Writing features painlessly

REMOTE CONTROL
By DANTON REMOTO
10/13/2009 12:45 AM
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com
Views and analysis

Of course, there is no such thing. Any kind of writing–be it a poem, or a short story, a novel, a play, or yes, a feature article–involves some kind of struggle. The poet T.S. Eliot called writing “this intolerable wrestling with words,” and I know you will agree with him.

The Random House Dictionary defines a feature as a “newspaper or magazine article or report of a person, event, an aspect of a major event, or the like, often having a personal slant and written in an individual style.”

I love to write features. They don’t have the cold objectivity of news, or the rigid logic of the editorial. Of course, we can argue that news writing by itself isn’t “objective.” By our choice of words alone, by the slant we take, by the very fact that we are individuals with our own biases, doesn’t guarantee the “objectivity” of news. Of course, the editorial can also touch lightly, like feathers against the skin. But there is always a direction, something relentless, in the editorial.

In high school, I wrote a lot of features for the school paper: harmless little articles that had no teeth in them. In college, I wrote about the National Assembly (Batasang Pambansa) and called it a “puppy parliament” that followed every whim of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. In a grand stroke of irony, I would later work as an Editor for the Secretariat of the Batasan.

My officemates were great, but I slaved in that job. I corrected the transcriptions of the plenary sessions. I edited lines like “Excuse me, Your Honor, but you’re barking at the wrong train.” Either that or this line: “We should be careful with the national airline, Mr. Speaker. The airplane I took yesterday almost collapsed.” It was impossible. Every afternoon, I would go home in a bus full of employees in their immaculate uniforms. I would stare at the sun beginning to sink behind the mountains, and felt sad because I had written nothing again on that day.

After college, I applied for a job at the National Media Production Center, which wanted to revive Archipelago, the art and culture magazine of the Bureau of National and Foreign Information. For my application, they asked me to interview the now-departed historian Teodoro Agoncillo. His wife, Anacleta, who was a medical doctor, said I could do so.

“But only for an hour, Mr. Remoto,” the good doctor said, “since the Professor is busy writing his next book.” And so I read what I could about him–his CV, his previous interviews published in various magazines, one of his books. Thus armed, I went to his house.

Professor Agoncillo and his wife lived in a big, white house beside busy Quezon Avenue. Their house was a stylish version of the Filipino nipa (grass) hut. The sloping roof was painted red, though, and the walls were made of thick concrete done in white. His wife, a small woman in glasses, opened the gate and ushered me inside the house. Professor Agoncillo was wearing a loose, white T-shirt and light-brown shorts that reached down to his knees. He had thick eyeglasses, and a shock of black, too black, and wavy hair.

The professor was in his element, slashing at his critics with the scythe of his tongue. I sipped my coffee with trembling hands. When I asked him about the five-volume history of the Philippines that Mr. Marcos was supposedly writing, the professor said he read the recently-published volume one. And what is his prognosis? “It’s beautiful, it’s a beautiful piece of fiction.” He laughed merrily, and then cautioned me not to quote him verbatim, things being what they were at that time.

What about the volumes of history published by another professor whose politics leaned to the Left? “Well, I read them too,” said the good professor. When his eyes began to twinkle with something that hinted of wickedness, I knew he would release another volley of words.

And what, I asked, is his prognosis on the gentleman’s books? “Oh they’re excellent, they’re excellent pieces of political analyses.” But most of his comments were off the record, he cautioned me, so I just put down my pen and paper, turned off my tape recorder, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon in the spacious living room.

This, after all, was the man who wrote The History of the Filipino People which, then as now, is the standard text on Philippine history required of many university students. This, after all, was the prize-winning poet and short-story writer who turned his generous gifts into research–and the writing of tomes on the country’s history. This, after all, was the man who wrote about history from below, from the point of view of the poor and the colonized, and not from the point of view of the colonizers.

But Professor Agoncillo was also a man capable of great tenderness, especially when he spoke about his children. “One of them,” he said, “is sick. We have had to take care of him since he was young. A father loves all his children, but he is really the one that my wife and I love the most.”

His wife gave me only one hour for the interview, but the good professor and I talked and talked for three hours. I was only too glad, because I had a lot of material for my feature article.

He even brought me to the second floor of his house, to his library full of books and magazines dating back to the 1920s. He also showed me the first drafts of his books, which he had bound in black leather, and the awards he had received. Only then did I discover that the historian, Professor Agoncillo, also wanted a place in history. Nothing wrong with that. We all write because we have that dim hope that our books will outlive us.

I guess one secret in interviewing for a feature article is to do your homework. Have you read the author’s books? Do you have a copy of his CV? Who among his friends could throw in an anecdote, an episode, which could illumine the subject’s inner life?

All of us have inner lives that go on and on, sometimes in contrast to the masks we wear in public. Good journalists should ask the right questions, probing but not prying. If they are sensitive enough, or lucky enough, the subject will say or do something that will open a door to that inner life.

But I interviewed the professor years ago. Now I myself teach English at the Ateneo, write columns, work part-time in publishing. When I can tear myself from all these, I write my poems, stories and essays. And oh yes, I sometimes take a look at my first novel, with an eye for revision. Again and again.

But I will never leave journalism, even when some wags call it “literature in a hurry.” If done well, it’s still literature. The glory of the byline is one of the few pleasures in life. As the Random House definition states, you can put your own indelible stamp onto your feature; you can impress your thumb mark on it. That’s why good journalists should always be alert, their noses sniffing for news all the time, and for the possible feature story behind that news.

Moreover, their mental muscles must have definition and tone. Sadly, many young journalists today seem to have flabby minds. I still get frantic calls from editors of daily newspapers asking me to edit raw copy for them fulltime. Aside from sound grammar, feature writers, as Kerima Polotan once said, should be able to capture the time of day, the subject’s emotional weather, and make them come alive before the reader.

How to do all these?

Try to use the tools of fiction in your features: crisp dialogue, the telling detail, description with the clarity of water. Read Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons, and learn the art of New Journalism. Well, not really new, but still helpful.

Observe people with the sharpness of a spy, with the delight of a lover. Open the pores of your skin. Listen to gossip, but don’t believe them. Believe the essayist Michel de Montaigne when he said, “Nothing human is alien to me.” Write with daring and with dash.

Live.

Canceled names exceed new voters by 3.4 M

BY SOPHIA DEDACE, GMANews.TV
09/25/2009 | 01:17 PM

| | More With only a month to go before the registration period for the 2010 elections ends, the number of names purged from the voters’ list is more than twice the number of new voters that have signed up so far, according to records obtained from the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).

As of July 2009, a total of 2.7 million new voters have signed up since the registration period started in December 2008, figures culled from Comelec records by GMA News Research show.

During the same period, however, the number of names that have been purged from the list of registered voters has reached 6.1 million. Most of them, or about 5.6 million, are Filipinos who did not vote in the last two elections.

James Jimenez, head of the poll body’s Education and Information Department, said the figures should not give the impression that there is a low turnout of new registrants because more voters have been stricken off the voters’ list.

“There is a misconception that there is a target that we’re trying to reach in terms of the number of new registrants. There is not,” Jimenez told GMANews.TV.

He said hundreds of new registrants have been trooping to Comelec offices in recent weeks to beat the October 31 deadline. For the 2010 elections, “We are looking at 46 to 47 million voters,” he said.

As of July 20, 2009, Comelec records showed that there are 45,487,634 registered voters in the country. Deactivated and canceled voters are not included in the list.

According to the Commission on Population, there were 88.57 million Filipinos as of August 1, 2007.

For the 2007 polls, records show that 6.4 million potential voters did not register at all. Of this number, 832,000 came from the youth sector and 624,000 did not know that they had to register before voting.

Cleansing of voters’ list

Jimenez said the cleansing of the voters’ list is a continuing project of the Comelec to ensure that “suspicious” names and those ineligible to vote cannot participate in the electoral process.

Source: Comelec

The Comelec lists the following factors as causes for removal from the voters’ list:

Sentence by final judgment to imprisonment of not less than a year

Sentence by final judgment of crimes involving disloyalty to the duly constituted government or any crime against national security

Declared by competent authority to be insane or incompetent

Failure to vote in two successive preceding regular elections

Loss of Filipino citizenship

Excluded per court order

Death

Transfer to another municipality

Double registration

Double entry

Voters who failed to vote in the past two elections are only deactivated and can register again.

Asked whether the public should be alarmed with the large number of voters whose names have been removed from the list, Jimenez said that it is not a “cause for worry.”

He said the mass cleansing of the voters’ list is a necessary step in ensuring clean and honest elections, and should not be linked to the number of new registrants.

“Voter cleansing and voter registration are two different matters. The right to register to vote is a choice, but cleaning the voters’ list is a must,” Jimenez said. – with GMA NEWS RESEARCH, GMANews.TV

Prepared Remarks of Barack Obama:Back-to-School Event

Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event

Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Yes, the Miss Universe

By Danton Remoto
REMOTE CONTROL
Views and analysis
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com
1st of September 2009

(Excerpt from Wings of Desire, a novel)

The Bank for International Reconstruction and Development (BIRD) based in Washington, D.C., held their XXth Annual Meeting in Manila.

“This historical event,” crowed the President that night on all the TV stations (which again zapped Wonder Woman off the screen, she who pilots an invisible plane) “proves that the bankers of the world agree that we have indeed marshaled our resources very well and turned our history of defeat into a future of hope.”

From that point, a flurry of questions had to be answered. How to house the world’s bankers in the luxury they had been accustomed to? Faster than Harry Houdini, the money from the Development and Aid Package of BIRD was diverted to the construction of seven new five-star hotels.

And so the commuters and office workers from Manila to Makati had to suffer monstrous traffic jams as one hotel rose after another by the bayside. One wag compounded the nightmare by suggesting that brick walls be erected between the city and the bay. The people protested it would deprive them of a view of Manila’s magnificent sunset. Others grumbled the government only wanted to hide the squatters, who had begun to build their shanties of tin roof and cardboard, by the seawall. The truly wicked said no, the government only wanted to raise more revenue by charging P50 for anybody who wanted to see the sunset flaming barbarously beyond the wall.

Both hotels and fences were finished, along with a sprawling international convention center that could rival anything found in Japan. What about the bankers’ cars? Seven hundred late-model Benzes were imported, and the citizens of Manila were treated to the sight of Benzes gliding by, absorbing the shocks from the potholes and the uneven paving of the roads, their windows tinted against the harsh tropical sun.

After the bankers, the beauty contest.

Margarita Mon Amor was chosen Miss Philippines the previous year. Many people thought the judges should have chosen somebody fairer, with a more aquiline nose, to represent the country in the Miss Universe contest held in Athens. They said Margarita won only because she graduated summa cum laude from an exclusive girls’ school and had a grandfather who was a Justice in the Supreme Court.

But Margarita – with her wide forehead, her big and intelligent eyes, her full, sensuous lips – won in Athens. Even before the coronation night, the Greek press was already gushing about the “dusky beauty from the Philippines who walked regally like a queen.” “Like Helen,” another paper gushed, “who could launch a thousand wars, er, ships.” And so on coronation night itself, Margarita Mon Amor went to the Parthenon in a simple silk gown the color of mother-of-pearl shell, her blue-black hair in a bun. She played a haunting kundiman on the bamboo nose flute before the stunned audience, and went through the rigmarole of the Q & A.

Bob Barker: “Miss Philippines, what is the square root of 11,250 divided by 40 then multiplied by 99?

Margarita Mon Amor: “How much time do I have?”

And now she was here, walking on the stage of the Folk Arts Theater, while the wind from the sea fanned the audience crowded in the First Lady’s latest project. Manila being Manila – this mad, maternal city of our myths and memories – everybody was jumping at the prospect of the city hosting Miss Universe that year. The machos were especially ecstatic, as day by day the tabloids splashed photos of their favorite candidates in their skimpiest bathing suits, getting their lovely tan from the Philippine sun.
So on this night of nights, the candidates flounced onstage, speaking in various tongues, a babel of greetings that were beamed worldwide. Miss Brazil came in a dress whose colors could make the parakeets in her country blush. Miss United States of America came from Texas and wore the tightest cowgirl jeans Manila had ever seen. Miss Philippines was Guadalajara de Abanico, a mestiza who had the habit of turning her finely-chiseled nose up at every social function and who, Manila’s reporters’ complained, always arrived late. “I’m sure there’s a friar somewhere in the family line,” snapped Istariray X., mother hen of Manila’s society columnists, in her bitchy column called W.O.W. (“Woman of the World”).

The favorites of the Manila press included Miss Wales, Helen Morgan, because she had pendulous breasts; Miss Spain, Amparo Muñoz, the 20-year-old señorita from Barcelona who looked like the Blessed Virgin Mary; and Miss Finland, Johanna Raunio, because she looked like the girl in the Bear Brand milk commercial. The country exploded with joy when the three were called as finalists, along with Miss Aruba, Maureen Ava Viera, whom the Manila press called “Black Beauty” even if she were brown, and the señorita from Colombia, Ella Cecilia Escandon, who had the face of an angel.

The judges, please:

1) Gloria Diaz who won the Miss Universe in 1969, just when the Americans were landing on the moon. Like Margarita Mon Amor, she was not your typical Filipina beauty queen, for she was short, brown, sassy, and smart. After she won, she was asked if she had a message for the three American astronauts. She said: “The United States has conquered the moon, but the Philippines has conquered the universe.”

2) Zenaida Carajo, also called Baby, who smiled through her tenth face-lifting and had difficulty walking, because on her neck, arms and fingers glittered the country’s second-heaviest diamonds (after the First Lady’s). She also wore makeup so thick that people called her Kabuki Lady behind her back. Or even espasol, the dessert from the south smothered in layers of flour.

3) Joseph Carajo, Baby’s cousin, who taxed the country’s seven million farmers with a levy ostensibly to fund the planting of mahogany trees to produce “modern antique furniture,” but the funds have allegedly been siphoned off to places as far as the Netherlands Antilles.

4) Richard Head, the American Ambassador, called Dick Head by two camps: the grim-and-determined Marxists and the applicants denied visas by His Honor’s consuls.

5) Bernardo Tulingan, who called himself the country’s finest painter, with his grotesqueries hanging like chopping boards in Manila’s seafood restaurants.

6) Zosimo Zaymo, a successful talent manager famous for pimping his female models in Brunei and fondling the male ones before hidden cameras.

7) The young Emmanuel, bright and beady-eyed, opinion columnist par excellence, thinking how soon he could bed as many contestants as possible.

9) Mother China, the country’s number one movie producer, who loved to have zombies in her movies.

10) And of course, the First Lady herself, the Chair of the Board of Judges, Her Majesty Infinitely Brighter than the Blaze of Ten Thousand Suns.

One by one the winners were called, to thunderous applause: Miss Aruba, third runner-up; Miss Colombia, second runner-up; and Miss Finland, first runner-up. And then, only Miss Wales and Spain were left. Both held hands and braced themselves for the announcement, their eyes closed, chins quivering.

Between Big Boobs and the Blessed Virgin Mary, of course the latter would win in this country. After she was called as the newest Miss Universe, Amparo Muñoz gave the crowd a beatific smile, tears running down her face, ruining her makeup. But never mind, for here was Margarita Mon Amor, gliding on the stage, relinquishing cape, crown and scepter, and then the señorita walked around the stage, the flashbulbs popping forever.

Miss Universe would constantly visit Manila as part of the First Lady’s entourage of royalty and celebs, who would be flown to the city to inaugurate a massive new building (part of what critics called the First Lady’s edifice complex), or just have a party aboard the presidential yacht RPS Ang Pangulo on Manila Bay. Later, Amparo Muñoz would star in porno movies in her country, precious copies of which were smuggled into Manila and shown at the parties of the rich and the brain-dead, for they married within the family to keep their fabulous, feudal wealth intact.

Helen Morgan would bare her humongous breasts in a Filipino movie called Nagalit ang Umaga Dahil sa Sobrang Haba ng Gabi (The Morning Got Mad Because the Night was Too Long), then returned to her cold, gray island after the movie flopped.

Johanna Raunio joined the Miss International contest in Tokyo and won. Ella Cecilia Escandon became a writer of Latin American telenovelas, the most popular of which –Mari Mar, Ay! – was shown in an obscure Philippine station, promptly became number one, and wiped the smug grins off the faces of the smart suits running the number-one network. And Maureen Ava Viera married a wealthy Filipino, divorced him, then returned to the Caribbean, to run as governor of Aruba.

* * *

News Item: A Surprise for Miss Nicaragua

During the Parade of Beauties of the Miss Universe contestants on Roxas Boulevard, one man jumped aboard the float of Miss Nicaragua, Mildred de Ortega, and hugged her. Filipino security agents, quick as ever, were already dragging the man away “for routine investigation,” when the Miss Universe contestant, who was then already in tears, said, “No, no, please, por favor.”

It turned out the man, who was a mestizo, was the brother of Miss Nicaragua. Danilo de Ortega had been in exile for five years. “I was glad to know that my sister had been chosen Miss Nicaragua. I flew from L.A. just to see her. I miss her and my family.”

Why did Danilo flee his country?

Perhaps it must have been the series of terrible earthquakes, forcing Danilo to emigrate from his beautiful and peaceful country, opined the columnist Juan Tabaco, a highly-paid columnist and a friend of the President. In a party, said the clandestine Opposition press, a member of the Opposition – with much help from Johnny Walker Black – stood before Señor Tabaco and began to sing, “How Much is that Puppy in the Window, arf arf.” And the eyes of Señor Tabaco – who used to write novels before the dictatorship co-opted him – began to fill with bitter tears.

But when he was interviewed, Danilo Ortega simply said, “I cannot stand the military dictatorship in my country.”

His statement was dutifully reported by Philippine media whose prime passion and major mania was the government-dictated policy of “developmental journalism.”

* * *

This, of course, is a fictional rewriting of the 1974 Miss Universe in Manila under the Marcos regime. Comments can be sent to http://www.dantonremoto2010.blogspot.com

Book sector not spared by downturn

By Jessica Annde D. Hermosa, BusinessWorld | 09/01/2009 12:20 AM

MANILA – The global economic downturn has not spared the domestic book industry, hitting sales and investment plans and limiting the production of new titles, industry officials said.

Limits posed by the local market are also to blame for the industry’s laggard performance, they added.

But a plan to award grants to authors and recommendations to focus on foreign markets and improve the education system could pull the sector out of its rut, National Book Development Board officials said.

“This year, there are almost no expansions except for a few stores in the new malls. Companies are focusing on training and retooling to prepare for the recovery,” Jose Paolo M. Sibal, Philippine Book Sellers Association president, said in a telephone interview on Friday.

Publishers, likewise, have hesitated from growing their businesses with only one firm availing of incentives to import more printing equipment this year, National Book Development Board Executive Director Andrea Pasion-Flores said in another interview.

“And as to sales, some of the publishers claim there has been a dip. Sales have been slightly affected,” the board’s chairman, Dennis T. Gonzales, said.

Mr. Sibal confirmed this, saying that demand, particularly for “pocket books,” has decreased.

The production of new titles, meanwhile, has proven a bit hardier.

“On average, there is a 5% growth every year in terms of new titles. It seems like the crisis has not affected this much. People are still producing which is a sign that there is still a market for new books,” Mr. Gonzales said.

The resilience however is only observed because “we didn’t boom, so we really won’t bust,” Ms. Pasion-Flores said.

To address this, the board is banking on a P150-million authorship trust fund that will be ready for disbursal, ideally, by 2011.

Implementing rules for the fund, created by Republic Act 9521 or the National Book Development Trust Fund Act, are “being finalized,” Mr. Gonzales said.

Interest from the fund will be awarded as grants to qualified authors, particularly those who pledge to produce new titles for science and technology, he said.

The fund will also go to cultural book projects which may not be commercially viable such as compilations of folklore or translations of important works into regional dialects.

Book sales, meanwhile, can be boosted by developing the local market and also marketing to buyers abroad, Mr. Gonzales said.

“In our case it’s really because of poverty and the quality of education. These affect book readership. It will take some time to radically increase local readership,” he said.

In the meantime, publishers would do well to target foreign markets, particularly for books that teach the English language.

“Many of our publishers are quite conservative in going to the international market… But there is a very big international market,” Mr. Gonzales said.

Another reason to go out and register

KAYA NATIN
Eirene Jhone Aguila
Manila Times
August 28, 2009

Nine weeks shy of the October 31 deadline for registration, sadly, the new registrants turnout has so far been alarmingly too few to realize the mantra—the youth is the future of this country. With the youth not all flocking to the registration stations to register one can suspect that indeed the face of the Philippine electorate will not change much this coming elections. And without this much needed infusion of idealism and change in the profile of our voters, non-traditional politicians will continue to remain a rarity. And if those who endeavor to line up for hours to register are not processed well or encouraged with assistance in the exercise, they will most likely not bother to vote on election day.

This is very unfortunate. Without this new wave of Filipinos entering our political arena, the new future we hope to see where good governance, ethical leadership and people empowerment are the norm will forever remain a dream.

Common reasons my many unregistered friends give for not registering are:

• No good apples to choose from, all rotten tomatoes

• What’s one vote?

• Too much hassle for a day plus I lose a day registering and another day voting then get stuck with mediocre politicians for three or six years (at least no hassle for not registering and a three-day vacation weekend if I don’t vote)

After asking, I usually get a “why do you still participate: register and vote, Eirene?” Truth be told, with every opening of the newspaper and with surveys showing the usual top six or ten names for President, it becomes more difficult to enthusiastically respond with my usual—“there is hope! We are that hope and it is our vote that helps realize the changes we wish to see in this country.” My cynicism would have long overtaken my feeling of hope and pride in our Filipino public officials had it not been because partly of my exposure to Kaya Natin! Getting to know the Kaya Natin! champions has given me actual reasons to say that there are good politicians worthy of our vote and the hassles that go with it—helping our country means helping get them elected which means my going out to register and casting my vote.

Nestled far-away in the mysterious Cordillera region is one such Kaya Natin! champion. You would think that nothing much happens up north, but in his recent state of the province address (SOPA), Gov. Teddy Baguilat Jr., gave us a peek into the dynamic province of Ifugao and the promise that having good leaders brings even to a place so far-away from Metro Manila:

• Gawis-Haggiyo mechanism, a first in the country, between Ifugao and Mountain Province for joint border operations against malaria

• Creation of 185 AYOD Community Health Teams: composed of male volunteers to ensure male involvement and local government support to community health and nutrition services (besides the usual women and health-care workers)

• Setting-up inter-local health zones for health sector cooperation among the municipal and provincial local governments (sharing of resources, technical expertise and best practices)

• More than P160-million assistance in health infrastructure and equipment (Ifugao General Hospital P50-million grant)

• United Nations Fund for Population Activities’ (UNFPA) expansion efforts throughout the province due to the good track record in reproductive health programs and the AYODs

• Setting up of Ifugao Land Management and Development Task Force providing legal framework and logistics for the IPs to get titles

• Second lowest poverty incidence in the Cordilleras at 33 percent

• Haggiyo Enterprise Development Program’s introduction of 20 Ifugao products into the market (has helped 36 organizations composed of 1,684 beneficiaries through training, equipment, promotion and exhibits and technical assistance)

• Organizing a network of organic producers with a P10 million pledge for agricultural research

• P4 million from the Bureau of Agricultural Research for organic vegetables, tilapia production and organic chicken raising

• Repairing irrigation systems and restoring collapsed terraces walls coupled with teaching indigenous knowledge to younger Ifugaos led to the steady stoppage of the deterioration of the terraces and loss of the Ifugao culture

• Support Infrastructure: Department of Agriculture for farm-to-market roads (P20 million), National Irrigation Administration (P50 million), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources for fish tanks at the new Fisheries and Aquatic Research and Development Center (P1 million), National Economic and Development Authority’s P1 million for Ifugao breeding center, Department of Labor and Employment and Food and Nutrition Research Institute (P4 million) for various livelihood projects

• Multimillion projects CHARMP, Makamasang Tugon, ARISP III and climate change mitigation are coming in

• Fruitful fully sponsored official foreign trips—4th Asia-Pacific Conference on Reproductive Health in Hyderabad, India (result: UNFPA expanding program to entire province), United States Ifugao Reunion in California (result: facilitation of the release of donations from the Ifugao Association in California for the Ifugao General Hospital), dialogue with Norwegian energy officials (result: SN Aboitiz, the joint Philippine-Norwegian corporation gave CSR funds—now used for construction of senior citizens’ center) and Cinque Terre, Italy (result: twinning agreement—sharing of several forms assistance and tourism)

A month ago, I had a dare to our public officials—come out with your accounting. Tell us, your constituents, what you have done for your province, town or country. What have you done as a legislator? As a local chief executive? Especially for those who intend to seek reelection or make a bid for another office, instead of your multimillion ads and fancy show biz gimmickry, tell us what you have done to promote good governance, ethical leadership and people empowerment. Perhaps, that will give us the youth, a renewed sense of hope and will encourage us to go out and register (here’s hoping your silence will fire us up to register and vote to make sure and get you out).

Comments are welcome at eirenejhoneaguila@gmail.com. To learn more about what other Kaya Natin! Champions are doing, check out http://www.kayanatin.com.

Who Will Be Their Cory?

By Adel A. Tamano
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:05:00 08/16/2009

TWO WEDNESDAYS ago, in alternately pouring rain and humid heat for two and a half hours, I waited in line with students of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) to pay my last respects to former president Cory Aquino.

Being the president of PLM and one of the department heads in Manila, I could have cheated and skipped the queue, but it would have been contrary to the things that Cory stood for – equality, fairness and democracy.

In fact, the little inconveniences of waiting in line and the erratic weather made perfect sense to me: I wanted to suffer a little, as a thanksgiving gesture to a woman who had lived a life of sacrifice for my country and so, logically, suffered for me as well.

But it was not logic – at least not the cold, impersonal kind that we associate with the term – that brought thousands of people to line up to pay honor to their Tita Cory. Logic would have dictated that these people stay in the comfort and safety of their homes and watch TV to get their last glimpse. Certainly, rationality was not what brought us there. It was emotion and compulsion. For me specifically, a sense of duty and gratitude.

Deep sadness

Days after, I was still in an emotional funk. I was deeply sad but afraid to articulate it, not even to my family and friends. I feared I would be scoffed at: There goes Adel being overly dramatic and self-indulgent about the demise of Cory.

The problem was, the sadness was there, palpable and real. It was a feeling that the country had become a less noble place because of her passing.

In fact, having stood in line with PLM students, I could not help but wonder: Who would be their Cory?

These young men and women were born after the Edsa Revolution, and what they knew of Cory, particularly the years when she had to make the courageous and painful transition from homemaker to national leader, was secondhand at best.

They knew Kris – Cory’s daughter who is a popular media personality but not a political or social leader in the classic sense – but were only vaguely familiar with Cory. They knew Cory was at one time the country’s President. They knew she was the wife of assassinated opposition leader Ninoy Aquino but they had not been made aware of the struggles she had had to face and overcome.

In contrast, Cory was a touchstone and a benchmark for my generation – an icon of inner strength, spirituality and, most of all, decency.

I started to worry for the students. Who would be their Cory?

Days after that rainy Tuesday, I realized that perhaps the answer to that question consisted of two seemingly incongruent ideas: One, there will never be another Cory and, two, the next generation will have to create their own Cory.

Cory was, in the truest sense, sui generic – a unique person made for a specific time and context. Some have suggested that she was a blessing from the Creator sent to the Philippines to guide us through the dictatorship. Consequently, there can never be another one like her. The mould, which was cast for that specific and unique purpose, would not only be broken but could not be remade because the times – and the needs of our nation – have changed.

Need to inspire

Time and context will change but the need for genuine leadership, for role models, and for people to inspire our country to move forward, will not. Our PLM students and their generation will need their own version of Cory, one who will fit the needs and the challenges of the times. Or, even better, they will take the braver step and be their own Cory.

The idea of stepping up to the challenge was for me the greatest lesson from Cory Aquino – that even the most seemingly ordinary Filipino, one whom many called a mere housewife and a know-nothing (“walang alam”) – could rise to the challenge and lead an entire nation back to democracy.

So who will be their Cory? Students, please raise your hands!

Ninoy, Cory, Evelio

By Ellen Tordesillas
Ang Pahayagang Malaya

WHEN I passed by the Evelio Javier monument in front of the provincial capitol in San Jose, Antique last Monday, I noticed he was holding a yellow ribbon.

Antique Governor Sally Perez said the yellow ribbon on Evelio’s statue was part of their tribute to former President Aquino. Rightly so because the heroic lives of Evelio and that of Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr. and President Cory Aquino are inextricably twined.

Although I was born and grew up in Antique, I personally met Evelio Javier when I was covering the Cory Aquino for President Movement in 1985. He and Sally, on loan to CAPM from the University of the Philippines where she was in the staff of UP President Edgardo Angara, were active in soliciting one million signatures prodding Cory to run for president in the 1986 presidential snap election.

At that time, Evelio, former governor of Antique, had a pending protest against the election of Arturo Pacificador as member of the Batasan Pambansa in the May 1984 polls.

The 1984 election was bloody in Antique. On the eve of election, the leaders of Javier and Enrique Zaldivar, the opposition candidate for governor who won, were ambushed at the foot of Pampang bridge in the town of Sibalom by men suspected to be aligned with Pacificador. The tragedy became known as the “Pampang Massacre.”

Evelio, like Ninoy Aquino, represented enlightened politics at the time when everything in the country revolved around the Marcos dictatorship. Against guns, goons and gold, Evelio, had an army of young campaign volunteers. He would take the banca in visiting the province’s coastal towns. He was a Jesus-like figure as he waded to the shore to his adoring supporters.

***

As governor, he made Antiquenos, many of whom had developed an inferiority complex because of the province’s reputation as land of the sacadas, rediscover their proud heritage by initiating the “Binirayan” festival.

Evelio eventually won his election protest after the 1986 People Power revolution. But it was too late. On Feb. 11, 1986, Evelio was gunned down in front of the provincial capitol while he was overseeing the canvassing of votes in the snap polls between Cory Aquino and Marcos. Again, Pacificador, a Marcos loyalist, was accused, but he was later acquitted.

The assassination of Evelio, done in broad daylight, gangland style, helped spark the outrage that led to first Edsa Revolution.

Sally and I were talking about the many similarities of Ninoy, Evelio and Cory’s funeral, like the coffin being carried in a flatbed truck and the outpouring of grief by the people.

From Antique, Evelio’s remains were brought to Manila. At the Baclaran church, it was the first time foreign diplomats addressed Cory, who led the mourners, “Mrs. President.”

I remember foreign embassies calling up Malaya, which was then providing the alternative to the Marcos-controlled establishment newspapers, patiently spelling out the ambassadors’ name in their condolences to Evelio. They wanted to put on record their governments’ outrage over the killing of Evelio.

At the funeral march of Cory two weeks ago, people along Sucat road were holding lighted candles. I was reminded of the funeral march of Evelio from Caticlan in Aklan to San Jose. I don’t remember anymore if it was a 15- hour procession. What I remember was people lining the streets in the evening with lighted candles. It was awesome.

Evelio was buried Feb. 20 amidst calls of Cory for civil disobedience in protest of massive election fraud. We all rushed back to Manila. Feb. 22, then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel Ramos, chief of the Philippine Constabulary, declared their withdrawal of support from Marcos.

The rest is history.

Today, we remember the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino. On Aug. 30, we pay tribute to our heroes, who dedicated their lives to the cause of peace and freedom for Filipinos.

Intimate partners now in danger of HIV

BY Danton Remoto
Remote Control
Views and analysis
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com

BALI, INDONESIA – If you think that having an intimate partner will always keep you safe from contracting HIV, better think again.

More women from the Asia-Pacific region – housewives and career women –are contracting HIV from their intimate partners. These women are either married, or have long-term relationships with men who engage in high-risk sexual behavior. These behavior are found in men who have sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users, and clients of female sex workers.

These findings are contained in a new report by UNAIDS, its co-sponsors and civil society partners entitled HIV Transmission in Intimate Partner Relationships in Asia, released at the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, being held in the island resort of Bali until tomorrow.

Men who buy sex are the largest infected population group. Many of them are married – or are about to get married. This puts a significant number of women, often perceived as “low risk” because they only have sex with their husbands or long-term partners, at risk of HIV infection. In the Philippines, data from the AIDS and HIV Registry of the Dept. of Health show that male Overseas Filipino Workers constitute one-third of reported HIV infections every month. Some of them have infected their home-bound wives as well.

The United Nations report estimates that more than 90% of the 1.7 million women living with HIV in Asia got it from their husbands or partners in long-term relationships. By 2008, women constituted 35% of all adult HIV infections in Asia, up from 17% in 1990.

“HIV prevention programs focused on the female sex partners of men with high-risk behaviors still have not found a place in the national HIV plans and priorities of Asian countries,” said Dr. Prasada Rao, Director, UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific. “Integration of reproductive health programs with AIDS programs and the delivery of joint services to rural and semi-urban women is the key to reducing HIV transmission among female partners.”

To prevent HIV transmission among intimate partner relationships, the UNAIDS report outlines four recommendations. First, HIV prevention interventions must be scaled up for MSM, injecting drug users, and clients of female sex workers, and should emphasize the importance of protecting their regular female partners.

Second, structural interventions should address the needs of vulnerable women and their male sexual partners. This includes expanding reproductive health programs to include services for male sexual health.

Third, HIV prevention interventions among mobile populations and migrants should be scaled up and include components to protect intimate partners. And last, operational research must be conducted to better understand the dynamics of HIV transmission among intimate partners.

In the Philippines, men who have sex with men (MSM) who practice unsafe sex alternate with OFWs as the groups most vulnerable to contracting HIV. This situation is also found in the rest of Asia, where 90% of MSM in the Asia-Pacific have no access to HIV prevention and care.

If nothing is done about this situation, the spread of HIV in this vulnerable population will escalate sharply in the very near future. Moreover, legal frameworks across the region need a dramatic and urgent overhaul to allow public-health sectors to reach out to MSM. The consequences could very well go beyond MSM to affect the general population.

This warning came at a high level symposium, “Overcoming Legal Barriers to Comprehensive Prevention Among Men who have Sex with Men and Transgender People in Asia and the Pacific” held at the 9th ICAAP. It was co-hosted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM).

“In order to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and realize the Millennium Development Goals, we must facilitate an enabling legal environment and human rights based HIV policies and programs for MSM and transgender (TG),” said Jeffrey O’Malley, Global Director of UNDP’s HIV Group, among the speakers at the symposium. “This will mean stepping up our investment in legal and social programs that address stigma and discrimination directed at MSM and TG.”

Professor Vitit Muntharbrhorn of Chulalongkorn University and one of the convenors of the 2006 Yogyakarta Principles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights said: “One of the challenges for overcoming barriers to prevent HIV is to promote the formulation of humane laws and policies that enable people to participate in addressing the disease in a cooperative manner, rather than driving those living with HIV underground. The latter approach is counterproductive, since it makes the disease more difficult to control. Thus, it is essential to advocate the adoption of laws that do not lead to discrimination and marginalization, and to provide space to respect sexual activities between consenting adults in the private sphere in their diversity.”

Currently 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific criminalize male-to-male sex, and these laws often lead to abuse and human-rights violations. Even in the absence of criminalization, other legal provisions violate the rights of MSM and TG along with arbitrary and inappropriate enforcement, thus obstructing HIV interventions, advocacy and outreach, and service delivery.

Happily, the Philippines is not one of these countries, since its criminal codes are silent on male-to-male sex. But as one Filipino participant in the international conference said, “But silence does not always mean consent. Sometimes, it can be like the silence of the lambs.”

Half a lifetime ago

Remote control | Danton Remoto | 08/04/2009 12:05 AM
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com
Views and analysis section

Half a lifetime ago, I was working as an Editor in the Secretariat of the Batasang Pambansa. I edited the plenary sessions, correcting the unforgettable grammar and idioms of assemblymen. One of them rose one day and said, “Mr. Speaker, I want to declare ______ Air Lines a persona non grata, because their planes always collapse.”

A day later I went to him, with transcripts in hand, and told him that an airplane cannot be declared a PNG and that planes crash, but never collapse. Mr . Assemblyman rose to his full height of five feet, looked up at me (I am 5’ 11”) and barked: “And which school did you come from? The nerves to correct my English.”

When I told him where I studied, he smiled, showing teeth stained with nicotine, then mumbled that next time, I could just correct his startling ways with the English language, since I already have his “approbation” to do so.

I was slaving there when President Marcos declared in the Ted Koppel show that he would call for a snap election. The fragmented Opposition (they are always fragmented, then and now) cobbled together a presidential team. The green of Doy Laurel gave way to the yellow of Cory Aquino, whose words then and more so, now, still ring in my ears.

“Courage,” she said, before blessing the body of her dead husband in the casket, clad in widow’s weeds, the day of her arrival from Boston, “courage is as contagious as cowardice.”

Short and sharp those words, like bullets exploding in the air. And now, the woman was running for President. Speaker of the Batasan Nicanor Yniguez was a gentleman of the old school. He gave us our 13th month pay that December of 1985. Then he followed that up with a 14th month, and why, even a 15th month pay. He did not say he was giving us that largesse to vote for Marcos. He said the Batasan had some savings (it did) and these savings could be better used if given away to the employees.

And so my 13th-month pay went to a new set of contact lenses, which in those days cost an arm and a leg. My 14th-month pay went to my mother. And my 15th-month pay I brought to the Cory Aquino for President Headquarters in front of Santo Domingo Church on Quezon Avenue, and gave it to them as a donation.

The Batasan then was a cool place to be. Stickers of Cory and Doy would mushroom in the bathrooms, to be scraped away the next day. And then they would be there again. The young employees were openly campaigning for Cory and Doy. I attended all the rallies, giving away campaign leaflets to jeepney drivers and sidewalk vendors. Their stickers I pasted in our gate in our house in Antipolo; their banners I hung in the branches of the star-apple trees in front of our house, incurring the ire of my father – the military officer – who was a red, white, and blue fan of Marcos, the hero of the Second World War and a bright lawyer.

We campaigned, we voted, we guarded the vote. However, the Batasan where I worked proclaimed Marcos, to our great and utter embarrassment, such that I applied for work in the so-called mosquito press then (Malaya, Inquirer), only to be told there were no openings. We continued attending the massive rallies of Cory Aquino, where you counted people not in the hundreds of thousands, but in the millions. Cory then, alive, and Cory now, dead, always crunched numbers.

And then February 23 happened. I had just watched a movie in Remar Theater in Cubao and was eating donuts in the basement when I heard in the transistor radio the voices of Enrile and Ramos, crackling in the dry air, saying they had just withdrawn their support from the Dark One. The Coke nearly spilled out of my nose. I rushed home, only to find my father already watching TV and telling us never, never to go out. “There might be trouble,” he said, “you will be safer at home.”

Of course we did not. My two sisters and I went to EDSA, on the pretext of buying books at National Book Store in Cubao. We saw an old woman waving a big Philippine flag in the corner of P. Tuazon and 20th Avenue in Cubao. People cheered and sang and danced on the whole length of EDSA. Cars were barricaded in front of what is now the POEA. A mass was going on, while vendors plied their trade. It was like a fiesta. When we went home, my father remarked tartly how hot it must be in the bookstore, since our skin turned brown from buying books in the bookstore. We just kept silent.

When Marcos was speaking on TV and he was cut off in mid-sentence, I knew his end had come. The baritone voice that echoed, and sometimes still echo in my ears, was gone. A few days later, he flew away, with his family and their loot, in the dead of night.

And Cory became president in February of 1986. A month later, I had two letters in my hand, telling me I had been accepted into two M.A. programs of Creative Writing in American universities, on scholarships. It was an easy decision to make. I stayed in the Philippines, took my graduate studies in Literature at the Ateneo, and taught.

Three years later I was taking my second Master’s, this time in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling on a British Council grant. I took Publishing Studies because Marcos had destroyed the country’s publishing industry, and I wanted to help the Ateneo’s then-fledgling Office of Research and Publication produce textbooks and literary titles for the next generation of readers. In December of 1989, I was about to go to sleep when Ricardo, my Brazilian flat mate, knocked on my window. I opened it, and the cold wintry air stole into my room. “There is a war,” he said in his Portuguese-accented English, “there is a war going on in your country.”

“Shut up, Ricardo,” I said, “the last coup d’etat was in 1987.”

But he said there was a new one. So I turned on my Walkman radio, and there it was, in the clipped, terse English of the BBC journalist in Manila, reporting on the latest coup d’etat led by Colonel Gringo Honasan. A day later, I was on the train bound for London. I was going to the U.S. embassy in Grosvenor Square, to get a visa for my holiday visit to my sister in the U.S.

Outside the train, winter had turned the landscape into the color of bone. I listened again to the BBC, where the same journalist reported that he was somewhere in the Atrium in Makati, and gunfire was exploding all around him. I could hear the machine guns, and saw the rectangle of Atrium rise in my mind, and for the first time thought of the possibility of living in exile. But the rebels lost after the American jet fighters flew over them, spraying a ricochet of bullets as warning shots.

Three months later, in February of 1990, I had two letters in my hand, telling me that I had been accepted into two Ph.D. programs in Creative Writing in American universities, on scholarships. I agonized for days on what to do. My sister living in New Jersey was telling me to accept the offer. She was so lonely there and wanted me to join her, and added I could write more books if I stay in the USA. I had just been to the USA for the Christmas holidays and surely, she added, you must have enjoyed your stay here.

But do I really want to be a writer in exile? That romantic notion of making it in the publishing houses of New York, reviewed by the New York Times, and read by Americans? Or do I want to return to take care of my two parents going into their sixties, pick up a promising career in writing in the Philippines, and publish books that would be sold at the local bookstores?

I did return, taught for 22 years at the Ateneo, and published eight books of poetry and prose. And last Saturday, when Cory Aquino died and she was shown on TV in an earlier interview saying, “I am honored to be a Filipino, to be like all of you,” I finally knew that I made the right decision to come home, half a lifetime ago.

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