On our second morning at our new place, as I was washing the dishes from breakfast, my landlords came, the husband with his wheelbarrow, spade, ladder, and bolo, and helped me trim branches off the trees that were overhanging on the walkway from the street to our house. The twice-daily task of sweeping the walkway would now be a lot easier and quicker. While the hubby was whacking at the trees, the wife and I went around the 1,000 sq.m. property, identifying the plants grown on the perimeter garden. Across the main door and balcony, the apple-mango tree standing much higher than the house and now heavy with fruits, the ripe ones falling throughout the day and peppering the ground, was planted by the wife 26 years ago when she, like me today, was a young-ish mother with growing up kids, was still living with her in-laws (I suspect that she and her husband come to help me because she remembers how back then as a woman it could be quite overwhelming raising up kids, making house, and working all at the same time plus they liked me to be the one to buy the place which by the way is for sale). Incidentally, the Spanish colonial house still in it’s original state is more or less 60+ years old! I’m fascinated with history and so I feel lucky that I’ve stumbled upon this property. Of course, with such an established house among the initial concerns, well, from the kids at least, was ghosts. I assured them that the house is peaceful and welcoming. Before finalizing the lease agreement and meeting the landlords, when the previous renters were packing, I came to stay a couple of afternoons with them just to feel the vibes of the house. And, peaceful and welcoming were what I felt. On our first night, as a sort of ritual, I thanked the universe or whatever for bringing us to the shelter of a heritage house and assured the spirit of the house or whatever that I can be relied upon to take good care of the property and in exchange they take care of us during our stay (in other words, to just let us be).

malunggayMoving on, we identified plants like, the lone mahogany tree, a couple of palm trees, several banana trees (the husband, on instruction by the wife, chopped off a soon-to-ripen bunch that he hung under the roof in the backyard and which we can easily get from once ripe- oh so that’s what she meant by hanging it), lemongrass, papaya tree (the dwarf red variety left by the recent renter who’s an agriculturist), edible greens we couldn’t identify but popular among the Chinese (planted by a previous renter), malunggay (moringa) tree (I harvested enough of it’s fruits for dinner, having now learned from my aunt how to cook it), cactus, and a few more others we didn’t know.


Still, there’s so much bare ground left to be planted. Resting and chatting after our work were done, I resolved to really get a gardening and farming crash course Dummies style. That, while I wondered shit how in the world did I get myself from mostly intellectual or mental work to manual labor? Nobody in my circle especially my agriculturist-colleagues would believe me if I tell them I’ve turned into a kind of hands-on gardener-farmer. Ha ha.


It reminded me of a statement from the book, Beyond The Pyramids: Travels in Egypt,

When I’m on my farm, I do not care about telephone calls or paperwork or dealing with the obstacles that stupid bureaucrats in the government Ministries put on my way. I think about nothing but my watermelons and my guavas. I sleep on a mat on the floor of the farm’s hut. I become an Egyptian again.

As for me, I become Filipino again, you know, as in Filipino living the breadth of life in these Islands. This time with my kids. Early in the month, my kids and I were exploring on Pinterest details of one of their Zodiac signs. We came upon one about what’s expected from the signs. From Aquarius, that’s me, their mom, adventures. My eldest daughter looked at me and giggled. Yes, baby, let’s go on life’s adventures together. Also, during the first meal at our new place which was by myself with a couple of male friends back in high school who helped me transport and moved in bulky furnitures (thank goodness for boy friends!), as we were eating, I blurted out that not once did the thought of living in this place occur to me, and one of them said, ah yes let’s think this is where God is leading you. In my heart, I’m certain that these lucky breaks are because of people praying hard for me and my kids.


On the proposed divorce law

What I’m waiting for the most, perhaps even wishing it in my subconscious, is the law on divorce. Divorce, in this country, and maybe in some others as well that remain closed even to the idea, has long been misunderstood as a Pandora’s box. Open it and all sorts of she-evils will fly out and contaminate the world. It’s BS. Like the story of the stork ingrained into us as children when we asked adults how babies got made or born.

For me, the most practical argument for divorce is that the right to enter into a contract, in this case, marriage, gives one the right to terminate or reform it when terms and conditions are not met; termination is applicable when, despite the steps taken to set things right, the effect of the contract on the parties is one of a weighty yoke. No person should be burdened by a contract.

The clergy would argue that marriage is more than just a “contract” or a piece of paper affixed with the signatures of bride and groom and their witnesses; that it is in essence a sacrament in that marriage is “to glorify God and to be a representation of how Christ loves the church.” Fine. And that is where the Church or rather the clergy has failed marriages today. They are increasingly more concerned at managing mainstream (meaning, anti-poor) businesses and school boards instead of attending to their primary mission which is to be like Christ who took the road less traveled where the poor and unwanted of the earth are. Administering sacraments to persons, whether the sick or the bride and groom, has become mechanical. The clergy has become so world-busy that they now also have no time to stop and chat with and get to know their sheep. In knowing their sheep are shepherds able to administer to each according to individual needs.

Where were they when families are falling apart or when marriages show cracks in their seemingly happy veneers? Selling organic food. My god. The clergy also has it all wrong now. The passage about “God will provide” means that families will be the ones that will support the clergy and the Church into the future as long as they are also supported in their spiritual needs. Because, how could a family that’s always fighting help back the Church and it’s clergy? It can’t as all it’s energies (and money) are spent in something else. I overheard churchgoers once saying “wala naman pinuputahan mga binibigay ng mga tao.” Churchgoers have already become sarcastic about adequately contributing financially to the Church because they don’t feel a spiritual connection with their priests and nuns. They are sheep without a shepherd.

What does it mean by marriage as glorification of God and representation of Christ in the church? Do modern married couples understand that? The few that do have I bet came to out of a lifelong struggle of experiences not necessarily with the individualized support of the clergy.

The Church is in a crisis and it’s effects on the Body, the families, are felt proportionally. The sacrament of marriage is entwined with the health of the Church that has facilitated and borne witness to the marriage. My point is, and this is for the clergy, that they stop pointing fingers at others in connection with this divorce law. Look at yourselves first, acknowledge your part in what you describe as the deterioration of society, bring order in the house, and society will follow.

On the other hand, the marriage contract, to be understood as distinct from matrimony, should not be forced upon the contracting parties when it is obvious that it is beyond repair or reform. This is where the State, not the Church, steps in with the duty to protect the right/freedom of persons entering into contracts. Those who counter that the law is bound to be abused are like people walking forward with their heads turned a hundred and eighty degrees back. They don’t know forward from backward. Look at the child protection law. It’s not that there suddenly was a flood of cases reported following the law, because these cases really did happen, many of these years before the enactment of the law, but rather the courts are lacking in appropriate response given inadequate personnel, not enough trained personnel including judges, irrelevant rules of court including design of courts supposedly friendly to children, and the like. It’s the justice system not the victim-survivors that renders the law ineffective and inefficient. Similarly unless there are preparations now let’s anticipate the same with the divorce law when passed.

loversIn the meantime, we all want and cannot truly know life and happiness without true love. I wrote, recently, on the slip of paper that the nuns will read in their prayer and skip meals for, for true love. Finally. Yey. Ha ha. I should’ve explicitly asked for it a long, long time ago but as it is I didn’t. I was for a very long time ambiguous about love and relationships. Girls and young women my age were busy looking for and raving about the love of their lives. I was busy doing other things. Then life happened. But the universe remains kind. Recent happenings seem to propel me toward a life that has less to be fearful about and more reason to be grateful for, to love, and be loved. It struck me that such is the purpose of life: true love. But then our world is an imperfect world. For the majority, true love doesn’t come on a silver platter. The first time that we thought we’ve got it may not be it after all. Many times, success depends on circumstances. We all, for instance, cannot be Catherine and William because there is only one of either. We are called upon to chart our own unique lives. If and when we fall doing so, we get up every time. That’s the most important thing. For the State or the Church to keep the fallen down is like declaring death sentences on people who are otherwise still alive. Let the clergy deal with their own internal crisis on their own time if that’s what they feel like doing, but not on borrowed, that is, people’s time.

Protect the people quote

When profit and politics interfere with creativity

National artist and City resident BenCab is the creative mind behind the logo to commemorate Baguio City as a UNESCO Creative City for Folk Arts and Native Crafts. Rappler reports that:

BenCab based the logo on a traditional Cordillera design for mountains. There are 3 mountain ranges: 5 on top, 3 in the middle, and two at the bottom. The colors of the middle mountain range were based on the Philippine flag.

The top and the middle ranges depict the 7 traditional arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, dance, and performing arts. The CCN under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also has 7 fields: folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music.

However, methinks that, upon seeing the logo following the weekend opening of the Creative City exhibit at People’s Park, it’s not among the artist’ best works. It felt like the work was rushed and lacked the magic of inspiration. Go see his works at his BenCab Museum and you’ll know what I mean. To BenCab’s credit, City Hall has shown itself unprepared for the UNESCO citation consequently it’s uninspired handling of the event launching on the 10th (this should’ve, for instance, coincided with the Panagbenga Grand Parade (for maximum public dissemination and viewing); another, City Hall should’ve allocated booths, waived the rent this year, for the many local artist communities that have been waiting for a breakthrough into the wider market.

Baguio City Creative City

As it happened, the logo installation including the booth exhibits of the more popular folk arts and native crafts were packed up on the 24th “to give way to Session Road in Bloom“. It’s like saying we’re gonna blindfold our right eye so that our left could see more clearly. WTF.
By the look of things, City Hall (they’re now the minds behind this year’s and future Panagbenga) has deemed that creativity as in Baguio City as Creative City is incompatible with the heart and celebration of Panagbenga such that relative to City Hall’s intent and promise, this year’s Session Road in Bloom to any City native or long-time resident is a HUGE disappointment, meaning, instead of the place finally transforming into one that oozes with more sophistication, more vitality, more glamour (the City is after all also a highly-urbanized city to distinguish it from the provincialism of small towns) that will wow visitors, the City’s premier street is instead riddled with smoke-emitting stalls hawking shawarma, turon, tinudok, lumpia, 100- and 50-peso divisoria clothes, pricey used books by foreign authors, and everything else that’s totally NOT a celebration of the creative minds and hands of the Cordilleras. My goodness, City Hall people? Such is why resident-artists like BenCab are short of inspiration.

We know the passage about there being a time for everything. There’s a time to buy street food from a street hawker; there’s a time to go to Divisoria and buy China-made; a time to attend Palawan’s Baragatan Festival to buy Palawan-made crafts; and there’s a time to be at Session Road to experience the fullness of Cordillera economy, culture, and creativity. After 23 years, organizers, private and public, still hasn’t gotten a hold of the heart of Panagbenga.

Wonders of the Philippine Islands: Danajon Bank

My volunteer work in the Muslim South (Mindanao) opened to me a whole new world, of fisheries and marine ecosystems. In the midst of martial law and the military’s search for the elusive Mautes, I was studying life on the coast and understanding the ways the sector is impacted by policies and their implementation. More than that, however, was the incredible beauty of life under the sea whether in that place or somewhere else in the country. My only regret in my time there was that I wasn’t able to learn how to dive, scuba-dive, or snorkel, skills for me to be able to explore and get close to that life.

Places like Boracay have been exploited, perhaps because of the human instinct to stay close or not stray too far from what is familiar, suggesting that other rich places, like the Danajon Bank, are unknown thus spared by the madness of crowds. Then again maybe it’s better left that way.

Little-known to the outside world, the Danajon Bank (spanning 97 miles along the islands of Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, and Southern Leyte) is one of only six double-barrier reefs in the world. It is one of the most important marine ecosystems in the entire Pacific Ocean. It is believed to be the point of origin for fish and other animals found all over the Pacific Ocean today.  

In cooperation with Project Seahorse, iLCP (International League of Conservation Photographers) embarked on the Danajon Bank Photographic Expedition in April of 2013. This Project was a collaboration between the world’s top nature photographers and marine scientists, and explored the rare and threatened double-barrier coral reef in the Philippines.

Unfortunately, the Danajon Bank faces many threats, including overfishing and destructive fishing practices (such as blast fishing with explosives), as well as overdevelopment, pollution, and climate change. 

‘Simple life’ in the age of rapid development

On a weekend in January the kids and I spent a night with an aunt at her farm where the main attraction is the huge nipa hut that occupies the center of the lot. I’ve been there once before so I was past the oohs and aahs. The kids did that though.

They wondered aloud how the rain wouldn’t get into the hut- “what if there’s a storm?” They squealed at how the foyer windows open with the use of a tungkod. The inside held no seats and so did their homework on the bamboo floor. 

Meal times were an outdoor affair, around the table designed to host boodle fight-kind of meals. 

The place is meant to be a resthouse away from the hustle and bustle of city life. My aunt is from Baguio City. She and her husband who’s originally from the community bought the property because they want to eventually retire in that environment – more sunshine, fresher air, land to till both for pleasure and daily food, maybe even develop it into a resort. They’re at the place on weekends in which time they work the land, basically, toward their dreams for the place.

It’s the trend apparently among Baguio City natives. One afternoon during a stroll around the community, my aunt introduced me to some of the residents. A couple, retirees from Baguio City, had bought their property planning to develop a portion into a boarding place. The community hosts a college (with elementary and high school) that has a considerable population of non-local enrolees and staff. The couple also has a spacious garden on the property where at the time the husband was clearing for replanting. “Dun sa amin sa Baguio, wala kaming lugar na mapagtamnan. At grabe na din pollution dun,” said the wife. That night, reflecting on what I heard I realized that people, out of instinct, will look for healthier places to live in. Is Baguio City starting to lose it?

Tublay on our mind

Now, when I think of Tublay I think about coffee, organic food, and loom weaving.

On a recent listening tour to the municipality of Tublay (14 kilometers from Baguio City) in Benguet Province, our team got to visit a weavers association. The first thing we noticed and got excited about was the array of woven products on display at the entrance, but we took a grip of ourselves and did our work first. that is, to talk and listen to the weavers, women all of them. We each bought the same color of blanket – bright blue. When we go back to each of our homes (and countries), we’ll each be connected via this blanket or should I say story of the bright blue blanket.

A weaver from Tublay Weavers Association Inc. Their products are bought by Narda’s among others.

We also visited the municipal government’s coffee processing plant. The agriculture officer himself gave us a tour of the place. Before that, he served us their homegrown Tublay Arabica brew, not one but two flavorful cuppas! The day before, in the villages, we each drank a total of six cups of the strong local brew. We couldn’t say no because our insistent hosts served us. During our last stop, in the evening, temperature had suddenly dropped and we welcomed the offer.

The journey, it turns out, of the coffee bean until it gets into your cup is quite a complicated and lengthy process. I now drink my brew with much more thought and appreciation of the people and communities involved in the process.

Tublay Arabica beans ready for packing. There is a plan to redesign the package in order to be more attractive to consumers.

And, we had to eat, of course. Our hosts pointed us to Reign Forest Cafe conveniently on the way to the other community we visited next. We all thought it was rainforest as in we’d be in the middle of one somewhere. Turned out, it’s Reign Forest and it’s on the floor above a farm-automotive-grocery shop. But, it’s zen indigenous interiors and food are absolutely amazing (they maintain an organic vegetable garden from where they source their daily ingredients). Our first day there we had the place all to ourselves. I and my four companions picked a big bowl of mixed organic vegetables and pork tapa (the soup made extra flavorful from the smoked tapa) and red rice. The salad choices are wonderful. For dessert, one from our security detail got a plate of camote that came with a creamy vanilla dip (it was past noon when we ate and she and her colleague had their lunch back at their office) which all four of us ended up devouring! Altogether, it was an amazingly healthy fete!

Lunch fare at Reign Forest and Cafe in Tublay: mixed organic vegetables (spinach) and (smoked) pork tapa and red rice

In any case, there”s the mayor, young and a tourist spot himself (as we were saying). My Filipino companions told him about the novelty of carrot man and the mayor responded in jest, “ah, yes. But here there’s Arman.”

Like the good in life

Saw a shooting star today. The kids and I were outside, relishing the cool air, at around 5 AM. We were looking at the heavens and had just located the Big Dipper (Maui’s Hook, the kids call it, from the movie Moana) when a meteor streaked across the sky. Like the good things in life, it appeared from nowhere and went out so fast. “Make a wish, quick!” I said, remembering. I don’t believe in the supposed magic of shooting stars, but these things, like, Mr. and Mrs. Santa and their elves and fleet of reindeers, don’t hurt.

Shooting star

In the fullness of time

​the course is not always clear

the water is not always clear

the sky is not always clear

it is still —
a time for reflection

Post-cards from 1995 by Ruth Weiss

Why xxx? asked my former boss. He was asking why I had relocated to where I did. I said something about me and the kids needing people that could and would protect us, at least for the forseeable future, and who’d those be but, and weirdly too, the kin of The One we fled from. Lately though having more time to think about things there seems more to ‘where‘ than just protection.

When I was a kid, my aunt who was then married a few years and still without a child wanted to adopt me. I was listening when she told mother this but mother didn’t want to hear of it so case closed. It however didn’t stop my aunt and uncle from being especially affectionate toward me which they had opportunities to do whenever I vacationed at my grandparents during summers. I have a photo of my preschool-aged self sitting on my uncle’s lap during one of their drinking sessions from before. But then we went abroad and then I grew up and life happened. As an adult, I rarely visited relatives or attended the few reunions at the old house. I was present at the wake of dead relatives but I went in, like, for a few hours or at most a day and then left like the devil.

Suddenly I now find myself 24/7 with my aunt and uncle! I only realized this recently at lunch with my uncle and my cousin’s partner. I was asking uncle about his experiences in the Arabian desert in his time with Aramco when the thought struck me.

Apparently I’m given a chance to get to know my could’ve-been adoptive parents up close and personal. They’re also getting to know me as well. They’re finally acting as my (foster) parents. How odd! Time is indeed sometimes very strange in it’s ways.

About strong

Over the holidays, a colleague told me, by way of, perhaps, mirroring the hard reality ahead, that I’m the only one behind the wheel for what seems like the long haul and so I needed to be strong. On the same vein, an aunt (everybody here is either an auntie or uncle!) said it’s the strong women who are given extra challenges in life to hurdle. At the time, my mental state was fuck strong.! I want to be weak. I am weak. Could I pass the wheel to another for maybe just a day?