Circling Again

May 4, 2020

I’m back, hopefully for the long haul. Thanks to those who continued to visit the site even at that time when I thought I should move on because I find blogging too complicated and no longer fun.

Need to Place 1521 in Proper Context

February 4, 2018

Funny, but when somebody asks me for the date of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who led a Spanish expedition that eventually reached the archipelago that would later be named Philippines, I remember the late Boholano novelty singer Yoyoy Villame. Or at least the first line of his popular song, “Magellan,” that says: “On March 16, 1521…”
We are now in the year 2018, which means that in 2021, the Philippines would be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Magellan’s expedition in Limasawa and weeks later his death at the hands of Mactan folk led by the chieftain Lapulapu. That year plotted the shift in the direction of the islands’ history.
The year 2021 is therefore important for both Spain and the Philippines that is why preparations for its coming have already been mapped out. A group called the Filipinas Quinta Centenario (FQC) is leading the celebration in the Philippines. FQC representatives met with officials of the Cebu Provincial Government recently. The group’s local counterpart is the Sugbo Quincentenario.
Activities for the fifth centennial will kick off next year, said Joaquin Rodriguez, the FQC president, as Magellan’s expedition began on Aug. 10, 1519 in Cadiz, Spain. It took Magellan’s fleet, which started with five ships, almost two years of rough travel to arrive in Limasawa. Set to be invited for the 2021 event, which will have Cebu as the main venue, are Pope Francis and the Spanish king.
Since this would be a major event, something Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale said would boost Cebu’s tourism and its new-found thrust on faith-based tourism, I also hope that the organizers would not forget to place the activities in their proper context. For example, the focus on “Christianization” could be shaky considering that the islands only embraced Catholicism starting in 1565 when they were subjugated by the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Fr. Andres Urdaneta.
Yoyoy Villame’s song has the phrase, “when Philippines was discovered by Magellan,” an accepted notion (the Philippines being “discovered”) before historians dug up archives for information on pre-Spanish Philippines. As they say, the victors are always given the chance to shape the history of a place to their own liking and Spain did just that throughout its rule in the country, portraying the communities they conquered as primitive.
In this context, the natives who certainly already possessed their own beliefs and culture in 1521 must not have even understood and may have even frowned on the Spaniards’ Catholic rituals (the masses in Limasawa and Cebu and the teachings told to them) and preachings. There is no evidence decades after the remnants of Magellan’s fleet were driven out of the islands that the natives have become Christians and adhered to Catholicism.
Finally, the controversies. Tracing the route followed by Magellan using the description by the Spanish chronicler Pigafetta is tricky. Where the first mass was held, for example, has two claimants, Limasawa and Butuan, and has not been resolved with certainty.–February 2, 1959 (also published in my column in SunStar Cebu)

Trolls and Surveys

January 27, 2018

I always thought the story told by our teacher in our elementary days about the Dutch boy who put his finger in a leaking dike was a fable like the one about the foolish emperor who thought he was wearing the most exquisite garment when he was actually naked. But not until Google told me the Dutch boy story was a short story within an 1865 novel written by the American Mary Mapes Dodge, who never went to the Netherlands until her novel was published.
The short story, titled “The Hero of Haarlem,” told of a boy who lived in Haarlem, a place that obviously stood in the way of water that was walled. One time, he saw a leak in the dike and put his finger in it to prevent the leak from growing and the dike from breaking. He stayed there all night until adults found him and repaired the leak. Thus was coined the phrase, “finger in the dike.”
I was reminded of the story while noting how the trolls of the DDS (Duterte Diehard Supporters) kind are valiantly plugging leaks in the dike (translation: President Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity) to ensure that the administration won’t be swept away by the rampaging waters (translation: either an angry people or putschists). It is a recognition of the importance of the “dike” to the government.
I have been observing the movement of DDS trolls since during the campaign period in the 2016 polls until now. In the few months after Duterte assumed office, government didn’t seem to need the campaign period trolls anymore because of the inherent popularity a new president possesses. In this age, a leader’s popularity is measured by firms like Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) via surveys.
Then the second half of last year happened, when surveys showed a dip in the president’s popularity and acceptability. We all know what happens to unpopular presidents (remember Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s new term starting in 2004?). That surely had the administration’s strategists going in panic mode. Admittedly, the Duterte administration has many opponents silently waiting to pounce.
That was when the trolls surfaced again with a vengeance. Whether organized by government functionaries and funded by public funds or not, the movement of the trolls have become observable. Where before the comments section at the foot of negative stories about government officials and policies published in both legitimate and social media became enclaves of Duterte administration critics, that is no longer so since Duterte’s dip in surveys in the second half of 2017.
Particular attention may also have been given to the conduct of surveys by Pulse Asia and SWS. I won’t say schemes were hatched but subsequent surveys show that the leaks in the dike have already been plugged.
Which brings me to a question thrown at me in a forum about how the media, both the “controlled” one and the so-called “mosquito press” contributed to the demise of the Marcos dictatorship. My answer was, not much. People may refer to media reports but in the end they make their own conclusions about the government.
If government negativity continues to grow, a million trolls couldn’t arrest the fall of an administration’s popularity. They could even cloud an administration’s appraisal of the people’s real sentiment.–27 January 2018, also published in SunStar Cebu

The weirdos

January 24, 2018


Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the House of Representatives, after declaring itself a Constituent Assembly (Con Ass, with the stress on the Ass), will proceed with Cha cha (Charter change) even without the Senate, which has refused to join the House’s “nonsense” unless it (the lower chamber, no pun intended) agrees with its (the upper chamber, again no pun intended) contention that the Senate and the House should vote separately on any decision made.
“Mora ma’g dili abugado ni’s Alvarez,” a colleague quipped. I nodded my head and said, “Abugado na siya but he’s also a weirdo when it comes to advancing his personal ambition. He simply didn’t want his term to end in 2019.
Okay, he is a lawyer. But on this, Sen. Panfilo Lacson (he’s not a lawyer; he’s a Philippine Military Academy graduate) is more of the lawyer. “For their own sake (he is referring to the congressm… umm, House members), they should not allow themselves to look pathetic and, worse, ridiculous.” Lacson floored Alvarez with this argument: when the Con Ass, again the stress is on the Ass) submits its work to a plebiscite, it would need money. Where would they get it? From Congress, of course. Congress, as in the Senate and the House.
No, Alvarez and his chuwawaps in the House may not look pathetic. They’re just weirdos. And there are many of them in the Duterte administration, starting from the one at the top. But let us not go there for now.
Last week, weirdos at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the certificate of incorporation of the online media outlet Rappler, claiming it violated the constitutional provision mandating that media outlets must be owned 100 percent by Filipinos. The decision was made five months after Solicitor General Jose Calida (another weirdo) wrote the SEC asking it to investigate Rappler. Weird?
Not much. But here’s the really weird one. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre (another weirdo) followed up SEC’s move by ordering the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate Rappler for possible violation of the constitution. What did the weirdos at the NBI do instead? They summoned Rappler chief Maria Ressa to answer a cyber-libel complaint for a May 2012 story published in Rappler. But the Anti-Cybercrime Law was enacted in September yet.
What did freedom fighter and lawyer Rene Saguisag say? “One may not violate today a penal law to be enacted tomorrow.”
Over at the academe, weirdos of the University of Sto. Tomas Alumni Association Inc. (USTAAI) created an award called Thomasian Alumni Awards for Government Service whose only criteria for inclusion is that you are a graduate of UST and you are in government. UST promotes “Veritas in Caritate” or “Truth in Charity.” Among those who received the award were Sen. Joel Villanueva (hmmm…), Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin (hmmmm…) and Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Margaux “Mocha” Uson (another weirdo).
Uson is a Duterte administration propagandist, accused of spreading fake news and spews profanities in her blog. She is leader of the Mocha Girls (yes, the Mocha Girls). Yet, there is this “Thomasian core values of compassion, competence and commitment. Weird.–January 24, 2018, also published in SunStar Cebu

Not a Red Fighter

November 14, 2017

I don’t personally know the former priest Rustico “Tikoy” Tan. I only saw him once when he was still a practicing priest in the ’80s, and we didn’t even talk much. But I remember him for surfacing as one of the National Democratic Front (NDF) negotiatiors during the peace talks with the government of then president Corazon Aquino in the late 1986 and early 1987. Those were heady days for the revolutionary movement in Cebu and was adjudged a mistake by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) years later, as it exposed many of its local cadres.

A headline on the arrest in a Cebu newspaper labeled Tan as a New People’s Army (NPA) member, something that I don’t think he was. In the revolutionary movement, there is a difference between armed elements and organizers. Tan is known to be have been mainly based in the urban areas while Red fighters, save for armed city partisans that are not many, are based in the countryside. I think he is an organizer, not a fighter. Also, I thought all along that Tan had gone back to the mainstream. If he is in his 70s now, then he probably already did so. This seems to ba a case of his past hounding him.

For reporters, it is probably good to note that not all who are in the underground are NPA members. The NPA is the armed wing of the CPP. Its formation is in keeping with the armed struggle that the party is waging against the government. The other CPP cadres are organizers either in the countryside or the urban areas, recruiting to the underground the masses of workers and peasants, youth and students and the middle class and forging alliance work with the national bourgeoisie and rich peasants, and even with  enlightened comprador bourgeoisie and landlords. Others are engaged in forging alliances with politicians.–November 14, 2017

CPP’s 2nd Congress: My Thoughts

August 14, 2017

The biggest story to come out from the underground is the successful holding by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) of its second congress in 2016. The first congress, as we all know was held eons ago, or when the party was founded in 1968. That congress laid down the ideological foundation of the revolution and elected members of the Central Committee, with Jose Ma. Sison (a.k.a. Amado Guerrero) as founding chairman. Consider that the party will be celebrating its 50th year of existence next year and you will realize how long since the first congress was held. In the intervening years, many central committee members either were martyred, arrested or laid low.

While the holding of the second congress is most welcome, I still believe that it should have been held in the late ’80s before the party split into the Reaffirm and Reject factions. That was the time when new ideas from “ideologue-cadres” surfaced, or when a “hundred schools of thought” contended, sort of, after the Marcos regime was toppled and the party failed to capitalize fully on the 1986 Edsa people power uprising. I read the “Communique  of the Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Philippines” published in the website Philippine Revolution Web Central and I noticed nothing earth-shaking in its content except for the replenishment of the Central Committee membership with the introduction of the proverbial young blood.

This is because the congress was held around two decades after the Reaffirmists succeeded in fending off the challenge of the Rejectionists and “reaffirmed” its adherence to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as the ideological foundation of the revolution. It was not surprising that the congress would reflect that adherence and come up only with peripheral changes to answer minor needs. Even the claim of “presenting a clearer picture” of the revolution’s strategy and tactics can only be a reaffirmation of the old one considering how repetitive CPP’s stand is on many issues. But the congress did consolidate the party’s gains after the tumultuous split and expresses its readiness to continue the struggle in the decades to come up.

The biggest achievement of that congress is, of course, the strengthening of its leadership. The election of new Central Committee members, half of which are “young and middle-aged cadres” means that the days of having the party run either by remnants of the Central Committee elected in 1968 or their appointees is over. That I think is the context of the resolution giving “highest honors” to Sison for his “immense contribution to the Philippine revolution.” While Sison still leads the revolution in spirit, the actual running of the party is now in the hands of the new party Central Committee, Political Bureau and Secretariat. Let us see how the new leadership will fare amidst the challenges of continuing the revolution in a different milieu from the ones prevailing in the late ’60s, under the Marcos dictatorship from 1972 to the 1986 Edsa uprising, and the tumultuous ’90s.–August 14, 2017

PHOTO: from the Philippine Revolution Web Central wbsite

Will This Be for Keeps?

August 14, 2017

I’m reactivating–again–this site after a short talk with my son and my wife, both of whom wanted me to open a Facebook page where I can post my SunStar Cebu columns and other views. I told them I have a blog and they mocked me because I haven’t been posting anything here in a while.

I am in the process of creating an FB page, but I will be using this blog to post anything, then post these on the FB page that I will be creating. Quite a plan. But will it be for keeps? I don’t know. Time will tell.

Meeting Harry Fenton’s Kin: Dirk Barreveld letter

March 20, 2015

Here’s another letter from Dirk Barreveld, an update on his upcoming book on the Cebu World War II guerrillas. There are interesting infos here. I received this on March 16, 2015:

“Thanks for the nice piece last December about my Cushing-book. The book comes out on May 19, 2015 in the US and in Europe and on May 28 in Australia. You can find details about the book on the website

“Recently I came across some information I am sure you are interested in. You know if you write a book and it is finished it does not mean the story ends there. Often information keeps on dripping in long after you did cut off your investigation.

 “During Christmas I had a few discussions with Steve Trent Smith, the author of “The Rescue.” I am sure you know the book. I know Steve for long. He brought me into contact with Anna Pearman. Anna is the daughter of Betsy, the wife of the late Harry Fenton (Aaron Feinstein). The former co-commander of the Cebu Area Command. In other words she is the step-daughter of Harry Fenton.

 “Betsy married Harry in 1939. They had two sons Steve and David. At the time of Harry’s execution (1943) Betsy and her two sons were prisoners of the Japanese. The ended up in Santo Tomas internment camp. They survived the war and Betsy remarried in 1945 an American sailor by the name of Pearman. They moved to the US where Anna was born. Betsy passed away in 2010, she was in her nineties. David died last year, but Steve is still alive.

 “Harry’s grandparents arrived from Polish Russia in the late-1800’s. His father was a milliner in Schenectady. Harry graduated from Schenectady High in 1925. He was very active in music, singing, oration, and theatrics in high school and college. He was also a record-setting sprinter on the college track team. Harry attended three years of medical school in Ireland, before quitting in 1934. At some point he enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and was sent to the Philippines. He became a popular radio announcer in Manila. In 1939 he married Betty. In 1940 he moved to Cebu.

 Some of Frank Cushing’s family is living on Guam. A son of Charlie Cushing lives in Chicago. I think one of the most interesting of the brothers was the heroic, dashing Walter, about whom little has been written. I could not find any trace of him (so far).

“All this information is not in my book, I was not aware of it during writing.”

Dirk Barreveld on James Cushing, First Letter

March 20, 2015

Dirk Barreveld is a former professor at the University of San Carlos in Cebu and once wrote for Sun.Star Cebu where I am working. He wrote to me late last year to inform me about the book on the Cebu guerrilla’s struggle in World War II. I wrote about the Cebu guerrillas when I was with The Freeman in the ’90s. Here’s Dirk’s letter:

“My name is Dirk Jan Barreveld. I used to live and work in Cebu from 1987 until 2002. That was in the Sun.Star  time of Reina Bernaldez and (Wilfredo) Veloso. Most probably we met, but to be honest I do not remember. I was involved in the Mactan International Airport renovation and reconstruction project and at the same time Professor in Economic Science at the San Carlos University. I had my own column on the Sun.Star Cebu business page for many years.

“You wrote a number of articles about Col. James M. Cushing. Well, I just finished a book about Cushing and his World War II struggles with the Japanese and his capturing of Admiral Fukudome. The book will come out next March or April under the title: Cushing’s Coup: The True Story of How Lt. Col. James M. Cushing and His Filipino Guerrillas Captured a Japanese Admiral and Changed the Course of the Pacific War. It will be published by the American publishing house Casemate Publishers.

“For Cebu it will be a major chance to be put on the world map.”


Edsa 1 Not a Beginning

February 27, 2013

COMMEMORATING Edsa 1, or the first People Power uprising, always generates conflicting views instead of just being remembered as our best moment as a people. Two points there: repetitiveness and politics.
The date the uprising broke out surfaces once every year, and the number of times its narrative has been retold, including this year, a total of 26 times already. There have been attempts to present different angles and provide the narrative with additional details, but the repetitiveness in rituals invites the feeling of monotony in some people.
Also, the uprising was mainly a political act, thus it has been viewed using different politically colored lenses.
The general view of the uprising has shifted with the pendulum-like swing in the political standpoint of the majority. Progressive thought permeated in the few years after the uprising, thus the good vibes Edsa 1 generated. The shift to a moderate and even conservative stance (punctuated by the reacquisition of political influence by the Marcoses) has prompted a reinterpretation, even revision, of the Edsa 1 narrative.
Relative to this is the use of Edsa as a marker from where the country’s march to the present is being viewed and assessed. The tendency is to attribute the success or failings of the country post-Edsa to the realization or non-realization of the uprising’s supposed goals.
Perhaps, Edsa would be better viewed as the culmination of a struggle and not as a beginning of a process. A big chunk of those who joined the uprising did so because they wanted to topple the “hated” dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. They might have seen the outline of a democracy restored, but it was secondary to the main goal.
Edsa 1 was mainly about the toppling of a dictatorship. In this sense, it should be celebrated in a positive light, as a success.
This is what makes the remembrance relevant. As for how the democracy and the country was rebuilt after that, or what happened to this country almost three decades after Edsa, that can be considered a separate and continuing narrative whose end we still have to see.
Edsa 1 was the culmination of a process. The new process it ushered, that of making democracy work fully, is up to us and the coming generations to bring into a successful conclusion.

(I wrote this for Sun.Star Cebu (Editorial, Feb. 27, 2013)

While I Was Sleeping

June 4, 2010

The problem with taking a respite from the task of updating this blog is that a stupid comment poster takes over. As I said before, I want the sharing of ideas in this blog to be on the level. Yet there is this virus who insist on introducing garbage comments and childish ranting in this site. Kapoy ra bag delete aning baho nga basura.

I understand that some comment posters are interested in my article about World War II. Those who are asking me about certain personalities and places (Hill 22?), sorry but I am not an expert in these matters. You can check with the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos if you are in Cebu.

It’s good that relatives of the late mayor and poet Rene Amper are posting comments in the article I wrote about his death. Through it, we have been enlightened about the man’s life. I hope relatives of the other late poet, Temistokles Adlawan, will also find time to comment.

I have returned. Hopefully I can post new articles and materials soon.

Cerge Remonde

January 28, 2010

A few months before I married Edizza in 1999, I met Joy, a Cerge Remonde relative and former dyLA secretary. “Niingon to si Cerge nga masuko siya kun dili nimo siya himoong ninong sa kasal,” she said. Actually, we had considered him as our wedding sponsor even without the reminder. But that was typical Cerge,

Cerge wasn’t in Malacañang yet at that time but he was busy with his work and other activities that went with his being a popular broadcaster and media leader. Besides, the wedding date, Dec. 18, was too close to his birthday, Dec. 21. So while we didn’t expect him to be there at the wedding, we listed him as one of the sponsors nevertheless.

Indeed, we didn’t see Cerge’s shadow during the ceremony, but I was surprised when he did pass by at the reception that was held at the back of the church in Sitio Laray, Barangay San Roque, Talisay. He was smiling when he shook our hands. “Tan-awa, di ba niari gyod ko,” he said, obviously proud of what he did. Again typical Cerge,

I first met Cerge when I decided to go back to society’s mainstream after months of “rehabilitation” in the early ‘90s. I was in need of work but was an undergrad. I had worked part-time in dyLA before and had trained at the then Broadcast Production and Training Center. I thought I had a chance of landing a job if I applied in that radio station.

DyLA then could be described as a Cerge Remonde-Leo Lastimosa organization. Cerge was the manager and popular radio commentator while Leo was the news director and popular broadcast journalist. Both were intimidating to a work applicant like me. Besides, Cerge had gained a reputation as leader of the anti-communist movement.

When I went to the radio station, I therefore made sure I brought with me a note from a military official vouching for my “rehab.” Cerge read the note then referred me to Leo. I actually expected the cold treatment. Fortunately, Leo was more accommodating and recommended that I start work immediately. That jump-started my media career.

I didn’t know that it was the waning weeks of the Cerge-Leo partnership. Just when I was transferred from desk work to the field as City Hall beat reporter in 1991, Leo would be “pirated” by dyRF, leaving Cerge to scramble in looking for a replacement. And weeks after I was designated as news director, Cerge himself left to join politics.

That also marked the beginning of the end of my stint in dyLA. Cerge ran for the congressional post in Cebu City’s north district against the formidable Raul del Mar in 1992. That meant an OIC had to take over as station manager. When Cerge lost his bid, he was not allowed to go back to his dyLA job but was instead assigned to Manila.

Meanwhile, the OIC initiated changes that tended to scuttle dyLA’s reputation as news and public affairs station. Threats of retrenchment followed. I stood by the reporters and vowed to resign if any one of them was fired. When Cerge visited Cebu, he told us to stay put because he was finding ways to return as station manager. But things came to a head fast. I was eventually forced to quit.

When Cerge stood as sponsor in my wedding, memories of my foray into broadcast journalism were receding. I also met him only in rare instances. The linkage would continue to weaken, especially during his stint in Malacañang. But that did not mean my appreciation of him had been scuttled. Reports of his passing yesterday therefore saddened me. May he rest in peace.
(This came out in my January 20, 2010 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)

The Year 2009

January 7, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No, I am not referring to the Charles Dickens masterpiece but to 2009 and the country. If this were a kind of travel, this was one hell of a trip for us. Who would have thought that events that happened in the past 12 months would include those that straddled two extremes?

Interestingly, 2009 is in the end part of the first decade of the Third Millennium. I remember us a decade ago welcoming the entry of the new century with all the hoopla and hope attached to major milestones. By the time we reached 2009, however, it became increasingly apparent that we are into more of the same, especially in a country living in a continuing past.

So we may have to accept the reality that the past year and the coming one is not really about the old and the new but is merely, for our country, a continuation of the process of being. But I may have waxed philosophical for several sentences already, so back to the “best of times, worst of times” thing.

Two points stand out in 2009, and I am not talking about the constant, which is the unfortunate way President Arroyo has been handling this country’s affairs and the allegations of corruption hounding her administration. The first point that I may have to start off with is about the worst events of 2009, or should we say events that are worse than the usual “worsts” of past years.

Here, the Maguindanao massacre stands out. The murder of 57 people by members of the powerful Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao is considered the worst election-related violence in the country in decades for several reasons, among them being the brutality of its execution and the number and the kind of personalities executed.

The suspects also included high-ranking officials of local government units, policemen and members of civilian volunteer organizations. The weapons used in the killing and the equipment used in the attempt to hide the crime included government procured firearms and a Maguindanao government-owned back hoe. The victims were women members of a rival clan, two lawyers and 30 journalists.

The worst climate-brought tragedy in decades was the the flooding in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon in 2009 brought about by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. Ondoy brought six-feet floods in Metro Manila in only thirty minutes while Pepeng brought about killer landslides in Northern Luzon. Scenes of families huddled in rooftops surrounded by brownish water will remain for long.

Lest I be accused of mentioning only the “worse worsts,” 2009 also provided us with the “better bests.” There was Manny Pacquiao with his masterful performance in defeating some of the world’s renowned boxers in Ricky Hatton of Britain and Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico. In the process he won an unprecedented seven world titles in seven divisions and became the toast of the boxing world.

And we did produce other heroes that caught international attention, like Efren Peñaflorida, awarded by the international media giant CNN as its Hero of the Year for 2009. Construction worker Muelmar Magallanes, who died while saving 30 people at the height of typhoon Ondoy, was among Time Magazine’s Top 10 Heroes of the year.

We don’t know what 2010 and the new decade will bring us. Elections will be held in May of that year and the hope is that governance will change for the better with the Arroyo administration finally out. The economy? Peace and order? Climate? Let’s just hope for the best.

(I wrote this for my January 1, 2010 “Candid Thoughts” column for Sun.Star Cebu)

Yuletide Perspectives

December 26, 2009

I used to sit alone on top of the Cebu City mountains on moonlit nights just to immerse myself in the vastness of nature. When the terrain is bald, you see the rough hillsides gradually fall down to the darkness that are the rivers and creeks and then rise up again going up to the other peaks. The mystery deepens with the gray of the surrounding.

Above you, the stars, millions of them, assert themselves even with the moon lighting up the usual brooding blue of the sky. The white orb looks flat at first glance, but becomes three-dimensional once probed deeper. The moon has been there through time, titillating limited minds with the inscrutability of its existence. Mine was no different.

Man has always been puny but often wallows in the illusion of power created by its communities. When you are in the metropolis surrounded by man-made structures and gadgetry, you lose sight of the ethereal and the universal. That is why I always cherish the moments when I commune with the earth and the heavens and be other than human.

One of my better recollections of Christmas happened in one of the mountains overlooking the city. In the village called Patayng Yuta nights take over early and the farmers immediately fall prey to its spell, even on Christmas eves. One time, I just decided to climb the hilltop to watch ignited pyrotechnics rise above the city lights.

I could not recall now how long I sat there. The midnight air was biting despite my thick jacket and my alone-ness added to the coldness that permeated the thick mix of grasses, bushes and trees. But time seemed to fly by as my thought drifted from the man-made—the family left behind, city life, etc.—to the profound—nature, God and creation.

I grew up spending my Christmases in the comfort of home and neighbors. In Sitio Kawayan where I grew up, we children would go caroling, light firecrackers or just watch our elders in their festive mood. In that kind of celebration, the communal is the props. And often, the Christ in Christmas is lost in the passing, though we don’t admit it.

At the back of our present home is a hill topped by towers of two telecom firms. I haven’t climbed the hill at night and don’t intend to do it now. Spending a moment alone in the yard tonight and feeling the cold air on the face while watching the stars would be enough to put in perspective this age-old celebration. A Merry Christmas to one and all!

(I wrote this for my December 24, 2009 Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu)

Misa de Gallo

December 16, 2009

I miss the Misa de Gallo. Every Christmas, I promise to attend at least one of these dawn masses but always end up short. No way could I force myself now to wake up at 4 a.m. when I sleep past 12 midnight. But I have fond memories of the ritual, etched in my mind when I was young and when work and family had still to be my preoccupation.

In an age of change, people of my generation may have to be thankful that the Filipino version of the Misa de Gallo has not yet been taken over by commercialization and twisted by foreign influences, like what is happening to the celebration of the Kalag-kalag in large urban centers of the country. I dread to see my kids talk Halloween instead.

One of my early Cebuano short stories published in the old Sun.Star Weekend was on the “sungkaan.” It was about a father who tried teaching his children the rudiments of the game and to enjoy it like he did when he was younger. Eventually, though, his kids found computer games more exciting. Signs of the times, actually.

My recollection of the very early misa de gallo I was in is hazy, but I reckon it was in Argao town where we lived for a few years when my father was assigned there as a Pepsi-Cola salesman. I remember the church, the people and the delicacies (puto or budbod and sikwate) after the mass. And, yes, the darkness of dawn in a rural milieu.

It was while growing up in Sitio Kawayan in Barangay Sambag 2, Cebu City where I developed a better understanding of the ritual and the peripheral feelings that celebrating it evokes. That was when our place was still under the Redemptorist Parish and the priests and parish workers were active in drawing us kids into church activities.

Waking up early was always a struggle, more so walking in the cold dawn air from our place to the church which was, I think, more than a kilometer away (from B. Rodriguez Ext. down to B. Rodriguez proper, crossing to Fuente Osmeña going to Mango Ave. down to Baseline, St. Theresa’s College and finally the church). We did it anyway.

This Christmas, I promise again to attend the Misa de Gallo and fulfill it. I don’t want my two boys to grow up losing a feel of a practice that partly shaped the lives of their parents when they were younger. I know that change is inevitable and eventually the future generations will chart their own paths. But some things need to be handed down to our kids if only to help them grow up to become good Christians.

(I wrote this for my December 17, 2009 Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu)