Pride March in Asia in 1994, in Manila? It was organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City in 1969.
Lastly. I had heard or read something at some time about pre-colonial Philippines (back before the Spanish moved in in the 16th century), and so tapped around on Google for a while. Okay, the pre-colonial population of these islands was tribal and polytheistic. Some of the gods in their pantheon were part man and part woman; some had switched gender. Among the tribes, all the healers and shamans, and most religious functionaries, were either women or gender-crossing men who dressed and acted as women and who married men (the men they married often had two wives, the second of which could bear children). These healers and shamans enjoyed an esteemed status in society. What is more, according to more than one of the articles I scanned, homosexual relations in both sexes were common and bore no stigma in the pre-colonial islands.
To be sure, many of these tribes had warrior cultures, and there were headhunters in the mountains, but these tribepeople's posture with regard to gender and sexuality seems progressive indeed. And it appalled the conquering Spanish. . . . Roman Catholic dogma, over the centuries, has of course transformed forever the zeitgeist of those pre-colonial times; but it's hard not to believe that something remains in the culture from the centuries stretching back before the Spanish subjugation -- a palimpsest of the life back then. One sees it in the tribalism (and sometimes violence) in the politics here, I think, and one sees it in the generally relaxed attitude of the people toward homosexuality and gender-crossing.
Were it not for the strong lobbying power of the conservative Catholic Church, same-sex marriages would be happening in the Philippines now: more than one bill has been written, but none has so far passed. Taiwan has had same-sex marriage for a couple years; but it's a pretty sure bet that the first same-sex wedding in a sovereign Asian nation will be performed on Philippine soil.
Rodrigo Duterte's Legacy
Just getting over a cold in the pic above, and I was not at my best. Got over the cold the day after that, and the day after that woke up with what I recognized to be an ear infection. Realizing there were some leftover antibiotics in the medicine kit, I pulled out a packet of it. Co-amoxiclav. Looked it up: good for ear infections, among other things. Took a pill, and three hours later felt nauseated. Vomited twice, then slept for eleven hours. It was when I first felt sick to my tummy that I realized there was a good reason I had not finished those pills when I had had bronchitis many months before. Why had I even kept them?
Ah well. The ear is so-so today, and there's a chance I'll have to go in to the doc for a pill I can stomach sometime soon.
The Philippine press refers to him as "Du-30," and op-eds in the papers here have often been highly critical of his policies as well as his behavior. The current 35-year-old Philippine Constitution, written after one autocrat overstayed his welcome and had to be driven from office, prohibits presidents from running for a second six-year term; President Duterte will be leaving Malacanang Palace in June, after the May 9 elections. He has been a controversial leader of the country, beloved in many sectors of the electorate, disliked and even despised in others.
In my last year as a high school teacher, two of the colleagues who knew of my retirement plans urged me to have second thoughts; this new president was bad news. Well, in fact, during his term Duterte accomplished many good things for the Filipino people. After more than three decades in which little had been done to improve infrastructure, Duterte initiated a funding push that included both public and private sources, raised $383 billion, and began some 20,000 projects involving roads, bridges, rail, flood-control, and digital infrastructure. In large part as a result of this infrastructure work, some 6.5 million new jobs were created during Duterte's watch. Nearly 5% of adult Filipinos work abroad, and the Duterte administration instituted the new Department of Migrant Workers to facilitate overseas employment opportunities and to better protect Filipinos working abroad. What else? The creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is credited with bringing peace to a region that had known several decades of unrest and sometimes outright warfare. The administration placed price caps on 133 of the nation's most commonly used drugs. And foreign investments in the Philippines really jumped under Duterte's watch, from P686 billion in 2016 to P1.02 trillion in 2020, a pandemic year.
The man has much to crow about. But there have been several "downsides" to his presidency, to be sure. Among them: he has, without doubt, been the most autocratic leader of the Philippines since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Two opposition senators were jailed during his term on charges that may or may not have been trumped up. With the backing of his own appointments to the Supreme Court, Duterte removed Chief Justice Maria Sereno, who had been openly critical of his anti-drug policies. About a year ago the nation's top broadcaster ABS-CBN was forced off the air by Duterte, and the president has filed libel suits against more than one news organization.
In his 2016 campaign, Duterte promised a "war" on drugs and corruption. As for corruption at high levels of government, most Filipinos would agree that it increased rather than decreased during Duterte's term: the PhilHealth ripoff and corruption involving the government's purshasing of vaccines and PPE are perhaps the juiciest of the scandals involving corruption. As for the war on drugs, there have been successes: drug dealing and drug use are down significantly, as is crime generally, since Duterte came to power. But that has come at an exhorbitant cost. After new policies were instated by Duterte in 2016, drug dealers and users could be "extrajudicially" killed, and many were, by police and by private citizens, largely with impunity. How many? Philippines rights groups put the number at 30,000.
I await what the next president will bring with hope and trepidation.
The ankle is still tender and a cold I caught two days ago has settled in for a longer than necessary stay. Not wanting to freak out the folks at WalterMart with a hacking fit, yesterday I asked Jheng and Mariel to shop for me after their weekly cleaning of the apartment. The larder is full. So far this morning I've been reading, watching segments of "GoodGood" golf on Youtube, and blowing my nose through half a roll of bumwad. Oh, and fooling around with the cats . . . .
Philippine elections are about six weeks away, and (to this non-voter's satisfaction) polls indicate that the presidential race has tightened, with Marcos, Jr. no longer holding the commanding lead he once held. A hundred miles to the south, Taal Volcano is acting up again; rising magma hitting lake water has created a series of phreatomagmatic eruptions, none of them huge, but a few hundred people have evacuated from lakefront residences. Mama Sita across the street sold her home and sari-sari; she now lives in Palayan with her daughter, her son-in-law, and little Jazzlyn -- have been told she operates a sari-sari there.
And how about this, I've booked a roundtripper for a two-week stay in Massachusetts in the middle of June! Will finally get to meet Mirah, the granddaughter I've so far only been able to wave at online. Bart is putting me up; both he and Jeff have arranged to take off time from work during my stay. Will have to renew my driver's license while there -- it expired some time ago. Will visit Leominster High, visit with brother Randy and his family in Braintree, and, hopefully, will get down to the Cape to visit a lovely aunt in Chatham.
Thanks to the virus, it's been well over two years since I last visited. Looking forward to making this the yearly event it was always supposed to be.
So It Ain't Gout, and Lola Denna
Yeah, the Blood Uric Acid count was 3.70, and the Fasting Blood Sugar came in at 86.0. The former is very low on its scale of normal readings, the latter smack dab in the middle. When I returned to the doc last Friday with the results, she confirmed that it wasn't gout or anything diabetes-related. Leukocytes were 3.58, which indicated, Dr. Papa said, there was no infection. This was all good; and not having had a checkup in quite a while, I was happy that all blood test results fell within normal parameters. But it didn't get us any closer to a diagnosis of what ailed me.
The doctor studied the foot and wiggled it around a bit; swelling was still noticeable, though it had gone down over the previous week. She asked a couple questions about the previous sprain, and wiggled the foot around some more. Then she said whatever damage I'd done was probably ligament-related, not tendon-related, and that the sprain of two-plus decades ago could well be the causal factor in the trouble of today. I noted the swelling had gone down, and might we take a wait and see approach to this. She cheerfully said this was what she had been about to recommend, but for the next couple of weeks I should take it easy with the walking and elevate the foot whenever sitting down. She prescribed a topical ointment, Ketoprofen, which has, over the last couple days, taken away a good deal of the discomfort. Still gimpy when I ambulate, but less gimpy than before, I'm giving myself even odds I'll escape the surgeon's blade.
So much for my medical trouble, which is far less serious than the medical trouble of Lola Denna -- the mother of Luz, Des, and Sonny; grandmother of Jheng, James, Mariel, Mich, Michael, Mira, and Trisha; and great-grandmother of eight little ones (including Amira, whose baptism I chronicled two postings ago). She now has serious problems involving her heart and lungs. She can't move without assistance, and she is on seven or eight medications. Since moving to the Philippines, I've come to admire her; she's a calm, assured matriarch, and she has a dry wit.
One of the medications for her lung condition wouldn't let her keep her food down, so she's off that for now. Emergency doctor's visits and visits to emergency rooms of hospitals have been necessary recently, and at times she is in a good deal of pain. I've assisted with easy transportation for the family, loaning the Avanza to Jheng about two weeks ago. Ah! words from a Ted Kooser poem occurred to me yesterday or the day before: that Denna and her family are now "trying to read/the complicated, fading map of cures."
But perhaps, two or three months from now, Lola Denna will have put this all behind her, an open road in front of her and a clear sky above promising good years to come. Right now the sky is dark indeed; the news from the duplex isn't good news. I hope she is not taken from us.
A Trip to the Doctor's Office
Making my way down to a fishing hole at Stillwater Basin about twenty years ago, I slipped and badly sprained my left ankle. Was on crutches for two weeks, not an easy situation for a teacher. Anyway, when the outside of my left foot became tender two weeks ago, and when last week the swelling began and grew, my mind went back to those days. Then there was swelling too, pain in any side-to-side movement of the foot too. It had been a 3rd degree sprain, and I remembered the doctor, so long ago, having worried about possible tendon or ligament damage. It made sense to me that I had somehow reawoken the old injury -- or that the wear and tear of twenty years of walking had brought to consummation a medical issue that had begun with a forty-something me trying to descend a steep bluff with a rod in one hand and a tackle box in the other.
A tear, that was it. On the computer I punched up images of the tendons and ligaments that make it possible for us all to be bipedal creatures, then felt down around my left ankle. The peroneal tendon, yes. It was a peroneal tear! I knew that tendon tears were usually fixed surgically, and I had once before perused an internet site with a list of surgeries and their cost in the Philippines. Finding the site again, I scanned the long list it provided. Fifty thousand pesos for a tendon repair: that's about $1,000. There would be other costs: a night in the hospital, medicines. But financially I could handle this without selling any of the stocks I began buying in my fifties . . . .
Last Friday Dr. Papa, an orthopedic specialist at Premiere Medical Center, stared at the swelling, moved the foot in different ways, and asked me a few questions. Then, smilingly, she disabused me of my medical notions, my breezy consignment of myself to an operating table: "You have gout, Mr. Smith."
. . . Gout? Old men get gout! Then the thought-check -- I'm a month away from my 64th birthday. As the doctor was writing up a couple of scripts, it occurred to me that gout made some sense: my diet is meat- and carb-heavy, I'm a drinker, and I've been a pretty sedentary guy during these two years of Covid.
Dr. Papa asked me to get blood drawn Monday morning for tests (FBS, CBC, uric acid, and about four others) and to see her again in one week. I took both medicines prescribed for a couple of days: one to check the accumulation of uric acid and one to lessen inflammation and pain. Out of curiosity I looked them up on the internet Sunday evening, and that search has led me to discontinue one of the meds. Colchicine, which goes after the uric acid, I'll keep taking, but Etoricoxib, for inflammation and pain, was banned in America by the USFDA for one of its possible side effects, a heart attack. I'm taking aspirin instead.
Jheng and I went to Premiere Medical for that blood draw this morning. The sign above the phlebotomist's door states that the lab is open 24 hours, but we had to wait an hour for him to show up. Waiting, as I've mentioned before in this blog, is something one must do quite a lot of in the Philippines.
Am keeping my left leg elevated, as Dr. Papa suggested, while reading, watching a Netflix movie, or pecking at this machine. Can't very well do that while I'm cooking, but it's up most of the time. Like you, probably, I've been following the war in Ukraine closely, nervously. Hope that Biden and NATO continue to make rational decisions concerning the extent to which they'll involve themselves in this war of aggression. What Putin is doing is both brutal and unlawful, what Zelensky is doing both courageous and smart. And as leaders of "the West" try to constrain Russia with truly hard-hitting sanctions, while at the same time avoiding a world war by taking no active part in the conflict, the world looks on in horror as civilians are blown up, gunned down. I'd been thinking 2022 could usher in an "era of good feeling" worldwide. The pandemic is winding down; economies are moving again. Then this.
Have the blood test results now, and the numbers are within the normal parameters. Interestingly, the uric acid number is LOW on the scale of normal readings.
Amari Jacob Castillo
Amari is one of my littler buds, and today was a big day for him. His age is no longer counted in months: he is one year old. The custom among Catholic Filipinos (who comprise more than 80% of the population) is to have a child christened on or around his or her first birthday; and so this morning Amari got a holy dowsing at his father's family's church in Talavera! Jheng and I and all of Jheng's family (except for James, who is staying with Sonny in Solano) squeezed into the Avanza for the trip to that burg north of Cabanatuan; Mariel's boyfriend trailed us on his motorcycle.
Amari's mom is Jheng's cousin Mirasol, whom I've known since I came to the Philippines to stay, well over four years ago. His dad is Arvin; I came to know him in the second year of my stay, when he started dating Mira and hanging out at the duplex on the Aurora highway.
The church was not as large as the church in which I witnessed the baptism of Jazzlyn a couple years ago, but it was high-ceilinged and had a choir loft. Unlike the priest at Jazzlyn's baptism, this priest arrived promptly and had no half hour sermon; smiling often, it seemed, from his tone (he was wearing a mask), he performed the ceremony for three new congregants, then gave a short benediction.
And we set off for Arvin's parents' house. His mom and dad were cheerful and welcoming. On the patio of their place they had laid out a generous spread, from which I chose beef kalderata, breaded fish, plenty of shrimp, and of course rice. Twenty-five or thirty family members and friends had more than enough to eat, and the food was delicious (went back for more of that fish).
After the meal it was time for karaoke; three or four singers were fielded from the crowd. Among the English songs sung there were, let's see, one from the Eagles, a Queen song, Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Arvin brought out bottles of brandy and a few people tippled. Mama Des, Amari's grandmom, who was doing a good deal of the singing, called me over to her table, and I discovered she and her boyfriend wanted to do shots with me. "Ayoko, salamat!" I said with my hands up and a faux-horrified expression on my face. "Ito ay umaga!" It was morning, 10am to be precise; while I do indulge, I almost never drink before 5pm. Before noon? Fahgeddaboudit.
Soon Lara, Janiah, and Aaron were antsy and tired after the big meal, and Jheng said she thought it was time to leave; Arvin's parents were inside, so I thanked Arvin for the fine food and the good time (Amari had long since conked out, and Mirasol was inside with him). Mama Luz said she would get a ride to the duplex with her sister Des, Mariel hopped on the back of boyfriend Sean's motorcycle, and the kidz, Jheng, and I motored back to Cabsy in the Avanza.
P I C D U M P
The Bogeyman in the Room
On Friday it was high time for me to renew my visa, so that morning Jheng, Mich, and I rode in the Avanza to the government offices in the province capital, Palayan. About a forty-minute drive. Mich joined us because she needed information concerning the renewal of the passport of her partner, Noel. We reached the gate of the government compound in Palayan, and Jheng told the sentry our business. The sentry informed her that it was a national holiday and the immigration offices were closed. Which took us all aback.
People's Power Revolution Day has been a holiday for only about a dozen years (easy to slip one's mind, I guess). It commemorates the largely peaceful three days of demonstrations by millions of Filipinos back in 1986, after a presidential election rife with reports of ballot manipulation, as well as other types of fraud. After fourteen years of martial law, public pressure had caused the autocratic Ferdinand Marcos to accede to this election, and his main opponent was the widow of a former leader of the opposition who had returned to the Philippines three years before, after a period of exile in the United States, only to be shot dead on the tarmac in Manila by an assassin. The assassin was then immediately killed by army personnel: any info elucidating motivations and possible helpers died with him. Marcos declared the man, named Galman, was a communist; an official inquiry ending years later concluded that Galman was a patsy in a larger plot to kill Benigno Aquino.
The election commission declared Marcos the winner of the 1986 contest by a small margin; then 30 of the commission's computer technicians walked off the job after informing the press there had been deliberate manipulation of the votes in favor of Marcos. And then reports of fraud in the provinces started coming in. Perhaps more than anything else, what got the protests started were the widely publicized words of a revered religious leader, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal: "Now is the time to speak up. Now is the time to repair the wrong. The wrong was systematically organized. So must its correction be. But as in the election itself, that depends fully on the people; on what they are willing and ready to do." The people were both willing and ready. For three days in the streets of Manila people gathered in protest; some estimates put their number at 2 million. Demonstations were mounted in other cities. Work ground to a halt. In Manila, police and the armed forces were unable to direct the protestors away from Malacanang Palace, which was soon ringed with protestors. Many police and soldiers, over the three days, defected and joined the demonstration!
Cory Aquino knew what she had to do; on the morning of February 25, she was inaugurated in a simple ceremony at Club Filipino in Manila. And Ferdinand Marcos knew what he had to do; about an hour after Aquino's ceremony, he had his own inauguration ceremony in Malacanang Palace. Then, with family and close associates, with crates and crates of luggage and assorted loot, he boarded one of the USAF helicopters sent to transport the lot to Clark Army Base, where USAF planes were waiting to take the First Family and their cohorts to Hawaii. Taking into account the cash, gold, jewels, and stock certificates that were flown to Hawaii, as well as holdings in foreign banks and properties purchased abroad, investigators for the Philippine Supreme Court estimated that Marcos had accumulated $10 billion during a presidency in which his salary was never more than $13,500 a year.
A portion of that money has been recovered by the Philippine government; most of it has not. Investigations and litigation continue to this day. As president, after Ferdinand Marcos died of kidney disease in 1988, Corazon Aquino lifted the ban prohibiting the Marcos family's return to the country. A daughter now sits in the Senate; a son is the odds-on favorite to win the presidency in May of this year. Several of my friends have told me they will vote for the charismatic Marcos, Jr. Apples can fall far away from the tree, one said. One pointed to the number of large infrastructure projects completed under Marcos, Sr. -- far more than all the projects completed under his successors combined; we need that kind of energy, he told me.
I follow the politics here with a good deal of interest, and wish only the best for the Filipino people. Regarding my own hunches about a Marcos presidency, I hope I'm wrong. But I must go now: it's Monday morning, and I'm off to Palayan to find out if I'm to be fined or booted out of the country; my current visa expired two days ago!
Monday evening now. Not a fine but a penalty, despite my pleas of holiday forgetfulness: overstayers can receive a new visa, but the visa is limited to two months instead of the usual six. After the two-month visa, six-month visas once again become available. Ah, well. After the immigration office, Jheng, Mich and I retired to an all-you-can-eat Korean grillhouse, and I ate away my troubles.
In the Philippines, I listen very hard when I'm introduced to a new acquaintance, because 1) my hearing is not as good as it used to be; 2) I want to get Spanish intonations right; and 3) I realize the given name may be completely outside of my ballpark of known names. It was after hearing about the Claveria Decree that I decided to do some online digging into Filipino names: here's the gist of what I found out.
The vast majority of Filipino surnames are Spanish names. When this first registered with me, I supposed that over more than 350-odd years of Spanish rule, Filipinos, perhaps, had gradually taken a shining to the surnames of their overlords and had adopted these names. Wrong assumption. Most Filipinos were forced to choose surnames for their families in the years 1849 and 1850.
Strangely enough, before 1849, only noble families (pakamaharlika) had surnames that were handed down generation to generation. Everyone else gave their children two or three names; there were no "family names" to hand down. The Spanish governor general of the Philippines in the late 1840's, Narciso Claveria, noted that the lack of surnames among the Filipino population created difficulties in spheres of government such as taxation and census-taking, and so he decreed that Filipino families must choose a surname from a book he had printed, a book of names based on a catalog of Spanish surnames. Exempt from this decree were Filipinos who could demonstrate they had a surname that had been maintained for at least four generations. All others must adopt a name for their family or face imprisonment.
The Catálogo de Apellidos Claveria worked from had tens of thousands of Spanish surnames; and he added to the original list of Spanish names the names of plants, animals, character traits, places, and minerals, both in Philippine native languages and in Spanish. Yet his method of distribution ensured that not many families would have the option of a surname in their native tongue. Each province head received a complete book, and would deliver a sheaf of pages from the book to each parish priest. The priests further divided the lists when they sent portions to each barangay leader. Many of the lists received by the eldest member of each family in a barangay, no doubt, had only Spanish names to choose from.
This is why my friends here are Javiers, Aldonzas, Guevarras, Academias, Padillas, Domingos . . . . Now, the surname of the family with whom I live is Raguindin, which is not Spanish and which has no meaning in Tagalog. (Am I living with royalty?)
These also have a colonial provenance, by and large, but they are a product of choice, not enforcement. There are Tagalog given names, but English and Spanish names are more popular, and English given names are a little more popular than Spanish given names, I think. The matriarch sisters at the duplex have Spanish names -- Luz and Deserie -- but they gave five out of six of their children English names (Mirasol, your name nonetheless rocks!). Trike drivers I know are Ron, Woody, Lyndon, Francis, Blake, Jomar . . . .
Jomar? This could have an English or Spanish derivation. One thing I'm sure of: it's a good example of the quirkiness one can find in Filipino given names! "Jomar," I'm guessing, is an amalgamation of the names of this man's father and mother. Such amalgamations are a fairly common practice in the Philippines: Donaiza, elder daughter of the family I'm living with, has in her name a "joining" of her father Adonis and her mother Aiza.
One may be given a name that spells backward the name of a parent or family friend (Nevets, Adnama). Or something completely unique is concocted by parents to point up the uniqueness of their child: Don-Don and Aiza's nephew was named Frinz by his parents (he's over here often and I love to say the name).
"Don-Don" gets us into nicknames. Everyone seems to have a nickname here. Could make observations about their derivations and usage, but let's leave it for another time.
Even in the midday hours temperatures remain unoppressive in Cab City. I'm keeping mainly indoors, though; Omicron has not yet fizzled out in the city. Children from five to twelve can now be immunized here; Jane texted me this morning that little Aaron (the peanut) will get a shot today.
Whatever was bothering Bob and Cy lasted just two days: they're both fine now, and Bob sometimes exits the apartment through the hole in the bathroom window screen to take strolls in the alley outside. Cy is not yet large and spry enough to make the jump to the bathroom window.
Will Putin do it? This is what the attention of media all over is currently drawn to, and rightly so. An invasion of Ukraine would certainly upset the world's apple cart.
The Light and the Dark: a Reverie of Sorts
The above was once mistaken by authorities in the art world to be a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, famous early 16th century portrayer of the grotesque and the eldritch. In fact it was created a few decades after Bosch's time, in 1562, two years before Shakespeare's birth, by Pieter Bruegel the elder. Bruegel called his painting "The Fall of the Rebel Angels." Ten or twelve angels of the Lord, heavenly garbed and bearing a sword or a trumpet, drive the miscreant angels to Hell. Those miscreants, having defied God's law, are now decidedly unangelic, abominations really. Lily-livered. Contemptible.
This righteous tableau is all too much what our world is becoming, you ask me. Take the Republicans and Democrats in America. Can anyone remember when the polarization of these two sides was even half as pronounced as it is now? Who are the angels of God and who are the miscreants in the fight? Depends on perspective, of course. Does Steve Bannon or Mike Flynn view himself as that strange pufferfish-like thing to the upper right in the painting, or the upended frog-like thing bottom center? No: they carry the sword; they blow the trumpet! And the abominations? They are those Democrat, big-government, thieving socialists.
Globally, an epic battle of the angels seems to be taking shape, too. Yesterday, on the opening day of the Winter Olympics, Russia and China announced a "no limits" partnership between the two countries (much to the consternation of folks in Ukraine and Taiwan, I'm guessing). Will Hungary and Iran, maybe Turkey, soon jump on this Russia/China train? One is reminded of the alliances forged between nations in the run-up to World War II. Who are the angels of light, of darkness? A matter of perspective, yep. I no longer tutor Chinese students online -- last September, in sweeping new regulations, the Chinese government banned online private tutoring altogether -- but I remember well my students' views regarding, say, China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. They spoke from the certainty that their country belongs to the light, not the darkness.
. . . What's with this accelerating divisiveness, anyway? Maybe some psychological pandemic is riding the tails of the viral pandemic? In both of the above standoffs, I belong to one side: I do take sides. But it's hard not to think of the big price -- in time, energy, talent, human lives -- the world has to pay in such standoffs.
Now, the Philippines (y'all knew I was going to get over to the Philippines eventually, right?) is a very brotherly/sisterly place. Believe me, by and large, despite the inequities here, this country has an inordinate number of good samaritans -- a benefit I hadn't taken into account when I first moved here. The psychological pandemic seems not to have reached these islands. But given the current penchant of humanity for breaking into antagonistic opposing camps, a single polarizing figure or event here, it seems, could change all that. Keeping a close eye on news about the upcoming Philippine elections.
An Ordination and a New Baby
I met Lori's brother Levie during my first year in the Philippines, at a De Guzman family reunion in Gapan City. He was a priest in the Catholic Church at the time; and two days ago he became a bishop. Larry and Lori invited me to the ordination in Olangapo on Subic Bay, and I begged off. I'd already told my sons I wouldn't travel during Omicron's stay here, and, given the number of cases now in central Luzon, such a trip did seem chancy. But thinking of the several hours' journey to Subic Bay, I offered the Avanza to Larry and Lori for their trip, and they accepted. They left with a full tank, gratis, and my friend Larry brought the car back with a full tank this afternoon.
Meanwhile, back in Cabanatuan, the wife of Jheng's cousin Michael was giving birth. Marie's present to her three small daughters: a brother! Axel Guevarra is his name. I have not yet made his acquaintance; I hope Marie and Michael won't mind this pilfering of a photo they posted.
The baby is in robust health, and Jheng texted me that he looks like his father. That's fine: the twins and the eldest daughter are images of Marie!
From Olongapo to close to home; now at home. Bob and Cy both have tummy trouble, and I'm doing a good deal of picking up after them. Neither seems to be in a dire way; there is none of the lassitude and apparent dehydration that caused me to bring Ciao and Bob to the clinic three months ago. Guess I'll just let this take its course while keeping a wary eye on them.
A week or so ago, in the evening while I was watching Don't Look Up! on Netflix, I heard a knock at the door. Standing there were Don-Don, my landlord, and his daughter Donaiza. Don-Don was holding a kitten, maybe two or three months old. He said the kitten had been on the street for a while, maybe I could care for it?
Donaiza smiled when I lifted the animal out of Don-Don's arms and put it on my shoulder. Was it male or female? They didn't know. I said okay, I'd keep it until its proper home was found. I put out a couple of text-feelers to neighborhood acquaintances the next morning; so far no word.
The kitten was male, and when it became apparent that he could become my permanent charge I named him Cyrus.
He and Bob get along fine. Boudicca, Bob's mom, flew the coop about three weeks ago. She couldn't stand being around a full-grown Bob, had only hisses and growls for him; then one night she created a hole in the screen of my bathroom window, and off she went. She hangs out in the courtyard at Fred's Hotel across the street, where I originally made her acquaintance years ago, and I bring food there for her. More than once she's met me at the door of the house I live in, but she does not want to be brought into Bob's presence.
I've witnessed this before between cat mothers and their full-grown offspring: it's sad to see, but taking issue with it (putting them in a cage together until mom cooled down has crossed my mind) would be like taking issue with Mother Nature, I guess.
The media here say that the Omicron surge has passed its peak in Metro Manila, and that it is now putting strain on hospitals in the eastern Visayas and in my own neighborhood, central Luzon. I'll keep fraternizing to a minimum for two or three weeks and see if I can dodge it. Got my booster last month (Astrazeneca, meet Johnson & Johnson) and my chances of being hospitalised with the bug are probably next to nill. But, like many, I do hate getting sick.
These days I carry a chair out to the front stoop and read almost every day. Nothing heavy: right now I'm reading a James Rollins adventure/mystery novel. The weather has been delightful: dry breezy air, and I don't think the temperature has reached 90F for several days. My sons back in Massachusetts have experienced sub-zero nights recently, and the Ventusky site is forecasting what looks like a horrific snowstorm for the northeast in a few days. Young men, I'd send some of this to you if I could!
Postings from August 11, '21 to January 13 of this year are available on the 7th Floor (just click at the top of the page).