The Curriculum of Unfairness

(Appeared on Davao Today 12 September 2017)

 

In the Philippines, students are not created equal.

A high school student of the special section gets to use a flush toilet in a tiled and well-maintained bathroom which he shares with his just two hundred fellow honour students.

But a regular high school student has to pee in a cubicle made of rotting wood – sometimes simply an outhouse – that she shares with the six thousand seven hundred other regular and heterogeneous students, flushing with a tabo if she’s lucky to have running water. And she has to pay for using this latrine.

The stratification of the Philippine caste system begins in school. Like breeding livestock, we separate the goats from the sheep, our teachers handpicking a small and exclusive portion of our studentry from a young age and grooming them to aristocracy. The vast majority who weren’t anointed would have been culled if they were pigs, but instead they’re simply neglected.

The select, privileged cadre of students are lavished with resources and opportunities almost entirely denied from the rest of the student body: more and better materials, newer and better furnished classrooms, more competent teachers, more chances for involvement.

My girlfriend Nal, who was moved (demoted, really) in high school from the special section to a heterogeneous section in Koronadal Comprehensive National High School, relates to me the sheer unfairness of the system: while their old, pre-war classroom continued to have holes on its rotting wooden floor, the school administration planned to aircondition the special sections’ tiled, concrete classrooms. (as a silver lining, Nal would later cherish the fact that her dilapidated school building was an historic Gabaldon building).

When I was in elementary at Boys (what people in Kidapawan call the Notre Dame of Kidapawan College long after it had ceased being exclusive), I was not handpicked to write on the school paper, and it was only when the school paper moderator in high school – I was already third year – liked my writing that I got my chance. Now I’m writing for this column, while those who had an early start abandoned writing altogether and are busy microscoping stool samples.

In private schools, it’s a matter of common practice among teachers (one they do often get in trouble with), but in public schools the pyramidal stratification is institutional. There isn’t even any of that Animal Farm pretense at ‘some being more equal than others,’ being a public school student meant you had to fit into the rigid caste system. You knew your place and you stayed there.

And the public school caste system is defined by sections: at the top of the pecking order are the students of the special sections (SpEd, Pilot classes, Sci-Cur, STEM, the elite come by different names). Just below them are the regular sections, students who don’t quite qualify as elite but are still relatively decent. At the very bottom of the hierarchy are the heterogeneous sections, what the previous two orders call the “lower classes”, “the stupid students”, “the bulay-ogs”. The delinquent, dimwitted urchins in elementary who grow up to become rugby or Sukarap boys, Three-Rounder girls or teenage mothers in high school. “A basket of deplorables,” to use the Ivy League graduate Hilary Clinton’s language.

This discrimination is systematic, but more seriously it is cultural.

I had recently served to train student publication advisers of the public elementary and high schools in Kidapawan, and I saw this culture first hand. From DepEd district superintendent to the teacher-facilitators, the whole public education machinery was bent on winning student press conferences. Presscons, if you don’t know, involve around twelve student publication staffers per school: in a school of around seven to ten thousand students, DepEd is focused on investing its energies on developing the skills of these twelve privileged students. With the battlecry of “Kidapawan, always number one,” teachers were enticed to make their thoroughbred, showdog students win presscons so they can go to places like Baguio and Boracay. The rest of the student body hardly mattered.

Kidapawan, always number one: the number twos and number threes and number seventy eights do not matter.

Just the simple recollection of names is visible (and to a student, lasting) sign of favouritism and discrimination. Like a farmer naming her favourite piglets but not bothering to name the rest, teachers in Boys will call their favorites by the first names – sometimes even nicknames! – and the rest of us by our family names (if they remember our family names at all).

And of course, where teachers lead, students will follow, but in their own more horrible way. In KNCHS, Nal shares how the culture of special section elitism worked. When a regular student managed to get high enough grades to get into the privileged classes, she is met with hostility: “she’s not one of us!” Doubly so if this happens when a special section student suffers demotion into the realm of mortals, as the other special students will defend the worthiness of their brethren to remain over this lucky stranger. In high school proms, there are proud traditions maintained for the special section students that do not apply to mere commoners. In all programs the special section students sit up front while the mortals sit at the far back. And of course, all the student council seats, varsity team places, and graduation awards are tacitly reserved for the special sections.

When I was a student in Boys our prejudice was against the non-Notre Dameans (I grew up thinking all schools other than my own were lowly public schools), who when they trespassed their way into our walled world of a campus we called “outsiders.” Young women from Notre Dame would agree to always walk together when passing by a public school, lest the lawless public school kids come to include them in their anarchy, while young men were advised to avoid public school campuses altogether because the gang-boy students there were prone to picking fights with strangers. When a classmate found themselves having to transfer to another school, we pitied them. When a transferee from another school entered our ranks, we expected them to be some miraculous prodigy emerging from the wilderness.

The school is a microcosm of the country, and what an accurate microcosm the Filipino school is: run by teacher-bureaucrats preoccupied with promotions and lakbay-laags, dominated by a subservient, self-entitled elite in a teacher-student padrino system, while the vast majority of us are denied of opportunities.

Inequality is a natural result of a healthy society, the best emerge on top while the inefficient lose out as everything works in Darwinian order. I would be the first to point this out.

But school should not be some Hunger Games where you pit student against student until the most toxic wug kills the rest and emerges victorious. School is where we develop our children, give them the skills and opportunities to grow and be prepared for the challenges of a competitive life.

But our schools are limiting opportunities for a select few, justifying it as “rewarding hard work.” How can you reward hard work when you limit the students’ chances to actually try? Non necesse habent sani medicum.

“Rewarding hard work” is far too often an excuse made by schools to justify their misplaced priorities: abandoning quality education for all by limiting their resources to a select few to increase their chances of getting higher accreditation and quantifying success with Sports Meet wins and NCAE high scorers.

What is happening to our schools isn’t simply inequality, it is unfairness. These pilot class students – these oration contest fodder and varsity players – do not become the elite because they excel on their own merits in a leveled playing field. More often than not they’re privileged because of initial advantages. Many of these students have been teachers’ pets since pre-school, and a substantial bulk of them are the children or relatives of teachers and principals (how my mother often deplores the ugly kagid scars on the legs of majorettes from public high schools during city fiestas. “Anak ng teacher, kaya pinasali,” she would mutter in condescension.) A student with no such connections and who is too shy to display her intellect or skill will stand little chance of getting the opportunities and awards.

And there is even less hope for the defiant student, because of course the pecking order is all about compliance and subservience to teachers. I said something my high school chemistry teacher did not like, and she badmouthed me in all the high school sections until I graduated (thank goodness I did not rely on teachers’ opinions for my success as a student). I stepped out of the line, I was banished from Olympus.

This, incidentally, is how we have killed Filipino criticality. Our political thought is mind-numbingly orthodox because we have taught our kids what to think, complete with mandatory Jose Rizal quote. The little actual criticism our people exhibits is more the result of sourgraping (the salutatorian who was sidestepped from being valedictorian) than of any genuine ideological objections.

Instead of producing well equipped, critically thinking intellectuals, what we get from these privileged cadre of “young leaders” are self entitled snobs who thrive by complying and conforming.

A lifetime of being given the privilege of opportunities allows them to grow up subconsciously thinking that they alone have the society’s agency – “l’etat c’est moi,” as Louis XIV would have put it. When they hear (and quote ad nauseam) that Rizal aphorism of “the children being the future of our nation,” they understand that quote to be referring to them specifically. They are the world, they are the children.

And why shouldn’t they think so? They’ve been handpicked since elementary (kindergarten even!) by titateacher to compete in inter-school orations and quiz bees, participant in Leadership camps and Youth fora, go to Tagaytay or Dumaguete to join NSPCs. In high school they were the chosen few anointed by tita-principal to take the UPCAT so the school gets a high passing rate. They are the student leaders (in Ateneo’s case, the inadvertently elitist label “sui generis,” oh how special they are). The elect of God. The future of the nation.

It is a point of profound irony that this is the background of many progressive-leaning, “pro-poor” student activists that serve as rally fodder (remember that their schools allowed only them to take the UPCAT or groomed only them to get high enough grades for a DOST scholarship).

In college, they encounter the plight of the urban and rural poor and the displaced tribal peoples, see this as part of their natural enlightenment, and understand it to be their God-appointed duty to take up Marxism and call for equality. The rest of us who do not fall within the protectionist, nationalist, socialist mould they envision – well, we’ve always been stupid even back in elementary, we were never in the honors lists! They’ve immersed in poor communities for months, interviewed a few victims of landgrabbing and EJKs, joined in many rallies. Of course they understand inequality better than us.

Self-entitlement is the easy precursor of self righteousness.

While Philippine education is becoming more and more accessible, the pace at which it moves to become more inclusive is still deplorably glacial.

And it just goes to show how utterly blind these elitists are to their own self-righteousness when, in spite of this more chronic problem, they called instead for free higher education (and when Duterte signed it into law, claimed full credit for it). It would be being uncharitable to insinuate that they had been rallying to get tuition fee incentives for their own university education, but one does wonder.

Because far from free higher education, what our country urgently needs more is better and more inclusive basic education. High education should be optional in a society where quality education is given in the primary and secondary levels.

The budget that could have been allocated to the improvement and greater accessibility of our basic education services will instead be eaten up by the free college subsidies.

And for what? Because there are no mechanisms to ensure that state-funded education results in national service, the country is not earning back what it is spending: most graduates work in the private sector, with many even going abroad, so at most we’re just adding taxpayers, something the private schools are already doing. Even among that vocal progressive portion of our privileged student activists, most of them that I know are in well-salaried private jobs, their ‘call for social justice’ reduced to angry tweets and quarrels on Facebook.

We will simply be subsidizing – as we always have – the self-righteousness of the elitists we have created.

I daresay we are not only breeding our next generation of snobs, but also our next generation of graft and corruption perpetrators. I so dare because I have at least one case to cite: in 2014, the student president of Negros Oriental State University (where I was teaching at the time) was expelled for failing to account for almost three hundred thousand pesos worth of funds. I’ve seen the culture of “student leaders” in that state university, and it’s just as described: the president of several clubs who has been valedictorian since elementary and who is running for magna cum laude couldn’t even pronounce “voila” correctly. In this case, the word was that the missing funds were used by the president for a weekend outing with fellow student officials to Siquijor. This is just one case, there are many others out there of our “promising youth” pilfering money for themselves.

September will be National Teachers Month, and like our long-established school culture of unfairness and inequality, of elitism and selectivity, we will celebrate it the way we always do: praising our teachers for doing what they’re paid to do, requiring our students to make surprise greeting cards for their class advisers and even pitch in from their meager allowance for a lunch kumbira that they or their mothers cooked – all while their creaky old classrooms remain riddled with holes in the floors and leaks on the roofs, their bathrooms still no more than urine-stained holes in the ground, their battered old books still grossly not enough.

Not the special section students, of course. Why should they cook when they can always ask for budget from tita-principal for catering.

 

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Nakapangyayari ang Sambayanan

(Appeared on Davao Today 6 September 2017)

Few Kidapawanons know the official motto of Kidapawan city, much less understand what it means.

‘Nakapangyayari ang sambayanan’ is banderoled on the city’s official seal, just below the escutcheon. The seal, designed by then Tourism Officer Benjamin Mallorca, was adopted by Kidapawan when it became a city in 1998. I have yet to find any official documents pertinent to the motto, but because I cannot find any use of it before 1998 I’m assuming it was also adopted upon cityhood.

The rather lofty Tagalog motto officially translates to ‘the people are sovereign’ (see the first few words of the Constitution’s preamble in Tagalog: ‘Kami, ang nakapangyayaring sambayanang Pilipino…’). It’s a metaphysical statement of nationhood: the word for sovereignty, ‘nakapangyayari,’ is rooted in the word ‘yari,’ ‘composition,’ but the morphology makes it an active state, ‘we who constitute.’ Sovereignty in Tagalog is implied to be active composition, thus making Kidapawan’s motto more literally ‘the people can constitute.’

But ‘nakapangyayari’ has another possible morphological derivation, leading to a more interesting alternative translation to the motto: ‘pangyayari’ also means ‘happening.’

The motto can thus also be translated: ‘The people can make it happen.’

Lovely idealism, you might think, one of those DepEd or DoH mandated themes that far too often are more the stuff of essay-writing contests for public school students that of any actual practice.

Kidapawan, in particular, has often shown that it is not the people but its government – the detached bureaucracy headed by the winning oligarch of the day – which makes things happen. The environment and natural resources are managed by the government. Law and order is the exclusive responsibility of the government. Festivals are organized by the government. The bulk of the education sector is run by the government. We rely, for everything, on the government, and so the government does everything.

But one recent development shows that, when they try, people can and often do make things happen.

This development, quite remarkably, is in another of those hollow principles we so often take for granted: the city’s history.

While Davao celebrated August with the Kadayawan festivities, on the other side of Mt Apo there were two celebrations in my hometown: the annual Timpupo Fruits Festival, and the town’s foundation anniversary.

The fruits festival was muted owing to the meager harvest (Kidapawan’s fruit industry is still picking up from the poor yield of the past decade), but the foundation was specially poignant. Not only was it a celebration of Kidapawan’s seventieth year, it was a celebration made possible by the efforts of its people.

You see, for the past decade or so, Kidapawan’s local government celebrated ‘foundation day’ on February 12. On this date in 1998, Fidel Ramos signed into law Republic Act 8500, declaring the Municipality of Kidapawan into North Cotabato’s first city. Earlier this year, posters from the City government promoting celebrations of the date called the day ‘Kidapawan’s 19th Foundation Anniversary.’

I had heard of negative reactions from Kidapawanons about this years before. Many people (including myself) still remember Kidapawan before it was a city, and so feel that this putting of the town’s foundation on the declarion of cityhood is a form of whitewashing. One friend pointed out that he was born in Kidapawan, and he was already in his thirties, so how could Kidapawan be only nineteen years old?

The more accurate foundation date being advocated is August 18, 1947. On this date Manuel Roxas signed Executive Order No. 82, creating ten different municipalities from existing municipal districts. Among them was Kidapawan, which was then a municipal district of the Cotabato province.

For much of Kidapawan’s history as a city, the only festivities held around that date were Fruit Festivals (which date often changed depending on the caprices of the harvest). During such events there was hardly any mention of the municipality foundation, and if there were no festivities during that month, the date passed unnoticed.

Much of the complaints about the February 12 celebrations were unaired, merely murmured at home among the city’s old timers.

That is until I made a blog post about it. In the post I called for February 12 to be called ‘cityhood day,’ and calling for August 18 to be celebrated as Kidapawan’s real foundation day. I lamented the whitewashing (specially if it was inadvertent), and decried the city’s disregard for its past.

I did not expect the post to go viral, but it did, eliciting rather strong reactions. On social media it was shared and reacted on. There were those who agreed and denounced the LGU for forgetting all those who came before them, but there were also those who called on me and those who agreed with me to move on because the municipality is gone.

But in the end the online sentiment (at least from what I saw) became overwhelmingly one of recognition for August 18. At the very least my post raised awareness about the date, and about its undeniable neglect. Informative posts like mine were easily shared on social media. And this made the neglect of August 18 all the more glaring.

I must have seen right, because by the time this year’s August came nearer, the City Tourism Office proudly declared that preparations for the city’s ‘70th Foundation anniversary’ were underway. The Tourism Office under Mallorca’s successor Joey Recimilla, has been very responsive to public sentiment.

But in this case, at least, the people of Kidapawan made it happen.

The celebrations also showed a strong appreciation for the city’s history – a complete reversal from the apathy I decried.

As early as 2010 (when I was still a student) I had been writing about Kidapawan’s colourful but long ignored local past. In 2010 I published a write-up on the destruction of the Sultan Omar Kiram mansion and the colourful life of its architect. In 2012, I and Vincent Cuzon (who had started being aware of Kidapawan’s history through my work) started the Kidapawan of the Past Facebook page, giving wider public access to old pictures of the town. A bit later I came up with another blog post, one on the obscure World War II martyr Eliseo Dayao Sr.

I received some responses from these efforts, but I never fully appreciated how much impact these efforts were making. I did not know that I and Vince (and later fellow Kidapawan of Past administrators Paul Gumanao and Clyde Vallejo) were slowly creating a demand for more information about Kidapawan’s history.

By the time the August 18 celebrations were held, the City Tourism office opened an exhibit of old pictures of Kidapawan, including portraits of the city’s mayors, of the city landscape in the distant past, and some domestic snippets (like my grandfather’s oathtaking as teniente del barrio of Baranggay Lanao). For the first time ever, historical figures like Siawan Ingkal and Eliseo Dayao was publicly remembered, and Rita Gadi’s poem ‘Kidapawan in my heart’ (which before then was unheard of in Kidapawan) was even displayed prominently.

Again, it was ordinary people who made it happen.

There will be – and in my work promoting more historical awareness there indeed have been – those who will dismiss such efforts as disruptive. I have been accused of ‘twisting history’ simply because I’ve presented versions of it that people are not used to.

But all change will be uncomfortable, specially change that is necessary.

I advocated for August 18, 1947 to be celebrated as Kidapawan’s foundation day, but now I am seeking to further problematize that: Before becoming a municipality, Kidapawan was first a Municipal district during the American colonial period. The question now is when that happened. I have yet to get hold of the law creating the municipal district, but I’ve ascertained it to be somewhere between 1906 (when the Department of Sulu and Mindanao was created, and Kidapawan is not mentioned) and 1917 (when the Cotabato province was created, and Kidapawan is first mentioned as a municipal district).

There will again be change, yes, and many people will again have to adjust. But as the President and his hoarde of devoted minions like chanting, ‘change is coming.’

And I like to believe part of that change will be this empowerment of people to take governance – whether it be something as concrete as the running of a festival or as abstract as local history – into their own hands, to have a country that works bottom-up.

We need to see a smaller government and a bigger society. One where fiestas are organized not by the municipio from the poblacion but, like the neighbourhoods of Gion in Kyoto, by each of the Baranggays altogether. One where local communities play active roles – and even compete with other communities – to keep their public spaces clean and attractive. One where local businesses work together to revitalize the local industries.

Just as locals are used to having the local government do everything, the local governments are used to receiving directive and funding from Imperial Manila. The imminent prospects of a shift to Federalism – essentially breaking apart the top-down unitary state into more localized spheres of administration – will hopefully make change more likely and more lasting.

There are qualms about the shift as it is a fundamental and radical change that is, rather ironically, being imposed on localities from top down. Critics will say that such a top-down introduction will create artifical reform, just another foreign concept introduced to the locals.

But then again, ‘nakapangyayari ang sambayanan’ is a sentence just as foreign to the Kidapawanon as Federalism would be, and yet we have owned its foreignness and, far beyond our own expectations, we are learning to live it. The foreignness of Federalism is the foreignness of self agency to those who are used to having their destinies defined for them.

And it will continue to be foreign if local people do not take an active role for themselves in making it their own. Federalism is a change that must be owned if it is to work.

But if anything, Kidapawan history teaches us to trust the people. With little help from the colonial government the Obo Manobo started the municipal district. With little help from the Commonwealth government the district slowly grew commercially until it had to be declared a municipality. In the 1960s, they were so ambitious that they planned to build an airport, and while that has not yet materialized, nothing is preventing Kidapawan from still realizing that dream. And with little help from Manila, the municipality petitioned (for decades) to be elevated into a city.

Will Federalism happen and work for Kidapawan? Only time will tell. But of one thing I am sure. Its people can definitely make it happen.

 


Ten Types of Authors Who Can Go Fuck Themselves

I needed this

CLASH

So yesterday I was thinking about an upcoming piece I’ll be writing for LitReactor and chuckled at the amount of reactions I’ll surely get. You see, I’ve been doing the columnist thing for almost a decade. It all started back home with a monthly political column. By the time I stopped writing it in early 2016, I’d received four death threats. In any case, I tweeted this: “Everyone who’s gotten angry at one of my columns should hear the stuff I don’t even bother to pitch.” The result was almost immediate; a bunch of authors said they wanted to read it. I’m all about making my friends happy, so here we are. Thank the writing deities that we have crazy, brave venues like CLASH. Let’s get started, shall we? Here are ten types of authors who can go fuck themselves (God I’m good at making friends!):

1. Authors who hate…

View original post 1,725 more words


Kidapawan begins caring about its heritage!

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My hometown of Kidapawan’s Local government is finally paying attention to the town’s history and heritage! Mayor Joseph Evangelista recently set up a Culture and Arts Council, and  while still nebulous, one of their first projects is to revisit the historiography of the city.

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Bergonia’s 2004 book, the only existing history of Kidapawan

I had been working on my own for the past two years on rewriting Kidapawan history, slowly building up information to make five books. Kidapawan’s only history book, the 2004 book by Ferdinand Bergonia, is very informative but has severe deficiencies, both in actual information and in source citation (see my review of it in Ateneo de Davao’s Tambara). There was a serious need to build up on what Bergonia had started.

All the while I shared some of the information on the Kidapawan of the Past Facebook Page, hoping to slowly build up interest in the city’s history.

I and Vince Cuzon managed the FB page, and the both of us really started stimulating local interest in Kidapawan heritage with my 2010 write-up in the Davao Writers Guild’s Dagmay (coauthored with  Christian Cabagnot) about the Kiram Mansion, which had been demolished that year. Vince, who has a far wider local readership than I do, helped spread word about the building.

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What remains of the mansion is now getting more attention than it ever did since. It even looks like it’s being restored.

By accident I found out about the Culture and Arts Council and the efforts being done by the City Tourism Office (whose head, Mr Joey Recimilla, is a member of the Council). If I am to work with them my progress will be fast-tracked, perhaps by decades, with the help of the city government’s machinery!

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The city tourism office has been so serious about getting things started that they actually went on exploratory visits to see where the Council can begin its work.

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In one exploratory visit to the National Library, Ms Gillan Lonzaga of the Tourism Office found a 1952 book about Cotabato Province, which contained a write-up about Kidapawan (then only four years old) by the then-municipal councilor Lino Madrid.

Bergonia cited this document, but did not do justice to the information in it. The piece provided fascinating insight into Kidapawan at its early days of independence, and it answered a lot of crucial questions left unanswered by Bergonia. Most crucially it complicates the ‘highland spring’ etymology of the city’s name, as it makes no mention of the ‘tida’ from whence ‘kida’ is supposed to have come from. Madrid also resolved the name of the third Mayor of Kidapawan, Filomeno Blanco, whom Bergonia named ‘Filemon’ and ‘Filomeno’ at various points in his book. It also provides my only clue so far about his identity, as he is cited as owning a rice and corn mill in Baranggay Saguing, now Makilala.

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Among the possible directions the City Tourism Office found for the Culture and Arts Council – and one which thrilled me when I learned of it – is to come up with an inventory of cultural properties. One of the five books I was planning to write has actually been a coffee table book of Kidapawan’s heritage structures, including old houses and culturally significant structures and natural landmarks. Although far from complete, this inventory saves me so much time.

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The old shophouses that line the highway in downtown Kidapawan have also yet to be recognized.

On a worrying note, there are rumours that the old house beside the Saint Mary’s Academy – my mother says it belonged to the Rellen family – will be demolished now that the owner of Gaisano Kidapawan has purchased the property. The house is listed in the inventory as belonging to the Mojana family, and at over 50 years old actually qualifies as an Important Cultural Property under R.A. 1066. I’ll be looking into the matter more and will be doing all I can to make sure this does not become another Kiram Mansion tragedy.

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But perhaps the biggest plan their eyeing is to set up a museum! Commissioning anthropologists from the University of Southeastern Mindanao in Kabacan, they intended to begin this by initiating a study on the city’s culture and history. It’s a huge undertaking, and if I’ll be working with the ongoing efforts I will probably help here. I will definitely be doing all I can to help make sure this is a success!

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Along the way I also finally got a list of the awardees of the Kidapawan Heroes, which the city grants annually during the Cityhood anniversary. I’ll be writing a separate post about it here at a later date!

All these efforts to finally pay attention to Kidapawan’s heritage means the LGU will be dealing with existing National laws. These laws nevertheless have shortcomings, and I strongly think the city needs to make local legislation to complement them.

And if Kidapawan manages to craft local law for its history and heritage, it will be exemplary among the country’s local governments, even bettering nearby Davao (which continues to have poor maintenance of its heritage properties and promotion of local historical appreciation).

I have to say, the present LGU is objectively impressive.

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They’re even restoring the iconic pine trees in the highway island with saplings of the original pine tree, removing the Monkey Puzzle trees planted earlier to replace the trees that died. Alfonso Angeles Sr. would be pleased.


I Hate Basketball

I hate Basketball

It is the sport the Americans taught us Filipinos, displacing our traditional sports. It is a legacy of American Colonialism. Filipinos still obsess over it today like the little brown Americans that we are, keeping our worldview still strongly American-shaped. It is the sport that makes Filipinos think the Celtic people are from Boston.

It is the sport major Filipino TV stations in the country choose to cover on prime time news, some game between one American basketball team against another American basketball team in far away America. It is the sport they choose to cover instead of business and economy, instead of arts and culture, instead of goings on in Mindanao. As they tell you that local news is not really that relevant, it is the sport they choose to dedicate an entire channel to.

It is the sport they make you play in school because it builds character, because a competitive sport that involves stealing some ball from one another and slamming it into a ring is a great way of developing good behaviour. Because Music, Arts, and Physical Education are all taught in basic education as one subject, and because the vast majority of Filipino teachers are illiterate in music and the arts, sports – Basketball – gets a disproportionately higher amount of attention.

Besides it’s a sport, a tasked-based lesson, no need to make students memorize the names of instruments or hard-to-pronounce names of French artists.

It is the sport they encourage you to play in school because you can get University scholarships by being good at it. Forget writing or drawing or playing an instrument. Heck, research papers don’t even get you as much financial assistance in school as basketball does.

It is the sport they encourage you to play even if your chances of making a career out of it in the Philippines are as slim as modeling. And all the while they tell you off for being a writer or artist because ‘you can’t make money out of art-art.’

But because there are a few who do succeed in the slim chance, they encourage you to play it anyway even as they crush your hopes of being a successful musician or painter. Play it well enough and they’ll make you into a model. Play it well long enough and they’ll elect you as Senator. Who cares about historians and novelists, Filipinos know it is the basketball players, actors, and boxers who make great legislators.

It is the sport they encourage you to play so you don’t do drugs. As if drug dependency is really all just a matter of distracting our stupid young people.

It is the sport the government encourages you to play to promote good health, even as tobacco and alcohol remain ridiculously affordable, and the air pollution – about which nothing is being done – is so bad it is easy to get bronchitis.

It is the sport of the cool kids, of the real boys, from the astigs in the kanto to the heartrobs in Arneow. The girls won’t cheer for you in high school no matter how good you are in chess, but shoot a few hoops and they’ll gladly lose their virginity to you on JS prom. It is the sport men like to pretend they’re good at to make up for their short penises.

Only dorks and faggots choose to stay in libraries and, like, not play basketball.

And so it is the sport the macho father forces on his son to sweat away the bayot out of him, and the sport the pot-bellied father in-law expects his prospective son in-law to know.

So whenever you ask me if I follow basketball, and even if I politely say I don’t know it too much you still push the topic, this is what I think about it.

I fucking hate basketball.


Laksa!

Laksa is one of the greatest inventions of mankind, the Malay world’s great contribution to world cuisine. Whether Lemak (with coconut gravy) or Assam (with sour soup), Laksa demonstrates the intensity that so pleases the Malay palate.

I’ve been to Singapore three times and to Malaysia four, and on each occasion I made it a point to try as many kinds of laksa as I can. Here are some of them.

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Geylang Laksa, the most typical form of the curry-style Lemak laksa, is touted as the best laksa in Singapore. It has an interesting history, dating back eighty years from an old man who sold laksa on the go along Geylang road.

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Penang Laksa is the most typical form of Assam laksa. This one is from a stall near Singapore’s Aljuneid station, and is the best Assam laksa I’ve had. The sour soup is rich and glorious with mackerel pulp

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The best curry laksa I’ve ever had is the Mee Kari from Nura Kasih, a stall in the food centre on the corner of Jalans Rajah Muda Abdul Aziz and Jalan Abdul Manan Nordin in Kuala Lumpur’s Kampung Bahru. What is known in Singapore as ‘laksa’ (curry laksa) is called ‘mee kari’ – curry noodles – in Malaysia, with the term ‘laksa’ being applied by default to some form of Assam laksa. In Malaysia too curry laksa is served with chicken, in contrast to Singapore’s seafood. The Mee Kari in Nurah Kasih is flavoured with star anise and cinnamon, with the whole spices served with the soup.

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Not all Lemak laksa has curry. Laksam, a kind of laksa distinct for its thick chunks of dough as noodles, does not have curry. Like most Malaysian laksa it’s served with slices of raw stringed beans, which can be unpleasant to the uninitiated.

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Johor laksa is a very particular kind of laksa. It is the most popular hybrid laksa, being both Lemak and Assam (with a sour coconut curry broth). But what makes it distinct is it uses spaghetti noodles.

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There’s a quirky stall along Singapore’s Balestier Road that sells Mee Hon Laksa, or laksa with rice vermicelli. It makes the rich coconut curry broth much more enjoyable because the thickness of the noodles is no obstruction. It’s almost like the broth was solidified.

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Katong Laksa is another uniquely Singaporean laksa. The chopsticks in this picture were never used, Katong laksa is distinct for having the noodles scissored into smaller pieces so the laksa can be eaten with only a spoon.

I hope to try all the kinds of Laksa out there, and as I try new ones this post will be updated!


Meeting Miguel Syjuco

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I finally got to meet the most successful Filipino writer in the world.

Miguel Syjuco was disarmingly friendly, as he had always been online. Perhaps it was the death threats.

The Man Asia prize winner came to Davao at a very politically charged time: a consistent critic of the Duterte administration, he has been very vocal with his concerns about the many victims of alleged Extrajudicial killings in Metro Manila and other urban areas.

When he confided on social media that friends were warning him about his safety as he entered the baluarte of a politician he publicly criticized, Syjuco received a barrage of death threats, which only seemed to confirm his friends’ concerns. I had assured him there was nothing to fear, and he went to Davao anyway.

I met and hosted him as a Duterte supporter, as one who has been so since I was young (I had urged our then mayor in this blog to run when he was not even making national news yet), and whose family is passionately pro-Duterte.

But above all that, I met him as a genuine fan: I had read Ilustrado some years ago, when the Cebuano writer Januar Yap gave me his copy, and was floored by the skill of its writing. I still believe it is the closest anyone has come to a Great Filipino Novel, and ought to be taught in all schools instead of Rizal.

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My now missing copy of Ilustrado. I lent it to someone and I forgot to whom. I had a shaky hand with this photo!

Miguel came over for four main reasons: to see Davao for himself (he had not been here since the 90s); to lay the groundwork for a possible project with Ateneo de Davao; to give a workshop to my old club in Ateneo, SALEM; and to chat with my ninong, DCPO director Alexander Tagum.

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Miguel with SALEM

In between excursions we would chat about politics, the Philippine literary scene, and some humorously bad jokes. He’d share personal struggles, his family’s not always successful foray into politics, and having to overcome the mob of pro-Duterte netizens who gang up on him.

In the lobby of the Marco Polo while he, I, and Nal had a drink on his first night, I joked that I hope he stayed safe, who else would win the Nobel for the Filipino people. He laughed it off with a National Artist’s name, though I was dead serious about him getting it. The only flaw Miguel Syjuco has as a writer is that he hasn’t written enough yet.

He has been saying he enjoyed Davao, though I feel he didn’t see as much as he should have. I’m hoping he finds time to return and see the Philippine Eagles.

Did we disagree while he was here? Surprisingly not much. What we learned early on online was that nobody is ever really entirely pro or anti anything. He wasn’t entirely critical of everything Duterte, as I was not entirely supportive of everything the President does.

We both agreed that the current climate of polarization, of painting everything black and white, is not productive for both sides and is unleashing a mob of hateful fanatics. Where the Duterte administration can improve with feedback, it turns a blind eye because all negative feedback is viewed with violent suspicion. Where it does good, the critics refuse to see because they only see the EJKs and a man who speaks nothing but murder.

And we both saw that while we stood on opposite sides of a political divide, we are linked together by a renewed passion for our country and its people.

On his last night while we lounged in the Marco’s lobby, a gunshot pierced the busy Davao evening. It turned out a guest who was surrendering his pistol to the guard accidentally fired a blank.

I asked, jokingly, if he thinks RJ Nieto had meant that as a warning.