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)

Song Lyrics to Appreciate

December 15, 2009

One of the reasons why the popular “Bisrock” genre is dying is because the Cebuano rock bands failed to appreciate the importance of lyrics in crafting songs. Many of them just couldn’t get out of what has become the formulaic lyrics with double meanings and vulgar songs.

Poetry in the lyrics makes the song timeless. Consider some of my favorites:

“Burnt out ends, of smoky days. The stale, cold smell of morning. A street lamp dies, another night is over. Another day is dawning.” (From the song “Memory,” version of Barry Manilow.)

“And when it seems my dreams have all slipped through my fingers, when they just can’t be found, I turned around and there they are, shining in her eyes.”
(From “Come What May” by Air Supply)

“I wanna lay you down in a bed of roses, for tonight, I sleep in a bed of nails.”
(From “Bed of Roses” by Bon Jovi)

“Matud nila, ikaw dili malipay kay wa akoy bahandi nga kanimo igasa. Gugmang putli mao ray pasalig, maoy bahanding labaw sa bulawan.”
(From “Matud Nila” by Ben Zubiri)

“Daw dahon nga laya, napulak, napadpad. Sama sa damgo nga, sa pagmata, nahanaw.”
(From “Dahon nga Laya” written by Saturnino Villarino)

There are many other samples. You can add yours if you want.

Colon at Night 2

December 14, 2009

I like the inputs of some readers of this blog to the article about Colon. This just means this blog attracts educated and profound readers that makes discussion of subjects interesting.

Near that strip at the corner of Colon and Osmena Blvd. is the corner of Colon and Pelaez Sts. and a few meters away the corner of Pelaez and Sanciangko Sts. In that part of Pelaez are two hotels and some night spots. I usually pass that area to and from Colon.

Pimps and prostitutes are regular fare there at night. At the night spots you often see Caucasians who are most probably clients of the hotel. They can be mostly seen with local women, obviously picked up from among the prostitutes in the place.

I sometimes see a few of the Caucasians at certain times making conversation with young boys that looked like street children. My worry, of course, is that these kids would be victimized by pedophiles.

It was in Pelaez at night that I saw for the first time this cart pushed by a man that sold a kind of seafood in a shell. It must be already cooked and the hard portion had to be broken before the meat could be eaten or brought home. I reckon that it was expensive, but the enticement could be that it was an aphrodisiac.

Colon and its neighboring streets have the look that gives strangers the creeps at night. But that is only on the surface. Tarry longer and the uneasiness disappears.

Not About Mindanao’s Gun Culture

December 11, 2009

As if the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao was not shocking enough, in come the seizures of hoarded armaments in mind-boggling number in this Ampatuan clan enclave. So what kind of monster has the Arroyo administration created in Maguindanao? As days pass, I am getting convinced government has to be put to task for this chaos.

The latest find in the Ampatuan warehouse in Shariff Aquak could meet the needs of a battalion of soldiers, Lt. Col. Michael Samson, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Maguindanao told the Inquirer. Another large cache was dug up days ago in a vacant lot in Ampatuan town. The number of seized guns just continues to grow.

If that doesn’t amaze you, here’s a rundown of the warehouse items seized: 6,500 rounds of ammo for M14 assault rifles, 134 propeller missiles for 81 mm mortar, 131 propeller missiles for 60 mm mortar, six rockets for 90 mm recoilless rifles, three rocket warheads for an MG 520 attack helicopter and 92 rockets for 57 mm recoilless rifles.

A simplistic military description of the listed missiles and ammunition found in the warehouse: sufficient to obliterate a small town. No wonder they were “stunned.” Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command said that the Ampatuan private army could dwarf the other similar groups in the country.

How were they able to amass such a large cache of military hardware, most of them “Department of National Defense” issues, thus allowing then to arm a private force with an estimated 2,000 fighters? Why the obsession for sophisticated firearms? And will recent actions be enough to disable the monster the Arroyo government created?

Those armaments took years to accumulate and were either bought or supplied by the government. Consider the linkage between warlordism and control of local political power. The Ampatuan army is composed of civilian volunteer organization members under the police and military that are in turn subservient to the Ampatuans in office.

A big chunk of the cache could also have been bought, which brings us to the evil that is graft and corruption. No doubt about the wealth of the Ampatuans, as shown by those palatial homes that are anomalies in a poor province like Maguindanao. The clan’s riches are still being audited and I`m sure government coffers are among their sources.

Corruption is also obviously what made possible the transfer of the ownership of the DND armaments to private hands. If so, the Ampatuans must have spent a fortune on them and those in the military must have earned a tidy sum. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think about collusion from military higher-ups, judging from the hardware involved.

Gun culture has often been mentioned as the reason for the propensity of Muslim area residents to procure firearms for personal use. I have heard stories of how farmers in some Mindanao towns till their fields with M-16s slung across their backs. But that culture is abetted by government tolerance, which makes our laws on guns laughable.

What the military and police are currently doing against the Ampatuans shows that firearms, at least in Maguindanao, can be seized and warlords can be put to heel if government just puts its mind to it. It’s not about gun culture, then, or even about clan wars and ridos. It’s about government enforcing our laws no matter who gets hurt.

(I wrote this for my December 11, 2009 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)

Tem Adlawan: A Poet’s Death

December 8, 2009

NOT many people know Temistokles “Tem” Adlawan outside of Cebu’s literary circles, but that does not mean his passing should go unnoticed. Tem had his Ernest Hemingway moment, choosing to end his life by himself. He was 79. No, he did not shoot himself with a gun. He was calm like Socrates after drinking the hemlock.

Januar, my fellow columnist and literary writer, rushed to a Cebu City hospital when he heard about what happened to Tem. The scene surrounding his death as pictured by his relatives was tragic as it was fiction-like. But he was already sickly, said Josua, cartoonist and literary writer. His eyes were problematic and he could no longer write.

For writers, the pen is a weapon against life’s tests. When I was under solitary confinement years ago, I asked my captors to provide me pen and paper. I don’t know if my sanity would have survived that ordeal without the things that I later referred to as “my crutch.” Writing helped Tem survive a lonely existence in his twilight years.

I met Tem for the first time at a University of the Philippines creative writing workshop held in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s landing site in Palo, Leyte in the late ‘90s. He was the oldest fellow and the most respected Cebuano writer in the workshop.

Tem was a widower and a part-time habal-habal driver and his folksy ways were noticeable. What I immediately observed in Tem was his love for anything creative. He told me how he would get a high every time he cracks a well-concocted metaphor in a poem he is reading. It caught me off-guard and made me re-assess the efforts I poured in writing my literary pieces. I realized then that I was dealing with an extraordinary writer.

But writing in this country does not pay our bills. Tem got national recognition for his Cebuano poems and yet continued to struggle to eke out a living in Naga. I once visited him in his small hillside hut in Pangdan and his sole cherished possession there, aside from his motorcycle, was the rickety typewriter that documented his genius.

Fellow writers, especially members of the Bathalan-ong Halad sa Dagang, will pay their last respects to a man whose works we appreciated, aptly through a poetry reading. I don’t know if I will be able to go there considering the schedules I have to meet. But personal presence won’t matter if homage transcends physical bounds.

To Tem, may your soul rest in peace now.

(I wrote this for my November 18 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)

Tunnel in Sudlon (Gochan Hill)

December 7, 2009

I was sifting through my file when I chanced upon a small message sent by former ambassador Esteban T. Gochan on October 21, 1994 yet. It was about his reaction to an article wherein I mentioned a tunnel in Sudlon, Lahug, Cebu City.

I recall writing about a World War II-vintage tunnel located near the top of a hill just above the now Ecotech Center. The last time I was there was in the ’80s yet when one time we held a discussion session there. The hole was spacious enough and was long, although we were not able to survey its entire length.

We brought bamboo lamps (sulo) inside to illuminate us while we pored over some reading materials. We used to joke about what happened after: our nostrils ended up blackened with soot. I don’t know what happened to that hill and to that tunnel now.

Here’s Gochan’s letter, which I want to save in this blog or it could get lost through time:

“I thought perhaps you might want to know a bit more about the tunnel in Sudlon hills that you described in the second item of your article in today’s (October 21, 19940 issue of The Freeman.

“The tunnel was dug by remnants of the Japanese troops stationed in the Sudlon area during the last stage of World War II in preparation for their defense. In fact it took all of two days–from March 24 to March 25, 1945—for the mopping-up operation of the American troops to clear the tunnel of Japanese snipers holed up inside.

“The encounter was later known as ‘The Battle of Gochan Hill, so-called because the hill used to belong to my late father, Felix Gochan. In the first quarter of the century, a lighthouse stood on the hill to guide incoming ships sailing past the towns of Liloan and Consolacion through the channel on to the Cebu harbor. The lighthouse must have been destroyed in the early period of the war.

“The hill no longer belongs to us. But since my house is located at the foot of that hill, we have come to call our residential compound ‘The Gochan Hill’ (in Camputhaw, Lahug).”

Pier Uno

December 6, 2009

I finally set foot inside the JSU-PSU Mariners Court at Pier 1 for the San Miguel Corp. party for media people on December 4. Going there triggered memories of my early days in the profession.

I was still in college when I started working part-time for radio station dyLA. I think that was in 1979 after I trained at the now defunct Broadcast Production Training Center. The dyLA studio was at the Arellano Boulevard site in the Associated Labor Union’s Ybarrita Hall.

DyLA later transferred in the early ’80s to the Vimcontu Building at the other side of Pier 1 near the Waterfront Police Station. I worked there in 1981 starting as a news transcriber and later as reporter and finally news director. I quit when I had a conflict when then station manager Emil Fortuna.

The JSU-PSU building stands in the area that was once partly a tennis court. That means that it drastically changed the landscape of the compound. The Vimcontu building already looks incongruous in this setup. DyLA has transferred to the JSU-PSU building.

The third floor window had a good view of a portion of the pier. I was reminded that I used to spend a good amount of time traveling to my home place Camotes. I miss those days. I miss the salty smell of the sea and miss just watching the waves roll.