Storm-sky Elephant

(A transforming image to start the year with!)

Storm-sky elephant
with Leather-cloud, Thunder-grunting, and
Lightning tusks


The Hampaslupa problem (and how we may deal with it)

(A throwback to how I wrote back in High School! Published on 22nd December 2013. Not very Chirstmasy, you say? Yes, and eating ham in front of starving beggars is. )

“Umaasa kami na nauunawaan ninyo kung bakit kami napilitang parusahan si G. Serapio. Tinuturuan niya ang mga kasaping magkaroon ng mga haraya, ng mga pangarap, na di naman matutupad at dadagdag lamang sa kanilang lumbay.”

So says the hukom in Paul Dumol’s Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio of the members of his beggar federacion, painting a picture of hopeless suffering for these lesser members of society.

And NORSU’s recent staging of the play could not be more apt for Dumaguete. For the past weeks, the City’s growing problem with mendicants has been thrown to light: the number of people living off of alms on the streets is growing out of control. (This recent attention is almost surprising, considering how conspicuous the feces and urine these street-wights leave behind on the pavements is.)

But in articles in the past few issues of the MetroPost, the City Administrator’s office pointed out these beggars’ unwillingness to part with their (convenient) lifestyles as a difficulty in enforcing the anti-mendicancy law (which, as I looked up, has no provisions for when mendicants refuse offered help).

In a time of promise for achieving progress, they allow themselves to remain crippled by a combination of laziness and self-imposed despair: Dumol’s totalitarian poverty is total only in the beggar’s imagination.

Far from the misery painted by the hukom then, what we have at hand is a whole class of people happily defiling our streets with their odious presences, wetting our walls with their wee, refusing to be any better. A clear demonstration, really, of what James Fallow once described as our damaged culture.

To make matters worse, our Christian respect for dignity makes us more sensible working-folk tolerate these “lesser brothers and sisters” of ours, responding to their demonstration of civic selfishness with pity and generosity. Paradoxically it is our kindness that keeps them on the streets.

To put it in the words of Bobby Villasis’ immortal character Ursulina Bough: Charity is a virtue but not when it creates beggars.

(Yes I said in my past article that I will avoid poking the bush here. But for fun’s sake, let me shake the shrub one last time, a reprise-finale of sorts, and write something unmeant but offensive, all for the spirit of good old sarcasm. Everything that follows, be forewarned, is satirical and ought not be taken seriously.)

Now with this attitude at least, we can do something. By refusing offered help, these mendicants have as good as waivered their right to be treated with dignity, and we ought to treat them with condign condescension.

And so, in a list that would have made the late Paul Walker cry, here are some suggestions to dealing with our worsening Beggar problem.

Promote a Matapobre culture: Charity should be passé. “Mendicant,” “beggar,” and “vagrant” are too kind labels, the use of “hampaslupa,” “dukha,” and “mahirap” should be promoted. Promote “it” instead of personal pronouns. When seeing a hampaslupa on the street, don’t forget to say “eew mahirap” to its face (or if you’re feeling generous, throw in a nice kick!). Print “Eew Mahirap” stickers for cars and establishments. And more jokes about the dukha should be aired on TV and the radio! We’ve made fun of gays (productive members of society I must say) for far too long, it seems right to poke fun at the palamunin people now.

The Poison Your Garbage Campaign: Many a hampaslupa, being too lazy to even beg for food, condescend to eating from garbage bins, strewing our streets with used sanitary napkins in the process. To combat this, households ought to be encouraged to add arsenic, malathione, racumin or any poison of choice into food-related garbage.

Spook them away: Someone should weave an urban legend that a serial killer, bent on disemboweling any beggar, is on the loose, or that the streets are infested with a type of fungus that travels via tears (through sleeping on the pavements) into eyes, causing eyeball rot.

Make money out of them: There is such a thing as poverty porn, after all, and tourists are already coming to our country to get a pity-trip at the sight of our mahiraps. Why not make money out of it? We will be world leaders in Pity Tourism! We display these beggars in a conspicuous location, and for a fee foreigners can take photos of them for their next Pulitzer or something. The beggars (whom I suspect partly stay begging because they love the attention) will be perfect poster-things for poverty. But we must make sure we don’t feed or pay them.

Make More Money Out of Them! A Black Market: This is for private initiative. Hampaslupas are ripe for exploitation, and there is a big demand for organs! By supporting the development of the trafficking industry, not only can we take care of our hampaslupa problem, we can even feed the need for fresh cadavers of the medicine students in this university town. And the exports!

The Pied Piper solution: Invite a celebrity game show host – preferably one that gives away jackets – to tape his show here. Like moths to candle-fire, the hampaslupa is attracted to game show tapings, so herding them won’t be difficult. Use as a venue a purpose-built sea craft and tape many miles away from shore. In the middle of the ocean, fly away via helicopter the game show host and the crew, leaving the hampaslupas in their own floating beggar colony. If they will beg from each other here (beggars begging from beggars) they will cause a paradox and warp the fabric of reality, opening up a passageway that may lead to God!

NORSU’s Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio: A Review

(The article was the only coverage of the play on this week’s issue of MetroPost!)

2013-12-12 20.16.08

In another step towards its drive to become globally competitive, Negros Oriental State University, where I teach literature part time, launched its dramatics scene last week with the staging of Paul Dumol’s Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio at NORSU’s Cultural Complex.

Behind the staging was the newly formed NORSU Dramatics Guild, composed of student actors under the direction of resident Director Virgil Nicasio. Also involved was the office of university president Dr. Don Real and the NORSU Federation of Student Governments (an aside: it is an enviable privilege of members of a State University’s SG to be styled “The Honorable”).

Paglilitis is a staple in Philippine Literature classes, making one of the most well known plays in our repertoire. As such I asked my literature students to watch the play. I am grateful for the VIP tickets given to teachers!

I watched the premiere show, on the evening of December 12,with my friend the actor Bamboo Ranada. As much as I find namedropping pretentious, Bamboo deserves mention here, not only because he recently performed in PETA’s Advocacy play Ah! Bakus (which I regret not watching) but also because many of my insights here I owe to him. The show started later than appointed, but conversation with Bamboo made the wait hardly noticeable.

Programs were handed out upon entry into the Cultural Complex, and the quality of these programs (glossy paper, colored) was impressive (although iConcepts were given a bit too much space for their ad, and the synopsis of the play contained spoilers).

But it needs be mentioned now that any mistakes committed in the production are forgivable, considering as this may well be NORSU’s first staged play. It is hoped that improvements can be drawn from this review.

The production began, after the customary anthems and prayers, with messages from the director and the university president. Mr Nicasio kick-started the Dramatics Guild by commending the support of Dr. Real (Dr. Real’s enthusiasm to support the arts is no secret among writers, and I hope to take advantage of that enthusiasm in the future!). Dr. Real, in his characteristic charisma, then explained that starting a dramatic scene in NORSU is part of his mission as president (“Dr. Sojor started Kabilin, I started the Dramatics Guild”), and he revealed that one of his dreams is to be an indie film director (no surprise there then if his next project is to start a filmmaking scene in NORSU).

A program involving speeches is acceptable, preferable even, in a first production, but it would be quite unnecessary in succeeding shows.

Often called an “absurd play” (although compared to the works of Artaud, Beckett, and Ionesco, it could best be described as Brechtian), Paglilitis is about a dystopian “federation” of beggars with an iron hold on its members lives and income. The federation is bent on punishing a member, the eponymous Mang Serapio, who is accused of taking from the collective revenue by spending some of his earnings on a child named Sol. The titular trial, a mere formality, ends up revealing his tragic past and the vicissitudes of the Federation’s perverse system. The play was written during the Marcos Regime, and is an allegorical critique both of totalitarian and collectivist systems. It is also a study of the culture of the country’s sizeable population of mendicants, making the production rather apt considering the Mendicancy problem of Dumaguete recently thrown to light (but more on that here next week!)

The first question one always asks in watching a production is the artistic intent behind it: What overall effect is this play trying to achieve? Is this entertainment? A source of catharsis? A cerebral play of ideas? Or an alienating experimentation of effects? NORSU’s Paglilitis does not seem to understand its artistic intent yet. The music lends a somber emotion to the stage, but the play’s dark humor, and the variety show-ish dance numbers negate any emotional build up. The dance number is similarly incompatible with the play’s alienating material. The play has yet to decide whether it will be heart-warming, alienating, or fabulous.

But the direction is visibly competent, and Mr. Nicasio obviously has the eye for blocking and staging. Memorable scenes include the opening accusation tableau, the famous throwing of the doll, and Mang Serapio’s blinding.

Mr Nicasio’s well directed staging are enhanced by good lights of apt colors, and the only thing to complain about is the at times shaky spotlight (forgivable, but the impeccable director-actor beside me was less forgiving). The set enhances the play as well, garbage-filled as all productions of Paglilitis ought to be. Mr. Nicasio rightfully brags about the low cost the stage set and costumes have incurred, and they have been frugal fruitfully.

The insertion of the Welga scene, which was not in the original text (I had a copy of the text while watching), was inorganic. After the Hukom elaborates on the Federation’s system, the beggars stage a welga and express their grievance by singing Gloc-9’s single “Upuan.” While a creative block line breaker (I thank Bamboo for the term!) it was awkwardly inserted, and at worst undermined the Federation’s totalitarian character. At the very least the Hukom should have dismissed the grievance.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about the play however is the music. It was negligible at best and lazy at worst. Not only does it complicate the play’s overall effect, there is very little variety. Worse, I am aware that the track constantly being played is a the piece Sadness and Sorrow by Toshio Masuda, straight from the soundtrack of the anime series Naruto. Many anime fans in the audience would have been similarly aware of this, and the lack of originality is far from flattering. I suggest that next time an eerie effect can be achieved through the use of ethnic instruments.

But the best aspect of the play, no doubt, is the cast. With just three months of workshop and rehearsal, the actors performed admirably. John Dave Laturnas, who played Serapio, was appropriately yagit, and while rather high strung (they should have gone for bureaucratic restraint, but technique can be learned!) Adengrace Gargar and Rockehm Jade Raclip demonstrated talent as the two Tagapagtanongs. The three whimsical Testigos, the beggars sent to retrieve Serapio’s baul, and Edralyn Dela Rosa who plays the Hukom, deserve the most praise with effortless acting.

Overall the glitches are understandable for a beginning dramatic scene, and it is not difficult to imagine NORSU staging better plays in the future. To say that I am excited to write plays for the Dramatics Guild is an understatement! But the news that the next planned production is a translation of West Side Story I cannot honestly welcome (I hate that musical). I enjoin the staging instead of the plays of Bobby Villasis, Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, or if it must be a musical, Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show.

But that I can suggest productions just goes to show the possibilities that this new beginning opens. Here’s to more successful future productions at NORSU!

St George, In Transit

In streets, pyrotechnic love
is spat out, Dragon-barked, not Long,
latched to the jeepney’s roof
like some necessity.
Boom badoom boom boom badoom boom barked
as One Direction,
“Sasa, Panacan, Tibungco, love.”
It is Super Basilisk, lithefying
Ennui to sing Tomorrow, Tomorrow

And yet on this jeepney, it is always a day away.
Bieber, outcast of the Republic, declared “Baby” thrice removed (Oh!),
asking Ennui frankly if she beliebed in liebe after Lebe
like it were some impossibility.
Katty Perry, too, must have heard it,
the ebbing and flowing of Russell’s ecstasy.

Ah, this jeepney,  love-hearse, is Uso-usoing over life.
and barker spits out “love” like  “Lanang,” unhearted, aheading.
Super Basilisk’s gorgon-glare is fast-fossiling, arresting development,
and the beating of the drum (“that’s coming your way”), at best
the kubyertic cacophony of young people swallowing the Sun.
(Turn around!)

And Dragon-bark has not the clarity of Long
because too prolonged,
a sky-flower pretending to take root
here, where love is as good as  illegal.
(Do they chew love letters in Talomo too?)

Because here there are no strawberries.
Kushiinada is obscure, and even Ssimcheon
And her undersea pathos are unmarketable,
here where mermaids cannot upstage Charice in singing (each to each),
where the Tetragrammaton remains unspelled.

“God (is love)-glory,” this enemy, is the hideous head of the Beast
of the (“Absolute Destiny”) Apocalypse.

And so, tapping the handrail with Rizal’s profile
(Also neglected nickel legacy of martyred love!)
I alight the jeepney unto Where Life Is
to Take my Revolution,
to stop the world’s lost turning,
and to report the illegal spitting
of empty fireworks.

Where One Learns to be Gentle

(This article appeared on the December 8-14 issue of the Dumaguete MetroPost, the first under my byline “Left-handed snake.” I hope to write more articles for this column)

Where One Learns to be Gentle

Apparently, people in Dumaguete were warned about me.

You see as a student, I was rather notorious for being an outspoken polemicist. Way back in high school in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, I openly declared my atheism in the Catholic school. In college, I questioned many of my teachers in the Ateneo de Davao, defied some of the school’s office holders, and ruined the reputations of many student politicians with criticism – I gained the partly affectionate, partly mocking moniker of “The Necessary Evil” among student circles. When I decided to move to Dumaguete to get an MA in Creative Writing, I had just succeeded in campaigning for the abolition of an old institution in the Ateneo de Davao’s student government.

 People here had good reason to get worried.

But the thing with polemics is that it only stings because there is something wrong there in the first place. This byline, which I have been using since high school, illustrates this best: “left-handed snake” sound so, well, sinister. Why does a snake, bad as it already is, have to be left-handed! And yet it only assumes that negativity in an enclosed system of signification where snakes are “evil” (Biblically influenced perhaps, or in binary opposition to “bunny”), and where being left handed is “not right” (all puns in this article are intended). But there is no such thing as a left-handed snake, and equally fictive is the negativity attached to it. Criticism minus the target is only observation, polemics minus convention simply suggestion.

And let’s face it, there are many in Dumaguete who are sitting ducks for the fangs of a poised polemicist. This City of Lazy People is an extremely human place, with all its charms and flaws. It is where time stands still, keeping old hearths alive with their familiar warmths, but also keeping the fires of archaic ills smoldering. This old place is home both to old friendships as well as to old feuds, an ancient well where ripples are elevated to tsunamis, and where the occasional frog sometimes thinks itself a whale in its ignorance of ocean. And those pedicab drivers!

But I’ve been here for over a year now, and far from wreaking iconoclastic havoc I’ve instead learned, among other things, to be gentle. From the historic war-ravaged town in Elsa Coscolluela’s play In My Father’s House, from which I first came to know Dumaguete, I’ve come to known the city more in that year, and without me realizing, I have learned the art of gentleness.

Dumaguete, it seems, is a place where one learns the power of quiet persuasion. Protesters against Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra were practically subjugated recently by the government’s shrewd decision to avoid conflict. Here, as in Thailand, wars are best fought with smiles and silences. The self conscious polemics represented by this blog’s byline has sometimes proven detrimental to my attempt to bring change: people are sometimes scared by it, and it has sown the seeds of suspicion where trust ought to be planted (the “keep your friends close” doctrine). Worse, the message ends up being ignored for the medium, a phenomenon clearly demonstrated by Senator Miriam Santiago (people love it when she speaks, but few people actually listen to what she says). In this column, therefore, I will do away with the pocking of the bush and immediately bring out the snake if I need to.

And Dumaguete is also where one learns to take things not just with a grain of salt but with a grain of sugar. There is no maturity in hating those who criticize you, and there is no wisdom in hating those you criticize. My own relationship with the MetroPost has reflected this: I sometimes amuse myself by ridiculing some of the not very well written articles here, but I always have fun reading the columns of two of my mentors, Cesar Ruiz Aquino (panelist during my Silliman Writers Workshop in 2012) and Dom Cimafranca (the first editor to ever get me published, back in Davao).

 The serpent beast Typhon in Greek Mythology, born to keep Zeus on his often-too-almighty toes, need not constantly wage war against Olympus. An occasional eruption from Mount Etna will do.

And most importantly, Dumaguete is where one learns to celebrate things. A new friend, a pay-raise, an award won (a new column!), Dumaguete seems to have the ambiance conducive to appreciation. On the minus side it does lead people to make storms in their teacups, but yes, it also fosters a good venue for critical thought, and the healthy bit of salt is always available around the corner. I’m still a non-believer, but there is wisdom in Ignatius Loyola’s dictum, “finding God in all things.” And in Dumaguete you find Him a lot, salt and sugar and all.

Indeed this old place seems to be where one learns the feat of heart’s control, what Edith Tiempo described in that famous poem as “utter sublimation,” to give sometimes painful love in a gentle, receivable form, that even the merest child can take it.

Dumaguete is not so much the City of Gentle People but the City where People learn to be Gentle.

Apparently, nobody warned me about this side of Dumaguete

Wake Up Call

(I’ve always been more of a tea person)

Fancy your coffee mug
as the sky, until the World’s Serpent
poisons it

On Anne Curtis and Nigella Lawson

Recently, two celebrity women I admire deeply (ehem) made headlines with a revelation of their human sides.

This picture has made my blog a lot more visually pleasing

On local shores is actress Anne Curtis, who attracted online attention for a recent spat at a club in Taguig. According to reports, Anne was drunk in the club and ended up quarreling with another celebrity. During this quarrel, she is reported to have slapped said fellow celebrity and uttered the lines “I can buy you, your friends, and this club.”

Now my highly Darwinist views on society (and my deep admiration for Anne, ehem) aside, that there is arguably a powerful bit of dialogue. Inasmuch as Anne is half Australian, the outburst invariably shows that she is a Filipina through and through, steeped in that rich, albeit somewhat underrated, tradition of the trailer line. (the tradition includes such crispy lines as Cherie Gil’s famous “You’re nothing but a second rate, trying hard, copy cat” from the movie Bituing Walang Ningning and, in the literary medium, many of the lines in Bobby Villasis’ plays, for instance in the play Brisbane: “Sardines! My god, smells like poverty!” But more on this tradition later)

A meme fit for the Season


Memes featuring the lines, with Anne’s not altogether unattractive profile, went viral following the episode. The trailer line cannot help but catch attention.

This one features another crispy line, one from TV show host and Proletariat demigod Willie Revillame

Anne has since admitted to the whole shebang and apologized, and the actor involved has confirmed that she had earlier made her apologies to him as well.

My blog is gorgeous now

Across the Pacific beyond the American Continent and across the Atlantic (or across the Asian and European mainland, depends on the direction you choose to go to), British TV cooking personality Nigella Lawson is facing media scrutiny as she gives evidence in a court trial for fraud of her two former assistants, the Grillo sisters.

The trial has allowed Nigella to reveal rather lurid details about her married life: the prolonged abuse she has seen with ex-husband Charles Saatchi (recently made publicly visible when he choked her in a restaurant), and most recently, Nigella’s use of cocaine and marijuana multiple times.

Nigella, with father Lord Lawson

Nigella occupies a uniquely prominent position in the British limelight. Not only is she one of the most globally recognizable British celebrities, what with her cooking shows serialized across the globe (in the Philippines the Food Network, among other stations, air them), she also happens to be the daughter of Nigel Lawson. Lord Lawson (made a life peer in 1992) served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Budget Secretary, to those unfamiliar with British politics) and Energy Secretary under Margaret Thatcher.

Now I feature these here not only because I admire these women deeply (ehem), but because the two cases share some quite intriguing similarities. Here are two women, virtually as successful in their careers as anyone can go, revealing their less-than-perfect sides and admitting it.

For one thing, it says something about modern culture: gone is the at times stiffing norm of keeping appearances, and an admission of human imperfection has become preferable. We’ve gone a long way since the Victorians.

And on that historical note it also shows that, while we Filipinos are still relatively conservative, we nevertheless  have a  considerably western mindset. A parallel historical struggle against a prudish past, perhaps?

In a rather similar case, Japanese voice actress Aya Hirano almost lost her career when after-sex pictures of her were published by a tabloid paper.  And of course there is the Maricar Reyes case to show the contrast (another beautiful woman!).  This just demonstrates how liberal we actually are.

But okay, I admit, I just wanted to feature two really, really pretty women as they stand up for accepting human imperfection. Can you blame me, I’m a guy.