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.

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

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.

3 Pinoys getting HIV every day — UNDP

3 Pinoys getting HIV every day – UNDP
Written by Kristine Servando
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com
http://www.newsbreak.com.ph
Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Philippines has seen an “alarming” increase in HIV cases in the past year, especially among overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and men who have sex with men (MSM), according to data by the Dept. of Health, as cited by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“Last May, the country had 85 reported cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the highest ever in the country. That’s like 3 people a day, more cases than the A (H1N1) virus,” said Danton Remoto, UNDP Communications officer, at the country’s 1st National Conference on MSM, transgender, and HIV last July 22.

There have been 3,911 HIV cases since 1984, according to Department of Health (DOH) data as of May 2009.

All HIV cases were transmitted through sexual contact, with 36% of cases transmitted through homosexual contact and 89% of cases caused by unprotected sex.

Other “vulnerable groups” are OFWs (making up 22% of total cases last May), out-of-school youth, street children who are sometimes forced into prostitution, and MSM communities (which cross-cultural studies said comprise 10% of the Philippine population).

Although the total HIV cases only consist of less than 1% of the Philippine population – making it a low-prevalence country – Dr. Jessie Fanton of the Philippine National AIDS Council said the numbers are still alarming.

“We will always be low-prevalence because of the high population growth. But if you count warm bodies, it really shows an increase in HIV and AIDS cases,” he said.

Lifestyle causes
HIV patients are also getting younger and younger, with more HIV cases coming from the 20 to 24 age group (29% of total cases this year).

“We have patients as young as 15 to 17. They cannot be said to be uneducated too. So this is alarming,” said Dudz Razon (not his real name), an official from Pinoy Plus Association, a community of persons living with HIV or AIDS (PLWHA).

Fanton, citing a 2007 Integrated HIV Psychological study, said there have been several risk factors that contributed to the rapid spread of HIV in the country.

These include the rise in Internet-usage, which makes it easier to find sexual partners online; the prevalence of drugs and alcohol among MSMs in the past 3 years; and the popularity of anal sex without condoms.

“This is why this is an individual and behavioral issue that needs to be tracked and addressed,” Fanton said.

The 3-day National Conference on MSM, Transgender, and HIV is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, and aims to combat the rise in HIV cases by linking and training leaders from the MSM and transgender communities, as well as non-government organizations.

More than 50 representatives from gay and rights groups nationwide attended the conference. The project is part of the UNDP’s 3-year HIV Programme, in cooperation with TLF Share and the Health Action and Information Network (HAIN).

‘Double whammy’
Razon, a 40-year-old gay man who has been battling HIV since 1999, said that people like him have to contend with two problems – discrimination for being gay, and discrimination for being a PLWHA.

“We call it a double whammy. Kung baga, MSM ka na, positibo ka pa. Sometimes it’s easier to disclose that you’re HIV positive than to disclose that you are gay,” he said.

“Because on our part, hindi madaling aminin na bading ka at nakuha mo ang HIV through same-sex [intercourse]. Because hindi masyadong pinag-uusapan ang homosexuality sa Philippine culture. There’s a stigma,” he explained.

Razon, who engaged in gay sex only once in his life, said he has been open to his family about his sickness, but is reluctant to open up about his being gay for fear that it would ruin his “good boy” image or that he would face prejudice or violence.

Razon said he has also experienced insensitivity from health practitioners themselves, who “react differently when they know a person has HIV.” “Suddenly they wear masks around you and practice universal hygienic measures. So nakakahiya mag-open up sa kanila,” he said.

The Pinoy Plus Association’s peer-to-peer counseling has helped newly diagnosed HIV patients open up about their sickness. The Association, based in Manila, has over 100 active members.

HIV myths
UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer said there have been cases of violence against gays, lesbians, or transgenders all over Southeast Asia. There are many countries that criminalize homosexuality.

Remoto said discrimination partly allows the sickness to continue, and promotes low self-esteem among persons living with HIV or AIDS.

“There are wrong notions about HIV. People think that if you’re infected it’s because you’re a sex worker, or mahilig ka kasi sa sex, so kasalanan mo iyan. We’re trying to erase that notion,” he said.

Razon shared that many gay PLWHAs are afraid to have sex lest they infect their partner. He said they opt for “careful sexual encounters” like mutual masturbation, watching erotic movies together, or wearing condoms.

“However, this is not purely a gay issue. It is an issue affecting everyone – women, children, and men. It’s more of a question of how the public in general lack access to information and education on HIV and AIDS prevention,” Remoto said.

Poverty also worsens the problem since poor people do not have access to education or healthcare. “If a poor person would choose between a P15 can of sardines or a P15 pack of condoms, which would he or she choose?” he said.

State should invest in AIDS/HIV treatment
Razon said the government should set up clear mechanisms on how to sustain access to HIV treatment without depending heavily on international funding like the Global Fund Project.

He added that the government had supposedly added an “AIDS benefit package” to its health insurance program, but Razon said PLWHAs have yet to feel the benefits.

Global Fund, a private organization, currently provides HIV/ AIDS treatment to select patients through the help of the DOH and Pinoy Plus Association.

“We feel like the government does not feel the magnitude of the HIV problem. It’s time for the government to invest in AIDS [treatment] because trends are changing from low and slow to hidden and growing,” Razon said.

Fanton said the government has been assured of international funding for HIV treatment until 2010.

Antiretroviral drugs keep HIV at bay and stops the weakening of the immune system. Once a person takes HIV or AIDS treatment, he or she must do so every day for the rest of his or her life. Otherwise, they could develop resistance to the drug, allowing opportunistic infections to attack their immune systems, that could be fatal.

DOH National Epidemiology Center statistics reveal that from 1984 to 2009, there have been 318 reported deaths due to AIDS.

No follow-through on laws
The present administration failed to address the HIV problem head-on Remoto said, because it was heavily influenced by the Church’s stand against contraception and family planning.

“In the 1990s, we had a strong HIV/AIDS program under [former Health secretary] Dr. [Juan] Flavier. But it was discontinued. Health centers no longer give out free condoms, and they no longer give out information about HIV or AIDS. So there are no programs, no plans to give information and education,” Remoto said.

Though the Philippines was ahead of its Southeast Asian neighbors when introducing laws like the AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 (Republic Act 8504) or the Reproductive Health Bill, it lagged in terms of passing or implementing these laws.

Anakbayan Rep. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros-Baraquel, meanwhile, believes the Anti-Discrimination Bill pending in Congress can help curb the spread of HIV.

“[This can help] in terms of accessing the public healthcare system, the bill penalizes any discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders,” she said.

Hontiveros-Baraquel also said there should be government reforms on reproductive health policies, especially in terms of promoting condom use as a socially acceptable practice.

“We think if the government becomes pro-condom, pro-life na iyon dahil makaliligtas sa buhay at kalusugan. Sana maglaan din ng resources din domestically at hindi pagkakaitan ng sapat funds ang local government units para sa HIV or AIDS prevention. They can also change their worldview on sex at hindi na masyado mag-ascribe sa views ng Church,” she said.

Further, many NGO leaders and MSMs who attended the HIV Conference said they did not see any strong presidential candidate for the 2010 polls who had a clear platform on health and addressing the HIV/ AIDS problem. (abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak)

photos by Kristine Servando

How to do well in school?

REMOTE CONTROL | DANTON REMOTO | 07/21/2009 3:20 AM
Views and analysis
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com

1. Listen to the teacher. When the teacher repeats a point two times, red flag it and take notes. That means what she is saying is super important, that is why it is repeated twice, not that she already has Alzheimer’s (she will, 20 years down the road, after teaching young people like you).

2. Read everything thrice. The first is to scan the text, like an eagle surveying the field, before it swoops down for the kill. The second is to read slowly, marking important points on the margins, or underlining key words in the text. The third is to summarize the points in your head, in your notebook, or on the last page of the text. I tell my students: unless you have summarized the text in three sentences, in your own words, then you haven’t gotten it right.

3. Master the four skills. Being a teacher of the old school, I tell my students the four skills of language learning are still important. The four skills are not surfing the net, texting, watching MTV or reading classsics.com. The four skills are still reading, writing, listening and speaking. But because of the four so-called skills I enumerated earlier, some students no longer want to read. “Eh why pa did you go to school if you don’t want to read?” I ask my students in mock horror. Writing well, of course, means reading and rereading The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. Listening, with the headphones of your iPod off, works best. And speaking, of course. When one day, I asked a student for his insights into Guy de Maupassant’s The Jewels, he answered, “Wala lang!” I said, “That is good. Therefore, your oral recitation grade is also wala lang!” Then he immediately cobbled together an answer that somewhat mollified his English teacher.

4. Budget your time. You are a student, right? Therefore, your job is to study. When I was taking graduate school in the US and we were reading 600 pages of text every week, I asked my classmates, “How do we survive this?” “Read the darned pages,” Boho from Harlem said, “then go to the gym three times a week — and dance in the clubs on Saturday nights!” And so we did. We read tomes on Islamic Mystical Literature, the Nineteenth-Century Novel, and Literary Criticism, then did the treadmill and danced at Splash in New York every Saturday night. In short, you study hard — and then you play just as hard.

5. Consult with the teacher. Your teacher has placed her e-mail address and consultation hours in the syllabus. Go and make use of these. If you get low marks in Composition class, or just cannot get why the old man Iona Potapov, who has just lost his son, begins talking to his horse at the end of Chekhov’s story, then talk to the teacher. With the patience of Job, I am sure he or she will explain why that sentence is a fragment, and you do not mix your tenses, and “occasion” is not spelled with two c’s, two s’s, and two n’s, that is why you got an F. And I am quite sure that your teacher will also enlighten you on the way Chekhov writes fiction as revelation, where the unsaid words and the absent gestures are as important — if not more important — than what is said and shown.

6. Use the library. I taught for 22 years at the Ateneo, which happens to have an excellent multimedia library. During the first weeks of class, I require my students to attend library orientation, so they will know how to dig in that fabulous archive of knowledge. I also tell them that the library subscribes to Time, Newsweek, The Economist, The Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune — the last two papers because I badgered the library to do so, 20 years ago. In short, the most incisive analysis and the crispest writing in accessible formats can be had, right there at their fingertips, via hard copies of the world’s finest periodicals.

7. Use your imagination. When studying literature, let your minds fly! Ravyi Sunico, my teacher in Philosophy, once said in class that the imagination has no boundaries. Therefore, let the wings of your mind and heart touch the sky when you read. When the French master wrote, “Monsieur Lantin was caught in the web of love,” do not tell the teacher that this means life is complicated. Hell-er! First, you answer that “web of love” is a metaphor that means falling in love is like being caught in a spider web. It reminds you of that time when that “fat dimpled spider” (in Walt Whitman’s wicked poem) comes charging along to eat the unwitting fly. In short, I add, my lips curving in a wicked smile, it is called falling in love because “at first, you are in love, and then you fall.”

8. Open your minds. You go to school to obtain a liberal education, especially in the Humanities. In the Jesuit Fr. Roque Ferriol’s book, that means “magpakatao” — being taught to be fully human. That means never being afraid of ideas. Freshmen jump out of their skin when they hear the word “communism” or the name “Sigmund Freud” discussed in their Literature classes. Eh kumusta naman? You tell me we will discuss Ninotchka Rosca’s novel, State of War, without talking about the class contradictions in society? Or talk about Little Red Riding Hood seducing the Big Bad Wolf in Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves,” without discussing that dear, dirty old man Sigmund Freud? Time now to forget your high-school class in Literature, where Sister Marionnete always pinned a moral lesson to every poem, play, story and essays taught in class, reducing the beauty of words to the silence of the lambs.

In short, enjoy your English classes. Have fun in the world of words. Read everything as if it is a love letter, which means reading between the lines. Or better yet, as my unforgettable teacher of the Modern Novel, Dr. Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, put it, read not only with your eyes and with your heart, but best of all, read with your genitals!

Which means reading everything at the gut level, at the level of the groin, where the vital seeds of life begin.

Dreaming in English

By Danton Remoto
The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph
Front Page

This article forms part of a series on the importance of English language and writing commissioned by the British insurer Pru-Life UK. The series is published every Monday on the front page of Business Mirror.

***

In her introduction to Stories, Kerima Polotan said: “Life scars the writer but he is not without weapons of vengeance. The art [of writing] is a prism that he can use to refract human experience. That one can write about something gives him courage to endure it; that he has written about it gives him, if not deeper understanding, some kind of peace. In other words, the writer is first a human being before he is anything else, prone, like much of mankind, to fits of joy and pain. What happens to those around him – and yes, to him – is legitimate material, but only if he is able to illumine it with a special insight.”

I enrolled at the Ateneo for a Management degree, but my heart was not in it. Every day I went to the Rizal Library and sat near the books in PS 9991 – Philippine writing in English. I would get the books, read the names of the Ateneo writers who have borrowed them (Gilda Cordero Fernando, Rolando Tinio, Eman Lacaba, Freddie Salanga), and borrowed the books.

I talked to my father and told him I wanted to shift to Interdisciplinary Studies, so I could choose the English subjects I wanted to take – and have my Management subjects credited as well. He reluctantly agreed. So the next semester I was on a roll. During our first day in Modern Poetry on the third floor of Bellarmine Building, the teacher arrived in a brown jacket, his hair tousled by the wind.

My teacher was Professor Emmanuel Torres, and he taught us how to see. Before his class, I did not like poetry too much, preferring instead to read nonfiction, since I thought they were the real stuff. But Professor Torres introduced to us – in English translations –Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Verlaine and Rilke, Neruda and Garcia Lorca. We also read the lords of the English language – T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stegner, e.e. cummings. Why, he even taught us the songs of the Beatles – the mop-haired gods from England – since he considered their songs as poems.

My professor, who went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, taught us to listen to the sounds of words rising and falling. He reminded me of the words of Joseph Conrad in his introduction to The Nigger of the Narcissus: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see.”

Writing in English is not an easy thing because it is not our first language. But as they say, if you can dream in it, then you can write it.

I shared my room with my brother, and he said he would wake up to hear me talking in my sleep – in English. Instead of being embarrassed, I would smile. For in school, Professor Torres was in his element, tearing our juvenilia apart with irony and wit. But I was not daunted. I have always been brave, especially when dealing with things I like to do.

And so every Monday morning, I stepped into the Art Gallery where Professor Torres was also the curator. I would show him my latest poems in English, which he would welcome with a smile. Silently he would read my poems, his red ball pen poised in the air, then like an arrow it would hit the page to delete a word here, a phrase there. He would return my poems with a sly smile, calling them “effusions.” I would thank him and say goodbye.

I continued writing. One of the personal essays I wrote was “A Quick Visit to Basa.” I went to the Art Gallery one hour before class started, so I could consult with my Professor. He said he liked the essay, but it could be improved. So we went through it sentence by sentence, punctuation mark by punctuation mark, the way he did it with our poems.

He always told us to avoid stereotyped situations and words, which he called “rusty razors.” Later, he said that my essay “is written by somebody on his way to being a writer.” I was happy and went home as if I had won the lotto. Five years later, that essay would win in the Don Carlos Palanca Award in Literature.

After graduation from college, I flew to Dumaguete City to attend the Silliman University National Writers’ Workshop run by the formidable husband-and-wife team of Dr. Edilberto K. Tiempo and his wife, Dr. Edith. The Silliman Experience has become a rite of passage for any young Filipino writer. While en route to Dumaguete City, I read in the newspaper that I had won in a poetry-writing contest. I wanted to jump up and down, but since I could not, I just looked outside the plane. Literally and otherwise, I was up in the clouds.

I have never gone down since.

Wings of Desire

by Danton Remoto

Two weeks ago, I won the Third Prize in the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards for a short story called “Wings of Desire.” It is a very brief story I wrote 15 years ago. It was published in the Philippine Graphic magazine. I have received e-mail letters asking for copies of the story, and I am reprinting it here. Thank you.

***

Like me, my cousin Ramon was also the first-born child of my Uncle Conrado and his wife Emilia.

Papa woke me up early that summer. He told me to wash my face because we would go to Manila. My heart jumped with delight, especially when I saw that some of my clothes had already been stuffed in my Papa’s blue overnight bag.

Papa’s eyes were sad. He kissed Mama good-bye, and then we were gone. We took a pedicab that brought us to the gate. The young soldier on duty gave my father a crisp salute. Behind him stood the statue of a pilot cast in concrete, his eyes raised to the sky. Soon we were aboard a jeep bound for Guagua. As usual, the driver maneuvered the jeepney as if he were in Indianapolis 500. His jeepney zipped through the barrio road, the town’s main road, and finally the highway at the same suicidal speed. Huts and wooden houses and buildings and sticks of sugar cane blurred before us. It always frightened me.

I closed my eyes and dredged my mind for prayers. Miss Honey Joy Tamayo of Catechism class said that if you died with a prayer on your lips, you would go to Heaven straight away. So I began praying the rosary, over and over again, the three mysteries repeated for the nth time from Floridablanca to Guagua, a distance of 20 kilometers, using my fingers to count the Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes. If I did not go to Heaven, I thought, at least I’d be good in Math. The driver would suddenly step on the brakes, then rev the engine up again, swerve here and there, weaving in and out of our lane, the true king of the road.

On the dashboard above him, a strip of mirror ablaze with decals. Basta driver, sweet lover. Jingle lang ang pahinga (I only rest when I piss). Basta biyuda, walang aray (If it’s a widow, then there’s no pain). And directly in front of him, two women. On the left is a decal of a vamp, her overripe body spilling out of her glossy, red bikini; the other is the Blessed Virgin Mary, wearing layer upon layer of white clothes, a blue sash around her waist.

After 45 minutes, the jeepney swung around the big plaza of Guagua, and then we got off and waited for the bus bound for Manila. Usually they were air-conditioned Victory Liners, rare in those days, and once we had settled on our seats and paid for the tickets, Papa would begin to sleep, or rather, snore. I would be terribly embarrassed, but nobody seemed to mind, for almost everybody would lapse into sleep as the morning sun climbed higher in the clear sky of summer.

I would try to close my eyes, too, but from my shut eyelids, I could see the tiny red spots formed by the sunlight. So I would open my eyes again, then open the window and watch the world blur past me.

Three big, covered carts pulled by a bull traveled slowly on the shoulder of the road. The carts contained wicker chairs and small tables, mirrors and hammocks, shelves and baskets. The farmers from the North traveled down south after the harvest was over and the fields would lie fallow for months. Down south they hoped to sell the things they wove and plaited. They were framed by a billboard advertising the many legendary bounties of the country: the Banaue Rice Terraces and the Mayon Volcano, the swift-sailing vintas of Zamboanga and the Santo Nino of Cebu City, luring the tourists to this calm and peaceful country.

The other billboards were from Filoil and B-meg Feeds, Warren Briefs and Ajinomoto Vetsin, Vitarich and the Mobil gas station with the flying red horse. Rice saplings newly transplanted from their seedbeds, the young leaves stirring in the wind. On the left would rise Mount Arayat, a mountain shaped like a stump, smothered by the whitest of clouds. The fields would give way to nipa huts alive with the laughter of barefoot children with big bellies. Yellow rice grains left to dry on the sides of the road. White hens cackling. The morning melodrama from a transistor radio with its volume turned up so everybody could hear other lives endlessly twisting and turning. The nipa huts giving way to the grand, abandoned mansions of the sugar barons, the dry fountains and wide gardens choked by weeds, the heavy wooden doors now closed forever. And then the baroque churches: covered with moss and lichen, cratered by wind and rain. And in the air, the heavy, cloying smell of molasses from the mills of PASUDECO, inducing me finally to sleep. Ahhh, such lethargy, such a sweet sweet smell.

Manila would burst upon you like a bucket of icy water thrown on the face. The Bonifacio Monument loomed (the proletarian hero in a voiceless scream), the bus deftly circling the rotunda, and down we went to EDSA, the unbearable smell of the Cloverleaf Market, the diesel fumes darkening the air. We got off in a Cubao that still had no shopping malls, just small specialty shops and a row of movie houses. Then the jeepney ride to Sta. Mesa, so very fast, the miniature steel horses on the hood seemingly clop-clopping in the wind, the thin plastic strips of many colors flying, the jeepney swerving, going up and down a bridge, then here we were.
My uncle lived in his in-law’s house on a strip of government land behind the motels of Old Sta. Mesa. Gardenia, Seven Seas, Rose Tattoo, Exotica—I could still recall their names in a breathless rush, these places where supposedly illicit love happened between people not married to each other. Down we went, down, down the rough steps hewn out of stone. The wooden houses seemed to breathe into each other. One’s kitchen ended where another’s bedroom began. The alleys coiled round and round, like intestines. And when the rainy season came, everything turned muddy and a perpetually green slime covered the ground for days.

After Papa and I had turned this way and that, poking into someone else’s living room and scanning another’s open bedroom, we reached the place—a one-storey affair at the foot of the stairs of an old wooden house.

Even at noon, bright lights burnt in the living room. The candelabra’s fingers glowed. Under the lights, the coffin of my cousin Ramon.

My Aunt Emilia broke down at the sight of Papa. “Manoy, Mon is gone. What will I do?” Sobs tore from her chest, and the old women around her also began to cry. They were all in black. Like a flock of crows. Papa let her go on. She babbled that if she only knew Mon would sustain a bad fall and bash his head, her son who was torn away from her by the doctor’s forceps—

“I shouldn’t have allowed him to play basketball the previous afternoon. Manoy, should I tell Conrado?”

Silence. Papa seemed to weigh his words very carefully. Then, looking straight into my aunt’s eyes, actually looking through her, he said: “I think it’s best not to tell Conrado. I know my brother very well. He’ll take it badly. He might—” Papa sighed deeply. He suddenly looked tired, and very old. “He might even jump from the ship if he hears about it.”

My aunt sank silently on the sofa. She cried wordlessly. It was painful to look at her. I stood up and walked over to the coffin of Ramon.

Atop the glass was his photograph taken a month ago, so very young, his eyes like clearest water. The gold First Honor medal shone on his white polo shirt. Leis of white jasmine buds and yellow-green ylang-ylang flowers were hung around the photograph. And then, I looked down at him slowly.

In my dream my Uncle Conrado comes home. He has left behind him the North Sea cold enough to break even your bones. Now he is borne by waves that have slowly shaped themselves into the whitest of wings. The world below is a blue nothingness. The bird glides slowly, reaching an archipelago of the greenest islands, until it reaches the brown filth that is Manila. The bird alights finally at Old Sta. Mesa, and my uncle slides down its furry body. He waves farewell to the strange, magnificent bird. And then just as suddenly, the bird is gone.

Down, down, down the steps hewn from stone. The air closing in around my uncle, darkness descending, a door opening and closing on its one rusty hinge. Ramon? Ramon? where is my son Ramon? Words from the palest lips. The electric volt of pain crackling from one nerve ending to another.

Sometimes, when we call out a name, even the very wind crumbles.

To run or not to run

dear spliceandice,

to answer your question, let me give a very brief background. we formed ang ladlad in 2003, wanted to run in 2007, but ben “burjer king” abalos said we did not have a national constituency, we are not marginalized and we are not under-represented. i think he was just afraid that if we won (and surveys said we would get two seats) we would add votes to the gma impeachment campaign. and so we were not allowed to run, and i ran as a congressman of district 3 as a guest candidate of pdp-laban/ genuine opposition. we lost. we were also surprised to learn that a week before the elections, the comelec changed all the election supervisors in my district, and only God know what happened next.

now the law says i cannot run as a party-list candidate again under ang ladlad, because of my loss in the last elections. therefore, i am being asked to run as a congressman of district 3 (i got 10,000 votes — all of them clean, i assure you, walang bahid ‘yan ng daya), or as a senator of the republic. i am weighing the pros and cons based on finances, survey results, and which party would draft me.

so to answer your question, spliceandice, yes, i am running in 2010. i hope that answers your question.

thank you,

danton remoto

The road to 2010

Danton Remoto
Remote Control
www.abs-cbn.com/news

I am reprinting my column which appeared in this week’s issue of www.abs-cbn.com/news. Although it seems I am talking about us, let me say I am also talking about the other young people who want to enter politics but are afraid of the dirt, the muck, the mud usually associated with it. Thanks.

***
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. So is the road to 2010.

It is still two years before the elections, but the battles have already begun. In the third district of Quezon City where I live, the councilors running for vice-mayor have strung many tarpaulins showing their fat, oily faces. Since they would be vacating their seats they have warmed for three terms, they have included photos of their wives, or sisters, or brothers, along with the pet poodle named Fifi to complete the family portrait. Of course, the wives, sisters, or brothers would run for councilors two years from now. In the Philippines, this is not called a political dynasty. It is called royalty.

Some of them are wise about it, in the Tagalog meaning of wise as in ”tuso.” They are offering 50 percent tuition discounts at some middling school or other. And when the poor people of Escopa would go to the schools, they would be informed that the councilors’ discount is 50 percent, yes, but the tuition is worth P18,000 per semester. And where would Aling Mila, who queues for four hours to buy two kilos of NFA rice, get that P9,000 to put Junior through school?

Or they are sponsoring bingo socials, or basketball games, or why not, even boxing matches, with them in tarpaulin poses that would make Manny Pacquiao blush in shame.

After I ran in the last elections and lost, I was contented to just return to my life a teacher of Literature, introducing students to the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda. But now as I write this column, my cell phone keeps ringing and ringing. Or else, it is beginning to be clogged up with messages.

Somebody running for congressman is asking me if I would run again for the same position? I won’t, I answer, not after seeing the election supervisors shuffled and changed by former Comelec Chairman Ben “Burjer King” Abalos one week before the May 14, 2007 elections.

“If you’re not running,” asked the persistent caller, “will you support my candidacy?”

I gave him my e-mail address and asked him to send me his platform. The silence of the lambs filled the other end of the line. “Hello?” I asked, and he was there again, resurrected from the dead, muttering that, yes, indeed, why not, I will send you my flatporms. Before I could tell him I wasn’t talking about shoes, he had already hung up.

Or take the case of this movie star running as a councilor in a nearby district, a friend of a friend, who is also asking for my, uh, endorsement. “My endorsement?” I wanted to say, following this with the laughter of a hyena. I never entertained the notion that my “endorsement” would amount to anything.

“Yes, sir, they told me you got 10,000 votes in the last elections, and you got them without any cheating!”

“Of course,” I wanted to answer, “without any cheating!” But I just resorted to my Americanism (aha, aha, aha), and let him drone on and on. I did not promise him anything even if he looked cute enough to play Superman in its next remake. I just advised him to begin working for the post now.

Yes, now. Two years before the elections, we do not need to see tarpaulins greeting us a merry Christmas, a happy Valentines, a great graduation, or a sizzling summer. I would advise below the radar-line campaigning.

What does it mean?

Good, honest-to-goodness work for and with the poorest communities. No fizz, no flash, no glitz, no glamour.

A real livelihood program, for one, where the people are taught skills, given initial supplies, then monitored afterward. A medical mission with good doctors, nurses and dentists, and a cache of medicines that could be used when the rainy season – and its illnesses – comes in. Books for the barangay library, so the young ones could learn to read and open the windows of their minds.

The list could go on and on.

But if I were you, you should also go out and talk to the youth. They constitute 70 percent of the voting bloc, and believe me, they will be a tectonic force in the 2010 elections. What I like about the youth is you cannot fool them. They seem to have what Ernest Hemingway called a “shit-proof lie-detector system” inside them that could sniff out the trapo from the real thing. The world wide web, the borderless world of cyberspace, cable television, even cheap air travel and the tales of wonder from their OFW relatives have made sure that in 2010, they will look for candidates who are young, bright, talented and brash.

Candidates who will call a spade a spade, a dictator a dictator – and step up the plate and offer themselves to the young voters. It is happening now all over the world, demographics have taken care of it – the rise of a new breed of candidates who reinvent the creaky wheel of politics. They do not have a lot of money, but they have guts and street smarts and the deep knowledge that they are inviting everybody to step aboard a ship A ship called hope.

My fearless forecast: the Jurassic candidates will doomed – those who are between 60 and death, those who give flowery speeches, and those who steal the country blind. We will see the revenge of the young voters in 2010, and it will give us a break from bad governance that we so richly deserve.