Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The moon on the perigee...and Einstein

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
June 7, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

TO stand rapt in awe, to always wonder that though heavenly bodies are untacked they behave in a manner more sensible than those I voted for in the recent elections. These were whirlings on my mind when I watched the earth cast its shadow on the surface of the moon. Einstein’s words, etched on my mind, pained me to have felt all this without being able to pen my feelings.

I’m glad am back. I lost this space for sometime now. It had to go, shelved, canned! It pained because it was the only space that made for logical writing. The rest was outright madness. The rest of the pieces I did were like playing jigsaw puzzle, trying hard to fit one piece of detail just to complete a form. This space gave me the freedom to read and write about the world the way I see, feel, hear, touch and taste it.

“The most beautiful thing we can witness is the mysterious. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; eyes closed.” Physicist and father of relativity, Albert Einstein, said.

It is believed that man has inhabited planet Earth for some two million years, probably longer. Yet even now that he is able to conquer disease, wield vast destructive power and even reach out to his planetary neighbors, man remains divided on the most vital questions: Is there a God? Is God male or female, or both? What is human life? What is its purpose? What is its significance, its ultimate destiny? And if there can be found any answers to the seemingly endless tangle of questions confronting us, those answers should satisfy all religions, all philosophies, all sciences, all peoples.

To stand rapt in awe. To always be mesmerized. To never stop believing of the possibility of another life form other than us in this universe, and of other universes alongside our own. As good as dead. As good as being a vegetable. As good as nothing.

Dead people don’t question, dead people
don’t think anymore of the future, dead people can never be pleased by the small rewards of life. Dead people are not taken aback by the ebbs and flows of tide, by the twittering of birds, by the rapping of tropical rain, by an awesome sunset.

It was just one moon. One good old moon cast upon by the earth’s shadow. Maybe nothing spectacular about it anymore as lunar eclipses are natural phenomena. But for a time, my life stood still. I was out there on the street looking up at the sky outside my working place, rapt in awe, admiring a cloudless sky, a rotund moon momentarily darkened by our planet’s shadow. For a time, I forgot about how agonizing life can become in this country, divided by contradicting ideologies. For a while, I felt some sense of renewal awash my soul.

There was one harvest moon and an old fellow Einstein to inspire me for this comeback, for this space I thought I had already lost to cost-cutting measures.©

Linkin' is comin'

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
June 14, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

This column is at an advantage coming out on a Monday, the youth issue, because I have long wanted to deal on the issues of this particular sector. Lemme start with the way parents are reacting to our youth swooning to nu or speed metal and hooked to the grooowwwling stuff in their MP3s.

The youth’s admiration for Linkin’ Park of Hybrid Theory (2000) and Meteora (2003) fame stems from moving about in their angst-ridden world.

Linkin’ is coming for its Meteora Tour in Manila, tomorrow, June 15. Your adolescent children will be trooping to ticketrons, grabbing a place in a river of all-standing, head-banging audience to get a glimpse of Chester Bennington (vocals), Roub Bourdon (drums), Brad Delson (guitars), Phoenix Farrell (bass), Mike Shinoda (emcee, vocals, sampling) with Joseph Hahn (records, sampling).
Refrain from casting aspersions. Linkin doesn’t even use any curses or swear-words in its lyrics.

Instead of pumpin’ up your inner volume, why not take a trip down Meteora lane, splice up some song lines, focus on the music’s fibers. Music mirrors a nation’s psyche. The lyrics assault a filthy world that is slowly choking our youth. Hear them despise parental shortcomings. Listen to their complaints on some elders who haven’t given them examples worthy of respect and emulation. Our young people are responding to stimuli.

The youth find it Easier to Run: "Sometimes I remember/the darkness of my past/ bringing back these memories/I wish I didn’t have/sometimes I think of letting go/and never looking back/and never moving forward/so there would never be a past."

Do you think our youth rejoice in our leader’s decision on crucial issues affecting the nation’s future? About the things this country reaped after the recent electoral exercise? Have we noticed that many of them are slowly losing their nationalist pride?

Most of our children are facing helplessness (broken families, deterioration of cultural and family values, widespread corruption in the education system), displacement-misplacement (tired of seeing family exported to some foreign labor forces, work opportunities are scarce, so are concrete programs on development of technical skills and the proper forum for healthy discussions and debates on their topmost concern—sex and sexuality). Numbness replaces pain, teaching them that retreat is so much easier than facing the issues squarely.

And so they take everything From the Inside: "I take everything from the inside/and throw it all away/‘cause I swear/for the last time/I won’t trust myself with you."

Our youth aren’t that dumb to trust their future in a government that is not even so sure of its direction, or to entrust their pride to a nation adrift and decaying.

Linkin' Park is coming. Should the elders smirk at how our youth swoon to the music they find too loud? Should they sneer at such genre of music the young ones find appealing?

Linkin’ is the amplification of our young children’s stories, issues, concerns. Most of the time, the youth have been seen, but never heard. Now, they growl and they scream against the numbness in the world. Why are the parents complaining?

Our young people are just screaming back at us for things we could have taught them gently. They have found in our raised voices the wrong way of commanding respect; of trails we could have blazed for them but never had the time; of paths we could have bushwhacked if only we sincerely cared.

And they sang Numb: "I’ve become so numb/I can’t feel you there/I become so tired/so much more aware/I’m becoming this/All I want to do/is be more like me/and be less like you."

Our youth definitely want to be heard! And taken seriously.©

Appreciating doughnuts and bahaw

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
June 21, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

THE northeastern ranges of Mt.Magdiwata in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, were deep green that morning of June 14. Covered with mist, they seem to tell me exploring three caves out of literally a hundred for the 2nd Datu Lipus Makapandong Caving Adventure would not only be cloudy but would also be wet and muddy. Hosted by the San Francisco Mountaineers Club in line with the Naliyagan Festival that highlights the Agusanons’ history and culture, the trek was tricky.

But am ready for the rain and the mud and the snakes and bats – sights, sounds, experiences a spelunker finds rewarding. I love the thought of heavy rain falling down on us participants, on our guides – the datus or purok leaders and lumads and government officials. Moving about inside the forests of Agusan with the pelting rain on us could be a chillin’ but beautiful story.

It never dawned on me that completing a 20-kilometer walk from one cave to the next and going back to town via a Manobo tribal village, passing by the provincial capital of Prosperidad, and surviving it all with one and a half pieces of handed down doughnuts and the thought of ambushing one man’s kitchen in search for "bahaw" (left-over rice) would be the real story. It carried a lesson.

Before the walk to the first cave began, we were briefed that San Franz has literally a hundred caves. That we have to belly-crawl, slither and walk through three of these.

Seemed to me, I had waited for eternity to experience an adventure this extreme. I couldn't seem to wait for that moment I would be in Magdiwata’s belly.

Then we came to Aningaw Cave, the Manobo term for “echo”. The cave is characterized by big chambers made more awesome by century-old stalactite and stalagmite formations. Then, there was the Sinking Cave, one with a vertical passageway where one caver is at the mercy of the rope. And then the Datu Anawa Kalipay Cave, also known as the Inepan cave (from the Manobo term “inepan” which means “subterranean").

I’ll be telling more of these stupendous caves in a future article. Meantime, back to the experience of getting hunger pangs inside the forest. My buddy Ronnie Chris Animo of San Franz shoved from his pack three pieces of apple and cherry-glazed doughnuts. And there I was mesmerized by those sweet salvation of a grumbling tummy.

Am never a fan of doughnuts but those sweet round things given to me by an acquaintance to appease hunger pangs marked the entire experience. What could be more beautiful than sharing three pieces of doughnuts with my buddy at the heart of the forest of the Magdiwata Ranges in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur? Of course, I didn’t grab everything. Ronnie Chris demanded for a system: "hating-kapatid!"

After that, we came across children going home from school. I said: “houses aren’t that far away anymore. There must be somebody’s kitchen we can ambush for a piece of bahaw”.

Some of our companions who went ahead of us were already resting on the verandah of one house in the Manobo tribal community. I immediately asked the owner if I could ask for some "bahaw" to go with Ronnie Chris’ can of corned beef. The man ordered us to check the cauldrons. Ronnie Chris and I rushed to the dirty kitchen and opened pans, cauldrons and pots to seek for anything edible.

Ronnie Chris ran to this variety store where he was able to buy three packs of bread. I took all the "bahaw." One of our guides opened the can of corned beef for me. He found me pale and trembling and I told him am dead tired and famished, ready to gobble up anything that would pacify my hunger.

After getting a good night's sleep, my mind kept drifting to the thought of the doughnuts I never cared for on the previous day's experience. Sure, there are things you wouldn’t give a second look because you never find the tiniest importance in them...yet. But when tides turn, you find these unimportant things your only key to survival. Then I thought of Ronnie Chris and how he had extended not only a hand, but the wrist-to-wrist assistance – the trademark of how mountaineers take good care of people who share with them the same passion.

Ah! The wonders mountaineering taught me! I look forward to more doughnuts and "bahaw" manifesting their significance in more lives as each of us gracefully take our course... a day at a time.©

Making sense of sex

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
June 28, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

MY online buddy iceman_00, who’s into computer studies, dropped a note in my email box days after my first article for this column saw print. His letter went: “…please talk on contraceptives aron makahibalo nang mga youth nato ron unsaon nga mamenosan ang nangabuntis kay kulang man gud sa edukar mao nang daghan ang nangamabdos nga wala sa panahon.”

I would like to thank him for cranking up one of my addies, and I do hope that the rest of you would also be flooding my wild_pechay@yahoo.com e-box. I would be very glad to hear from you.

Certainly iceman_00 raised one of general concerns of the youth not only of this age but way, way before this generation had come to experience sexual awakening. But to talk about contraceptives is not my forté because the idea of contraceptives in itself has failed to impress me.

Unwanted pregnancies and teen motherhood are not direct results of the failure to digest sex education. These circumstances occur because the topic of human sexuality has always suffered from incredible ignorance, confusion and misinformation; the youth become products of and prey to the social forces that have attached an irrational stigma of guilt and fear to sex.

Sex is a subject we rarely find treated directly, openly and honestly. We don’t often get the opportunity to watch normal sexual behavior. And most parents may never talk about it, ever. Of course, we have friends who tell us about “it” and have varied amounts of experience that often are clearly influenced by myths that abound in our society. And the media too are filled with stereotypes - men are pictured as sadistic aggressors and women as subhuman sex objects.

iceman_00’s note took me back to one of the sex therapists I read, Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan, author of “Making Sense of Sex”. It was from her I learned that society’s negative attitudes toward sex are more potent than ignorance in stunting the sexual and emotional lives of so many of our children.

Kaplan went, “information will merely inform, but it takes a 'heart'—an encouraging, reassuring and positive attitude—to convey to the young person the message that sex is a natural and beautiful human function.”

This message is the most active ingredient in the prevention of problems, in enhancing a person’s ability to love and to enjoy a sexual relationship.

I think to address the problem of unwanted pregnancies and teen motherhood is to give our adolescents the reassurance that their sexual feelings are normal, but that they have to respond to erotic feelings responsibly. Unfortunately, young people in our society often enter this critical period ignorant, confused and guilty about sex for the idea is not regarded by our society as a natural biological function. Sex has always been thought of as sinful, evil, and dangerous – the topic a taboo.

Youngsters should have been taught—no less than by their very own parents—that sex is a major area of vulnerability. That they should be encouraged to be sensitive to the feelings of others, and to never ever use sex destructively or exploitively.©

Food security above all

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
July 5, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

LAST WEEK, hours before Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn into office as the 14th President of the Philippine Republic, a governance strengthened by popular choice, she was seen delivering her ten-point agenda at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

Arroyo vowed tough economic reforms seen “to hurt the rich to benefit millions of poor”.As I was watching her on national television, I had fancied butting in with the line “Food security for the nation, Mrs. President. Above all”.

Agriculture is the bulwark of this country’s economy, but greater agricultural productivity has been hampered through the years by bottlenecks such as a weak technology base, price distortions, weak property rights structure, constraints on land market operations, insufficient public support services and poor governance.
Reports show that the virtual abdication of past governments from agriculture is indicated by the fact that while most of the country’s work force was employed in agriculture and the sector contributed about 21.5 percent to gross value-added, the budget allocation for agriculture in 2001 was only P12.8 billion or 3.4 percent of government spending.

Of the annual budgetary appropriations, less than 40 percent “have been historically allocated for productivity-enhancing expenditures such as irrigation, research and development, fishery extension, and other support services”.

The Bureau of Agricultural Statistics recently posted the industry’s 8.16 percent growth in the first quarter of 2004, the highest rate recorded over the past 15 years. At current prices, gross value of output reached P192 billion, up by 13.83 percent from last year’s level. This is good news, but the challenge here is to have this phenomenal growth felt by the country’s 26.5 million hungry mouths.

Arroyo won the Cebuanos’ trust because we see her as a working president. After giving her a fresh mandate, the Cebuanos are now looking forward to her decisiveness translating into programs for food security.

The nation hungers for real development programs bent on increasing the country’s capacity to be self-sufficient in food and providing land to the landless as these are linked to national security, and of government policies that do not discriminate against farmers.

Reports say the country has had rice shortages due to typhoons, flooding and drought, forcing it to import vast quantities of the staple. Her leadership must realize that conversion of agricultural lands into either subdivisions or industrial estates to skirt land reform, coupled with unsustainable farming practices like the use of chemicals, contribute further to the drop in rice production.

This leadership must also realize that without massive government financial support, there is simply no way that the Philippines can launch significant production of high value crops, much less attain comparative advantage in producing them.©

Ghurl power

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
July 12, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

GLORIA Macapagal-Arroyo has secured the Presidency; Gwendolyn Garcia takes Cebu province’s gubernatorial seat. Arroyo had the blessing of the Visayan populace. For a first-timer like Gwen, it was written upon her star.

Many women have already secured important posts in both public and private sectors, as vital as decision-making positions. Throughout history, significant women had manifested efforts to become social agents of change, empowering and inspiring generations after. Teresa Magbanua, Teodora Alonso, Marcela Agoncillo, Gabriela Silang, Josefa Llanes Escoda, Gregoria de Jesus, Melchora Aquino, among others, had left behind indelible marks.

In each of the generation unfolding, women are playing an ever more active role, assuming leadership responsibilities and taking a share from the pie of reconstruction and of building societies.

The Arroyo-Garcia phenomenon in Philippine politics must be accompanied by sustained measures that would promote ghurl power.Ghurl power is about women serving as peacemakers.

As United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan puts it: “Women must serve as peace educators, both in their families and in their societies; must be instrumental in building bridges instead of walls, of making quantum leaps from lives in the private sphere to leading the way in reshaping a society through democratic tools.”

Women leaders today are expected to study local, national and international affairs in depth, to be most articulate and committed global citizens negotiating peace. They should pursue intensive development programs with longstanding commitment to social justice, human rights, ethnic and or racial equality, and peace. Programs that would help define the priorities of their people; and move the nation’s economic productivity by addressing persistent problems of long-term and structural unemployment and underemployment.

With the rise of more and more women securing a foothold at the threshold of governance in the country, it is hoped that they may give the work for peace credibility. It has already been said: “There will come a time when nations will be judged not by their military or economic strength, nor by the splendor of their capital cities and public buildings, but by the well-being of their people, by their levels of health, nutrition and education; by their opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labors; by their ability to participate in the decisions that affect their lives; by the respect that is shown for their civil and political liberties; by the provision that is made for those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged; and by the protection that is afforded to the growing minds and bodies of their children.”

Sure, women have this overwhelming power to transform society. Ghurl power rules!

***

CEBU-based women-climbers… errrrmmm… ghurl-climbers shone in the 2nd Datu Lipus Makapandong Climb to Mt. Magdiwata in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, when they completed a 6-hour trek to the peak, at over 2,000 feet passing by 14 waterfalls—7 are major ones—using a moderate-to-difficult trail. Marites Jumalon Arañas of Johndorf Ventures, Cerna Jagonal of The Freeman, Dowella Demetillo of Innodata, Miss Minda Jumarito of International Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and this columnist had witnessed the bounty of San Franz’ forests guarded by the hunter-god Mighty Magdiwata. Lezz do more of this, ghurlz, to promote the sport, and of our-kind-of-peace when we do bond with nature. Ghurl power rocks!©

Are the media afraid of the church?

In covering women’s health: Are the media afraid of the church?
by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
July 19, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

IN a multimedia discussion on women, religion and reproductive health initiated by Women’s Feature Service, an international wire agency reporting on women’s issues and concerns with support from the Ford Foundation, one concern of women-media practitioners became selected topic: “In covering women’s health, are the media afraid of the church?”

It has been said that "in the media, the medium is language—words (written and spoken)”. These words cause conflict because of misinterpretation, misunderstanding and miscommunication. Today, we ask the church and the media to try to see these words from the eyes of girls, ladies, women, and the world in which they live in.
Titus Brandsma Research Center, a participant to the forum, noted that “to understand the Filipino, it is important to appreciate the powerful undertones of the so-called popular religiosity. These take more and more shape recently in a great variety of non-mainstream Christian movements—a phenomenon that is especially significant because of the often-aggressive presence of sects in the media landscape”.

“The church figures often as high profile in the setting of the national agenda, and thus in the media, on certain politically sensitive issues, like in elections; in the charter change, or in the public debate on death penalty,” so goes the research.

Media practitioners are being challenged by the problems of “neutrality," that media should not go against the right of the audience to information by making the media the instrument to promote certain financial or political interests without the knowledge of the audience.

The commitment to this “neutrality” puts pressure on media practitioners. This pressure is connected with many factors, such as economic dependence, the need to make a career, time pressure (and therefore, often lack of study and research), and confusion on basic standards of decency and justice.

Domini Torrevillas, columnist of The Philippine Star, wrote that “there are many issues in which the clergy and the laity — media practitioners specifically—do not see eye to eye. But two areas which are inextricably linked that continuously stir up passionate and emotional debate are reproductive health and women’s rights.”

The term reproductive health is considered by the Catholic church as abortion, sterilization and contraception. No matter how painstakingly reproductive health advocates explain reproductive health as being neither of the three—but covering a spectrum of concerns—from maternal and child health to reproductive tract infections: HIV/AIDS; to adolescent reproductive health, abortion, men’s reproductive health, prevention of cancers and sexuality education – the church turns a deaf ear to their arguments.

Most media practitioners are Roman Catholic, but many of them feel that the church is unrealistic in its position on family planning, Torrevillas noted.

Can church and the media ever be friends? While media are expected to be fair and accurate in the reporting of events, media should also take on an adversarial role in fighting elements that refuse to accept and respect gender equality and the reproductive rights of women.

But while the choice is between the devil and the deep blue sea, it is interesting to note that Pope John Paul II spoke on this concern in the 35th World Communications Day.

The Pope said that the “Church cannot fail to be ever more deeply involved in the burgeoning world of communications because the media are having an increasing visible effect on culture and its transmission.
“The world of the media can sometimes seem indifferent and even hostile to Christian faith and morality. This is partly because media culture is so deeply imbued with a typically postmodern sense that the only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths,” the Pope adds.

“Or that, if there were, they would be inaccessible to human reasons and therefore irrelevant. Yet as much as the world of the media may at times seem at odds with the Christian message, it also offers unique opportunities for proclaiming the saving truth of Christ to the whole human family.

Consider, for instance, satellite telecast of religious ceremonies which often reach a global audience, or the positive capacities of the Internet to carry religious information and teaching beyond all barriers and frontiers.”
To sum up the inputs of the forum: “churches" should develop a pastoral presence in the media world, rather than build a counter force.©

A feel of the Asenion bug

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
August 2, 2004; posted at the www.thefreeman.com

CALL this writer’s itch—the “Asenion bug”. Lemme explain. Five hours ago before I penned down this article, I was pricked by the thought of getting my personal NS5 robot.

Yesireee, you read me right! A personal NS5 robot, not for the sole purpose of security or domestic work, but a feel of Isaac Asimov and his one great love for robotics with which the science fiction-thriller-action-adventure Will Smith-starrer “I, Robot” had drawn inspiration.

If I were teaching in school today, I would have made “I, Robot” a required viewing material for my students who I know will equally get the same burning sensation of the Asenion bug’s bites that openly attack the mind but stealthily assault the spirit, the emotions.

Well, 19th-century science-fictionist Isaac Asimov (pronounced EYE’zik AA’zi-mov) had his name misspelled when in 1939 he submitted works to Planet Stories which printed his name as “Isaac Asenion”. A friend took great delight in referring to him as “Asenion” thereafter. Later on, he referred to positronic robots (with The Three Laws) in one of his works as “Asenion” robots.

Now why would I want the youngsters to have a feel of the Asenion bug? One bite allows the audience to ponder on the call to have some sensitivity, substantiality and sensibility in humanity’s dealings with the problems of society.

The Asenion bug goes past flashy computer gimmickry and the unfathomable existence of a God or of the afterlife. It expounds on man’s responsibility for all of the problems of society as well as the great achievements throughout history. It leaves behind the sting of the hard-to-accept fact that neither good nor evil is produced by supernatural beings, and that the solution to the problems of humankind can be found without divine intervention.

This Asenion bug is a strong proponent of scientific reasoning, adamantly opposed creationists, religious zealots, pseudo-sciences and mysticism. But this doesn’t mean that Asimov opposed genuine religious feeling in others. The bug will show that he is an atheist, alright, but he wouldn’t want superstition to masquerade as religion either. He still had a great interest in the Bible, and wrote several books about it, most notable are the two-volume Asimov’s Guide to the Bible and The Story of Ruth.

And well, the Asenion bug pricks us with the fact that robots have become inevitable because we crave to have them to co-exist with us. Whether these machines are destructive as we might program them to have the power to wage a war against us, or whether they are safe as they are non-rational, the main concern here is how far would our inventions lead us. How much good will our quest to develop and integrate artificial intelligence do in our lives?

The Asenion bug bit me. There’s so much more to ALEC (Access Linkage to Electronic Computers of the Compu-Wiz Series), to DARYL (Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform of Terminator I), to VIKI (Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence) and Sonny both of I, Robot. Indeed, there is so much power in man’s imagination, but there is also sanity that we have to properly harness to preserve ourselves.©

Sabang Gibong Community: Waterworld

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
August 9, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

THE Naliyagan Festival of the province of Agusan del Sur brought over thirty youngsters to the Agusan Marshland as part of the 2nd Datu Lipus Macapandong Climb, Caving and Marshland Adventure which is one of the highlights of the said festivity.

I believe the province prefer the young to be there because of our infectious adventurous spirit. It is indeed an honor to be part of that crowd because only those who are proverbial children in their hearts could rejoice at the sights of purple herons, of water lilies and water spinachs; of floating huts and of visitor-waving kids at a humble waterworld settlement - the Sabang Gibong community.

The participants maneuvered in the snaking, writhing Agusan river on a three-hour motor banca ride, painting expectations on river water the color of mocha; entertaining the hope of visiting seven lakes within the marshland; and, of course, the experience to see upclose some endemic crocodile species like the Crocodylus porosus and the Crocodylus mindorensis, as well as the snailfin lizard which is also endemic in the area.

The Agusan Marshland is one of the biggest wetlands in Asia, in terms of area, that is about 19,196.558 hectares. It is the wintering ground of the migratory water and wetland birds from the Southeast Asia Region, taking the East Asian Flyway to Australia. It is also host to a wide array of rare, threatened and endangered species and is considered the most significant wetland in the Philippines.

Found in the middle of the Agusan River Basin, the Agusan Marsh is the third largest river basin the country, within the municipalities of San Francisco, Loreto, La Paz, Veruela and Rosario.

There are about 33 species of flowering plants found at the Agusan Marsh and a total of 102 bird species were identified by the 1991 wetland survey team. Among the endangered bird species found in the area are the oriental darter (Anhinga melonogaster) and the purple heron (Area purpurea).

The marshland is also noted for its high population of wandering whistling ducks (Dendrocygna arcuata) and small fruit bats. There are also 22 lizard species and seven snake species including the reticulater phyton and the Philippine cobra (Naja naja).

The tour provided vital information on how important wetlands are to the ecosystem, how they are classified and how they are affected by human intrusion. Freshwater wetlands can be classified into swamps, marshes, prairie potholes and bogs.

Above all, the trip to the Agusan marshland showcased the simplicity of the Sabang Gibong dwellers who delight in their mudfish-drying industry.

These are people who possess a more infectious spirit, people who delight in their utter contentment and who revel in their waterworld, one that gives and provides them a life and sustains that life abundantly. (/30)

Youth in an intergenerational society

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
August 16, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

ONE of the most important pieces I delivered as an orator back in high school was on the International Youth Year. As far as my memory could take me, my line blazing with youthful idealism went went: “The international youth year emphasizes primary importance on what the youth can do towards active participation in nation building. Ask any youth what he can do for a better government, he will request you: Direct and I will obey, guide and I will follow”.

August 12 was declared International Youth Day. By choosing “Youth in an intergenerational society” for a theme, the United Nations reportedly wants to stress the importance of solidarity between generations at all levels - in families, communities, and nations.

United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan points out that in the future, the interdependence of younger and older people would increase. Youth development is a prerequisite to meeting the growing care demands of older people, and a condition for the development of society as a whole.

It maybe true that today’s society is the youngest ever, at almost 50% of the world’s population as 25 years or under, but Annan says “societies are slowly aging”.

An estimate shows that by 2050, the population of people older than 65 will have almost quadrupled, while the proportion of children will have declined by a third. This estimate implies that by the middle of this century, the old and the young will represent an equal share of the world’s population.

What is asked of today’s youth is not only to be cool, but to be very, very cool! And being cool is to take to heart intergenerational issues such as participation in an aging society where youth development is a necessity to meet the growing demands of the older population and to take a role in related voluntary works.

Another is having an intergenerational perspective on HIV and AIDS as these are youth problems too. With five new victims per minute, young people are the most effected by the epidemic. And unlike most diseases, HIV and AIDS are reported generally to kill not just one, but both parents. Millions of children are orphaned as a result of AIDS. Grandparents are often tasked with the care of their grandchildren. And many youth with HIV and AIDS suffer from the stigma and the discrimination from outside and within their families.

Above all, the youth of today are called to combat transmission of poverty from one generation to the next. In combating poverty, generations within families depend on each other. Without interventions related to education, health and employment, poverty tends to deepen when one gets older.

The band P.O.D’s carrier track blurted out the anthem “We know we are the youth of the nation”. It may be well applauded. But the real and cool score should be “We are! We are! Yes, we are the youth, and we take responsibility for those who came before us.We are not only youths of this nation, but of the world!”

Our hopes, our views, the kind of life we will choose will have a domino effect on other sectors of society we must learn to live interdependently with.(/30)

Chalk dust in Siam

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
August 23, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

CHERUBIC Fabela is a Filipina grade school teacher in Thailand. She popped up on main room of Cebu Tambayan 6, one of few chat rooms I frequent, introduced to me by another chat mate in Dubai as Bicchuchu.
We exchanged pleasantries online and later figured out we come from the same grade school—Andres Soriano Memorial School—de la Salle in barangay Don Andres Soriano, Toledo City.

From our four-hour conversation till the break of dawn, I learned that Bicchuchu left the Philippines for obvious reasons —to escape poverty, to find self fulfillment, and to experience career development.

I posed Bicchuchu a challenge. There is nothing ever more special to a teacher than the chalk she utilizes to gain command over an illiterate world. But I think there is nothing more important too than the chalk dust that make up for the entirety of the chalk.

You see when I was young, I also considered the teaching stint. But a joke about teachers hurt much too much: “Maestra? TB-hon, sige hanggap ug abog sa chalk”. Oh, chalk dust! They are like cinders in space. Without dust there couldn’t be any heavenly body, I suppose. There has to be minute parts to create one big mass.
Chalk dust—like the atom in each molecule. Dust holds and/or fastens every particle of a youth’s dream; gives that dream the possibility to soar under one sky. Dust from a teacher’s chalk inspire more flights than that at Kitty Hawk, more satellite launchings, more moon landings, films and researches, computers, mobile phones, roads and bridges, airplanes and submarines, housing projects and food production.Chalk dust. Very much like the blood that pumps up every fiber and every system in our body to make them work in synergy, in synchrony—all functional.

Oh, chalk dust! I used to watch them admiringly as they fall onto the blackboard ledge. But I would want to tell the story not from my eyes. This time, it would be from Bicchuchu, a youth on my Yahoo Messenger Buddy List. One youth who found the realization of her dreams in Muang Thai (Land of the Free), an Asian country my teacher told me as, “it used to be Siam back in the old days”.

And Bicchuchu wrote:“One straight line, the next a loop; one small line topped with a dot; one cursive stroke and a horn and I am teaching the world to write. At my back are thirty-four pupils mimicking the strokes, mastering the alphabet that would fill up the spaces in their notebooks, occupy all the blue-to-blues and red-to-reds on pad papers, and flush out all the ink their pens could contain.

The dust taken off slowly from the humble piece of chalk I am using to lead my pupils from the plight of illiteracy reminds me of the efforts my grade school teachers exerted in shaping me and thousands of other children. Now, I am taking the course to educate the many children that have come after us.

But who would ever think that I, an idealistic girl at 12—and still so at 26—would head for a journey far from home, far from the children of the nation I so long to serve. Here I am wielding my own battle, down south of Thailand, as an educator, nurturing the minds and the hopes of Siam’s children.

Here, I saw all the chalk dust carried by the air of old, old Siam into the brains of the Thai children who I know will one day have a grip of the world. But boy, it pains! For these should be the children of home, the Filipino children for whom my heart truly, deeply, madly beats. I desire to be a teacher of my people, but there are sound reasons why I set foot away from home.

With a four-year teaching experience in the Philippines, hopping from one private school to the next, the bug of reality bit me. The compensation just wouldn’t suffice especially when you’re a breadwinner.

Then came the opportunity for a job outside of the country where plane fare, and food and accommodation were made free. I grabbed the blessed chance even if my decision meant leaving behind my family, my friends, a culture, a lifestyle, and the country I should have served. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Buzzzz…there goes the bell again. Class is over! As my pupils each walked out of the room, I pondered on how I had touched their lives today. And as I play with my fingers the chalk dust left on the blackboard ledge, I would imagine these children’s dreams as if they are my own. This mound of dust—the very witness to every stroke that succumbs to silent death in my country with the many teachers turning as domestic help to be able to survive and feed a family, or send their children to school.

Teaching in Thailand is challenging, the compensation good. As I play with chalk dust, I chuckle at the thought of counting more young people following my footsteps. Not taking anymore the risk of nobleness, but the risk of the coldness out of home. You know what I mean.

I miss home, who wouldn’t? But it is better to be homesick and lonely than to be famished.”

Bicchuchu is just one of a lot of young people who have found work out of the country. The incumbent administration promised the creation of 6-10 million jobs for Filipinos in a six-year period. But it never dawned on me that the effort would be focused more on overseas employment. What I am expecting is for sound economic policies to be implemented to generate this figure here in the Philippines. I would want Bicchuchu home.

If the exportation of our trained or skilled people to the labor force of other countries would continue that would mean draining the country’s human resources and strengthening other country’s economies, not ours.
And I thought all the while we can have a strong republic made through sound development strategies. Oh well maybe, am still a dreamy-eyed youth who hasn’t outgrown yet the images of fantasy. (crank up my addy: wild_pechay@yahoo.com, and I’ll buy you coffee)©

Killuazolbick

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
August 30, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

HANDLING some thingies of the young crowd is tough. You can just imagine the archives I had to dig into to be able to understand what Hunter X Series is all about. Sign of old age, awright! But the one positive effect chatting online has given me is this opportunity to interact with plenty of young people—who, errrmmm, keep me from fussing over quarter-life concerns (hee hee).

These are the young people of today, gaga over animation and or animatronics. But wait, say, animé please. That’s the jargon!This bunch of youngsters has replenished some childhood spirit in me that from time to time go down the drain because of this workload, this lifestyle, that pulls me out of the couch, away from some idiot box I once admired.

One of these animé fanatics is Killuazolbick. He’s twenty years old, just somewhere in Mandaue, hanging out at this Internet café run by a relative. He prefers to be called Xham, though—from his family name Samson—when conversing online. He chose Killuazolbick for a screen name as it is one animé character he so adores. Killua defends animés aren’t avenues of violence. Rather, they are vehicles for young people to understand that, really, crime doesn’t pay.

“Ngano man ma-violent ang mga child viewers ana nga kanang mga characters dinha pareha ra man na sa ubang teevee shows. Naay bida, naa pud kontrabida. Ang bida modefend, ang kontrabida mopatay. Then magbasol man pud na ang nakapatay. Maningkamot sad na sila mag-usab from bad to good. Hapit tanan in-ana man ang dagan sa mga stories ma-animé or dili. Ngano man gyud initan ang animé?,” Killua went.

I was supposed to tackle on the issue of violence relative to the influence of animated teevee series on the youngsters. But then the moment Killua confirmed that Pinoy animators were responsible for the original production of Dragonball Z, and that this was only sold to a Japanese market for lack of government support, boy, was I furious? Another product of Filipino ingenuity made basket case. Tsk! tsk!Huhum! What else could be new? Is there a future for Pinoy animators here, by the way? Now I wonder why the government couldn’t catapult the Pinoy visual arts industry into heights when, in fact, it so loves “pakatok” and “kakengkoyan”. I mean, plenty of legislators took the images of cartoon characters, mind you! So, I think, with them into the construction of laws, there certainly would be a bright future for the animation industry here.

If indeed they are bent on a paradigm shift to realize a 9-point agenda, then this administration should have sustained the Philippine Animation Festival, last February. It could have supported free animation film viewing, workshops, and seminars on animation, and of the activities aimed at upholding the skills of local animators and encouraging them to do more original productions.

It’s also good that Killua brought to my attention the local animation industry because the curiosity helped me realize that this particular industry “has long been providing the warm bodies for existing foreign animation studios like Disney”.

This I learned from Han Bacher, retired Walt Disney animator, and former production designer of full-length animation features like Mulan and Roger Rabbit who is bound to set up a company in the Philippines.
By the way, here’s an archived piece: a Filipino visual artist won the Visual Effects Society Award or Vesy, the Oscar in the field of special effects animation this year. Anthony Ocampo became the first Filipino to win the Vesy in the category Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial. Isn’t that a feat? Now for endeavors in animation, would the government please give some form of subsidy to those starting young, say Killuazolbick? Animation and/or animatronics artists should be allowed to knock on government’s door for subsidies that would enable them to put up production houses. If other countries could give our people the opportunity to bloom, then there’s no reason why the incumbent administration can’t take a chance on them.

It would be nice to see this country nurturing 3D lead artists, in the league of Ocampo. The guy now does animation work for top US TV programs such as “CSI”, and animation and special effects for “ER”.
If government subsidies are in the offing, there will be more Killuazolbicks in the making. I would love to see my friend Xham come up with his stories. He said he doesn’t draw, but he has a knack for developing storylines. Oh, we are on same league.

It would be nice to watch Xham—my Killuazolbick—credited after a full-length animated film of his creation.(crank up my addy: wild_pechay@yahoo.com, and I’ll buy you coffee)©

This zest for life

Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
September 6, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

SEPTEMBER 1 to 7 is International Enthusiasm Week. I dunno how most of you will respond to such a call for celebration. I personally believe what is there to be enthusiastic about other than being alive? What’s there to have at this very moment is this zest for life—for this one, borrowed, fleeting life.

I have in my diary two entries on how to get a life and how to go about celebrating it. With the world’s backbreaking round of drudgery or whatchamacallit, life remains to be very, very beautiful.

This issue is dedicated to Joshua, to Kristoffori, to those baby mills who dump cherubims anywhere, anytime; and to those who almost give up on life. Read on:Diary entry # 1: “Many times I’ve noticed that glow in Kristoffori’s eyes. I could read that very human need to belong. Countless moments I’ve seen those lips of his curve into a smile wanting to make friends, but he barely talks. Except when drunk, though, he has all the nerve to babble things, finding solace in alcohol.Kristoffori never brags about a string of girlfriends he had dated out and had French-kissed with – topic of interest of most young boys I know in this Alumnos neighborhood. Never heard him talk of his brushes with siblings or parents, wonderin\g if he lives a normal life.

But, one night he came bringing into my rented pad a good heap of cassette discs that ignited the rapper’s delight in my head. He started talking about Puff Daddy, Cypress Hill, LL Cool J, Tupak Shakur and, of course, the artist’s tragic death; and Marshall Mathers or the glory of Eminem.

The topic moved on to how it took him this long to finish school just to give way to two siblings. He bared his soul to me by sharing how he had just broken up with his seventh girlfriend in a span of five years; his whirlwind romances with pretty young gals after that, of girls just “wanting to have fun”.

Kristoffori is young and ambitious, gorgeous and interesting. But like most introverts, he is always mistaken as cold and assuming.

But truth is, he would not take the idea of being alone. He is very human, wanting and needing so much to grasp the real meaning of life.

“I’m at the verge of giving up on life,” he said. “Life’s just not fair. See, some guys have all the luck. Like they don’t have to worry on how to finish the damn schooling and how to get a moneymaking job,” he chuckled and shook his head. I could relate.

Sure, reality bites and is nauseating. But I moved on to convince him it is still worth all the zest.

“Life’s a ball, you heard that many times. Don’t you believe?” I asked him.

“What ball are you talking about? Life’s a mess…,” he paused to wipe sweaty palms at the hem of his royal blue cargo pants. “Don’t you think?” he’d thrown back the question at me.

“Don’t be so quick to give up on life, sweetie,” I soothed him with praises, giving notice of his good looks and assuring him of his wit and - uhhmmm - sex appeal. “You are one of those guys blessed with a loving family, with an opportunity to step into college, and with those good looks that’s to die for,” this I recited with the delight of watching him turn lobster red. Kristoffori was already blushing.

I’d thrown at him a wink and then we shared high fives. “Di matabang ang description, sa?” I was giggling.

“Puwerte,” he was laughing.

Most of us, I think, are impatient. Very impatient. You, Kristoffori and I want results and would want every situation to work out for us. We try to blab “if others can, why can’t I?,” but we aren’t willing to pay the price of success. The truth is it is this bulldog tenacity of purpose that wins the battles of life, whether fought in the field or in the forum. Most of us zero in on life being bitter when what truly makes life is the very definition we give it.

Life is all about struggles. Why do we have to conceive of a monument as enduring as the pyramids of Egypt when we are not bound to expend the efforts required to build them?

Whoever has forgotten that it takes three days of hard work and perseverance for a tiny silkworm to spin a cocoon using a kilometer of thread. And can we overlook the insights and inspiration from the oyster that turns grains of sands after it is wounded into a gem?

Life can only be a mess if one loses his belief in it. It has been said “there may be epics in men’s brains, just as there are oaks in acorns, but the book and the tree must come out before we can measure them. For one to appreciate life, one must first get a life.

Diary entry # 2: My former high school classmates were shocked. Downright shocked upon seeing me cuddle the baby Ymarrie, swaddled in immaculate linen, sleeping in peace, her angelic countenance painting roseate cheeks, subtle fair skin. Ah! The miracle of life.

They couldn’t believe I got a daughter so soon. I was in my mid-twenties that time and many friends thought I was so straight, I wouldn’t end up having a baby when opportunities, career-wise, are flowing like milk and honey. But I did! How I long to have a baby, if only time so soon allowed. Ymarrie is a bouncing 5.7-pound infant with curly ebony hair, a cute nose, subtle rosy cheeks and chinky eyes. She is a cutie, a little bundle of joy.

The thought of having four little boys running around the house or out there on the yard on their make-believe stallions chasing after bandits, or them bouncing basketballs or hitting balls with bats crossed my mind once.
But instead of quadruplets, out came a little baby girl with tiny hands reaching out to me as if wanting me to own her, this little baby Ymarrie.

Before the eyes of God, in the holy sacrament of baptism, I received Ymarrie when I lighted one of the candles for her. I became a mother instantly. A godmother at that! Today, the baby is already a young schoolgirl. And she sweetly addresses me as nanay.

I had longed to have a child of my own. I prayed that my womb wouldn’t die too soon, and would let me experience the joy of motherhood.

If I’ll be given that blessed chance to deliver an angel, I wouldn’t dare even in my mind, to put him in a safety deposit box or place the little angel at any stranger’s doorsteps. Not one of my children will share the fate of those who were left outside of church premises waiting to be picked and cuddled, and owned and loved.

When I’ll have that blessed chance to conceive a baby, in or out of wedlock, I will nurture him and give him love and show him there are plenty of reasons to celebrate life. For every time a baby is born, his shrieks will remind me to believe in love and life always.

Every time a baby shouts his powerful uha, it will remind me of those times I also did mine. For every time a baby is brought out into this world, a ray of hope flickers.

Just imagine this world of ours without the chatting, the giggling, the chortling, the garbling, the yelling, and the crying of earthly angels. Just imagine if there was no child in that Manger.

***
Here’s a note from Madagascar. You may crank up my addy wild_pechay@yahoo.com.
Dear MS. VALEROS, I have read today (on The Freeman’s Lifestyle online version) your write-up entitled “Chalk dust in Siam”, where you describe the plight of your chatmate aliased Bicchuchu. It was very encouraging and inspiring. I come from a poor family too and modesty aside, I too have that above average talent that can be of great help if I had been working in the Philippines even just in the government.

Because of low income, poor motivation, and the “palakasan” system, I opted to find my way for a dream come true here in this very far away Africa. Today I am managing a French Aquaculture Company, employing a little more than a thousand workers here in Madagascar. I had managed so well that this is now my 3rd successful year in this company. At times along the line of my work I have imparted some valuable help too in this country of poverty. I managed to insert community services and basic help programs as part of the company’s concern. I have built and donated (using company and company suppliers resources) churches, schools, bridges, etc. that the poor people here can use. With these and many more, I too have my own reflection with a wish that I could have done all that to my country. Although my story is a little bit different, but it’s quite just the same; it somehow reflects what kind of government (and of people running it), that we have. Thank you and more power.

Best of my personal regards,Leonido C. TALA Project Manager AQUAMEN EF (Aquaculture Du Menabe - Enterprise Franche) BP 7715, Bat F2, Village des jeux, Ankorondrano, Antanarivo 101, MADAGASCAR Tel +26120 2263701 Fax +26120 2267960 e-mail: leonidoctala@hotmail.com/ futuretangub@yahoo.com. ©

Bringin' it on!

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
September 20, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

Was supposed to be cheering in this column for JM Cobarrubias (former The Probe Team reporter), Avi Siwa and Jigs Mayuga—three young, smart, honest and courageous people who fought for their space in space—as they fully anchor Channel 7’s Out. It’s the first TV magazine show that showcases the lifestyle of gays, lesbians and the like. Pilot telecast was last 9/11 at 11pm.

Out in the box, I would also want to talk about how the program has touched me and, finally, convinced me to come out in the open and confirm to the whole wide world I’m a swinger. Only a few people know this, those I’m pretty comfortable with (excluding my family). I know this would hurt them, but keeping this, for too long now, in the box even cuts so, so, so deeply.

But, voila out also in my other box – yes, my email box – is a note that read: “Hi! I read The Freeman on a certain day and happened to reach a page in the Lifestyle section. It’s a youth page and I saw your email ad at the end. I thought of contributing ‘Bringin’ it on!’ Thank you and God bless! - Cris Evert Berdin Lato evert17_up@yahoo.com.

Thanks Cris for crankin’ up my addy. Gotta set aside the swinging stuff first and give my readers a piece of your beautiful mind:“School pressures and problems? Yes, a truly stale topic but indeed mirrors the current dilemma of students. As a student, one gets to face countless pressures and interminable problems. Added to all these is the big problem of time management. What type of school pressures and problems are you encountering? Read and see if you can change that doomed fate.

When you feel that Mr. Know-It-All or Ms. Blah-Blah doesn’t like you, never accept the treatment. Fight! Fighting doesn’t mean that you have to use your hands or your physical prowess. Go back to how the Karate Kid was trained: “To subdue the enemy without physical fighting is the highest skill.”Use your talents, your intelligence. Show the world what you’ve got. Outplay. Outwit.

Outlast. For instance, if he’s giving you low marks in your speech class even if you’re doing good, show him more of that debater mouth or express that Aristotle mind. Remember to prepare well. One more thing: Be cautious of what you’re saying and how you say it. Too much bluffing may be the antithesis to your destined success.

“I got a low score in an exam, am I dumb?” Many ask this question. The answer is, of course, you’re not. Maybe you weren’t that prepared for the examination. Think about what you did the night before the exam. Did you go out with your friends instead of doing the much-needed studying? If that’s the case, better change the attitude.

Scoring low in an exam does not mean you’re dumb. It may be connected to some other “disabilities”. Oh well, nobody’s perfect as they say. But frequent low scores are indicative of something serious. Do watch out!
If in any case you are the best student in class, never depend on the title. If you do, you might wake up one day losing that crown.

Plenty of people out there are willing to give a good grab. Study even more! Read more books and interact with people. For sure, you’ll get to learn plenty of things, for always people will have their own, interesting stories. Being on topnotch is not an assurance that you’re going to be the best in everything.

You think popular kiddos are the best? You’re definitely wrong. You can be better than them. Know your talents. Explore your individuality. Ask yourself and discover which area are you in tune. You might be a good dancer, gifted with that songbird voice or might have that Hollywood-quality acting prowess. What are glee clubs, dance troupes and theater groups for without people like you?

Your reaction, research, position, and concept papers are all due tomorrow and you haven’t started typing in even your name? What’s the matter? Why not create a timetable? This will guide you in doing the tasks that you ought to do. For instance, you might want to study Biology from 4:00 to 6:00 in the evening, take your dinner at 6:15 and type you reaction paper by 7:00. This way, you’re up to being organized.

What’s more you’ll get to pass your papers on time without asking your dear instructors to extend another deadliest deadline.

If all else fails, why not try to relax for a while and give yourself a break. Eat a sumptuous meal, treat yourself to a heart-warming movie, or go out on a date (if you can get one). You just have to loosen up sometimes. Don’t be too hard on yourself. That might just be one reason why you’re facing and encountering all those pressures and problems.

The key to success is not just hard work. Being happy in what you’re doing is another ingredient. Put your heart in whatever you do. Couple that with your mental acumen and you’re off to beat those pressures and problems. Bring it on guys and gals and you’ll surely touch the sky!

(Hiyah, young people! Whuzz the hush-hush over skate and skim boarding, and “your” other thingie, huh? Give me a clue. Drop your contributions at wild_pechay@yahoo.com. Celebrate your space in space.)

"...and Dodong got the job"

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
September 27, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

“SA pag-pangapply og trabaho, guts gyod ang mo-play og important role,” says Leonido ‘Dodong’ Tala, a Filipino aquaculture project manager in Madagascar, Africa, in answer to the first set of questions I sent him through my yahoo email box.

I convinced this gentleman from Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, one of avid readers of The Freeman online version, to let me borrow his story for this column to give my readers an idea on how in the world was Dodong able to get a space in that part of the Dark Continent.

“I remember when I applied for my very first job, I arrived in the office late for the preliminary screening,” he noted in bold letters. I could read through the capitalized message a mixture of embarrassment and pride that despite being tardy he still got the job. Read: The glory that guts won!

Dodong mentioned of ten applicants out of nearly a hundred who were already up for an interview before the Malaysian consultant.

“The ordeal was exhausting kay sudlonon pa kaayo ang farm, plus sugaton pa ka’g unpleasant information that the screening was already done. I decided to sit next to the last interviewee, mapping out in my mind my next move as I’m already in the area,” he recounted.

Dodong said he wanted the job so badly that he thought of befriending the last guy scheduled for the interview.
“I implored the guy to tell the Malaysian consultant that I would like to talk to him.My wish was granted and when I spoke to the consultant, I told him if he could let me work sans pay as I was not on the list of applicants that he was supposed to interview. I told him it would be nice to gain some exposure in the industry, “Dodong recounted.

The line “working without pay” worked wonders.

Dodong got the job ahead of those on the list. The Malaysian assured him he would be paid, of course.

Dodong and I shared a common denominator. We took some unpopular jobs before ending up in our present workstations today. I worked as messenger for an old, ill Briton national in Gun-ob, Lapu-Lapu City; an English tutor to a Japanese kid in Bacayan, Talamban; an encoder for an Australian water service provider consultant in Sto. Niño Village in Banilad; and a bookkeeper for a resort gift shop in Buyong, Lapu-Lapu City before I made my way to the first-ever data capture company in Cebu, and finally to the editorial section of The Freeman.

“Like you, Eleanor, dili sab gyud ko mauwaw mo trabaho and mangita ug panguwarta. I did odd jobs back then from being a shoeshine boy to construction helper. When I was in college I was with the test paper printing facility of the school,” Dodong wrote.

I thanked Dodong for letting me borrow his story for this column. Having been born a poor child, he said it made him strong and tough against difficulties. In my case, having been firstborn and poor, it dawned on me to bushwhack for a clearer path in life.

And then I found myself smiling at Dodong’s formula of getting a good job. “Find the smallest and less attractive job first. You can easily get it kay menos man ang competition. Then from there, work on to get the next best job. It would be easier to apply for another job if you already have some work experiences.”

Regarding the shrimp industry of which I have a special interest on and of which Dodong has loads of technical expertise, I found him chuckling at the thought on why the Philippine government just “allowed the shrimp industry to be destroyed by the so— called technology transfer in aqua-farming”.

The importation of the P. vanamei or the Pacific shrimp specie hurts the industry, says Dodong, “Kay kuno ang P. vanamei specific pathogen free nga dili daw mataptan ug sakit? I find it ridiculous. Logically, any organism for that matter is always capable of contracting a disease. Take note that the resistance to disease is developed in a monitored condition. It’s totally different in ponds, particularly in commercial culture,” he reasoned out.

“Misleading propositions regarding aquaculture makalusot sa Pilipinas because of politics ug sa kawalay expertise nga mo-handle ug deep analytical study that would help in decision making before programs are pushed,” he pointed out.

Asked on what could be the best measure to adopt in order to preserve our shrimp culture, Dodong keyed in “simply go back to basics”. Traditional or backyard culture should be given an emphasis coupled with strong government support. Laws should be enacted on the protection of endemic shrimp species and on intensive shrimp farming.

(For your comments, reactions, suggestions, and contributions crank up my addy wild_pechay@yahoo.com. Celebrate your space in space!)

-OO-

Addy buddies. “Hello! I read your article on The Freeman, “Chalk dust in Siam”. That was great! (Writer’s note: Thank you very much!). It amazes me a lot because I will be a future teacher. I’m now on my fourth year in the education discipline.” - Girlie girly_fariola@yahoo.com.

“Hi! I’m Cito, a nautical science student. Thanks for coming up with the article “Having sense of sex”. I find it helpful for us young people on our attitude towards sex and our response to this natural biological function. Plenty of us young people are confused on the significance of sex in our lives. And I really appreciate the article as it presented a healthy view about sex. Thank you for the attention given to this note. I’ll be looking forward to your next write-up.” - Lucito Pacaldo vj_cito2000@yahoo.com.

“Hi there! Good day Ms. Ma. Eleanor E. Valeros, just wondering how long have you been writing or contributing? (Writer’s Note: At The Freeman, almost seven years now.) - Art Ramos .

Baybayin Scripts (Alibata)

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
October 4, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

The Alibata moderator of the Ancient Baybayin Scripts Network sent me an invitation for membership the other week which makes me wonder how many people back here had received the same message and are familiar with alibata, ermmm...let me use the appropriate term, baybayin (“to spell” in Tagalog).

The ancient script is often referred to as alibata, a term coined inexplicably to mimic the first two letters of the alphabet of the Maguindanao people - alif and bet - derived from Arabic.

Hope many out there are into the study of the baybayin script, interested to perhaps initiate a forum, discussion, or a conference with assistance from ABSN. The network hopes to encourage new opportunities to interact with enthusiasts on learning the ancient writing scripts and writing systems of the Philippines, and languages with different syllabic, alphabetic, and logographic writing systems, and be able to trace how these had affected the evolution of the baybayin scripts.

On top of it all, ABSN is encouraging new methods on deciphering archaelogical baybayin artifacts, pottery, inscriptions, rock art, petroglyphics, and pictograph characters found throughout the archipelago, so that when this hits bottom every baybayin disciple would know that ABSN is here to promote understanding among different communities.

Now why am I bringing this up? My fascination for baybayin came at such an early age. Though back in grade 4, the lessons were limited, one trivia stuck in my head that other loads of information were not able to overwrite through time. That of knowing that though major languages (yes dear! languages, not dialects!) in the Philippines are now written using the Roman alphabet, these languages were first represented using a script related to and directly or indirectly derived from the Bugis and Makassar scripts of Celebes.

I remember one advertising congress held here in Cebu some years back when George Escalona of Tattoo Museum painted my name in henna using the baybayin script. I went gaga over those pretty fascinating strokes of graceful loops, crooked lines, wavy arrows, cute zigzags, and an inverted fat heart beautifully tattooed in the native script on my left arm. Those spoke so much of the beautiful past of my Tribu Zzubu people, and of the Pintados, as well. It is so sad though that the two forms of these indigenous scripts that still survive to date are not used here in Sugbu. The scripts are used by the Tagbanwa of Palawan and Mangyans of Mindoro today.
It is believed that the Philippine scripts were derived from Kavi script or old Javanese, perhaps indirectly through the Buginese. The Buginese origin of the Philippine scripts best accounts for the fact that the latter cannot represent the final consonants of syllables since Buginese has the same limitation.

With the help of a web baybayin translator - www.eaglescorner.com/baybayin - that could work out well on Tagalog words only, I had “Baybayin (Alibata)” translated which gave the equivalent set of Buginese syllables ba ba ye a le ba ta. Another example, my name maria eleanor elape valeros written in pidgin-style mariya elinor elape baleros when translated gave ma de ya e le no e la pe ba le do as some letters like “r” was replaced with a “d” and the last consont “s” was dropped. When written, there would be 12 symbols to correspondent 12 syllables, meaning to say one symbol for each syllable.

This I brought up in the hope that many of us most especially the young people would take interest in promoting advocacy for linguistic rights, ancestral rights, cultural rights, indigenous rights, and cultural revival.

(For your comments, reactions, suggestions and contributions, crank up my addy: wild_pechay@yahoo.com) -00-

Addy buddies. I was on my usual editing of prayer texts in Philippine languages/dialects when an Ibanag/Itawes word (connected somehow to prayers) entered the scene. The word is MABALLO/MABALLAT = salamat. In Bikol, it is MABALOS. There are other words surprisingly “cognate” among northern Luzon languages & the southern Bikol ones, especially along the Sierra Madre side: ATANAN (Yogad) = TANAN (Sorsogon, Gubat Bikol); NGAMIN (Ibanag/Itawes) = NGAMIN (Iriga Rinconada Bikol); DUMAN (Umirey Dumagat) = DUMAN (Naga Bikol); BITIS (Pampango) = BITIS (Naga Bikol). There are others, I know. Truly, north meets south. - Dante Ferry danteferry@yahoo.com.

“Hi Alibata friends, we have to promote a culture of excellence in the Philippines. I wrote a book entitled “Called to Excel” which seeks to inspire Filipinos to do something to help our country rise again.” Rex Resurreccion of Passion for Perfection-Philippines .

All the frangipanis

Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
October 11, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

Countless white frangipanis have started to come off the temple tree now. One by one, the wind’s unseen hands pluck them off their niche. Soon, more would be joining a pile of these white blooms on a journey to decay, blown beyond the concrete high fence where I believe they chose to lie.

This has been the umpteenth time I have been watching those fallen frangipanis ten meters away from the verandah of this rented space I have in San Antonio Village, Mambaling. If only frangipanis have the eyes of today’s youth, certainly those would hold the stories of the hurt and anxiety of a lifetime.

If frangipanis could stand to symbolize the young generation, for sure they would have cried out loud to the winds to never ever stop from blowing so as to cut themselves off from the temple tree that has long been attacked by some frangipani rust and has caused them misery.

It would be impossible to attempt a count on how many frangipanis had fallen to the ground haplessly, or had chosen to be, or had preferred to be with the decaying ones since I arrived here six years ago. Maybe, seventy times seven. What I’m pretty sure of is that one, or two, or ten of these frangipanis would celebrate a thousand deaths than to be shaken or confronted by the country’s pressing issues.

If frangipanis are the youth of today, they are suffering the complications of frangipani rust. They have felt the acceleration of free trade and investment that opened doors not only to one but more countries to further rape our country’s natural resources. Sure, frangipanis do shudder at the thought of the easy entry of multinational corporations that further rape our hills, mountains, and pollute our rivers.

Again I watched the fallen frangipanis. Towards the end of the rainy season, most temple trees become deciduous and drop their leaves. The rainy season has only begun and yet a handful of frangipanis were already taken to the ground like some fallen soldiers. I liken frangipanis to our crop of young people - so delicate, so fresh, so beautiful, so full of life and vigor and vitality, but so vulnerable.

The youth of the nation today have been suffering the brunt of a government working on the ethos of “profit for profit’s sake”, implementing programs and pursuits that are delinked from social, cultural, and environmental considerations.

Most frangipanis do become beautiful blooms as they respond well to fertilizers, horticulturists say. I think what makes them beautiful is this ability to respond so well to human touch. Give a slight brush of your hand over those tricolor blossoms of white, rose and yellow lying on top of narrow leaves rolled backwards at the margins and they will sing soulful hymns of thanksgiving. To make the youth obey their leaders, this would require sound direction.To make them follow, leaders must guide. They are very much like frangipanis. They respond well to human touch.

But confronted by the talons that subject them to becoming preys of the illegal hiring of casuals for regular jobs and the unlawful subcontracting that deny them their right to security of tenure, and other issues like the lack of chairs and desks in schools, lack of work opportunities, broken homes, and many more—they respond with rebellion.

Of what good are the fertilizers of good laws authored by well-educated and intelligent legislators, when the ones who make the laws are the ones who first break them? Of what good would it make being attached to a temple tree when all that it has offered these years is suffering?The drug menace tops the list of frangipani rust, killing softly one beautiful temple tree. It has its tentacles of contagion slowly disabling the youth sector.

About 80% of the crimes committed in the country are related to drug abuse. It is deemed impossible to cut the head of the monster because of the illegal drug trade. Being a very profitable business with an earning of over P30B a year, it is being backed up by legislators, elected officials, hoodlums in robes.

All the frangipanis have started to come off the temple tree now. One by one, they prefer to be plucked off a decaying niche by the wind’s unseen hands. One by one, they choose to shut eyes that hold stories of hurt and anxiety of a lifetime. There are plenty of concerns to blah about, yet all the frangipanis prefer to lay their cases back to the dust.

(For your comments, reactions, suggestions and contributions, crank up my addies: wild_pechay@yahoo.com or pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com)

***Addy buddies. “Good day to you! I have read the Monday issue of The Freeman newspaper and admired the article you wrote “…And Dodong got the job”. It really takes confidence and determination to get what you want. The article gives me a whole perspective of how am I gonna be dealing with the challenges of being a struggling advertising student. I have always looked up to these people who really work hard. Dodong should serve as inspiration to those who are at the verge of giving up. He is such a hard worker and delivered well, and yet his feet remain planted on the ground all through these years - willing to help other people in need and serve as inspiration. Well, I should know because he is my dad. More power and kudos to your next articles! – squeezed orange <rainetala@hotmail.com.>

“Sinubukan kong pag-aralan ang pagsusulat ng alibata noong mga huling yugto ng 1998. Ginagamit ko yata iyon para ikoda ang mga “sikreto” sa mga talaan ko, para hindi agad mabasa ng mga mapag-usisang mga mata. Sayang at hindi ko tinuloy ang paggamit pa nito. Nakakatuwa rin kasing mapaalalahanan na napakayaman na ng kultura ng mga katutubong Pilipino noong panahon bago dumating ang mga Kastila. Kinakatawan ng sarili nating sistema ng pagsusulat: tulad ng alibata, na may potensyal na sana sa pag-unlad ang mga katutubo noon pa. Pinagmamalaki ko ang mga katutubong kulturang Pilipino, at di mabilang na yaman nito. Mabuhay ang kulturang katutubo!” – Mouse “Bubwit” de la Torre .

Vaya con Dios, 'torni Arbet

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
October 18, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

It was Friday, 1 pm. I was preparing for my health tips and trivia segments for a weekly one-hour radio program over dyLA produced by Women’s Feature Service, an international wire agency that works to place into mainstream media the pressing issues faced by women and children across continents and walks of life, when my co-anchor Marivir Montebon-Auxilio called to inform me that I don’t have to arrange for another guest for our 3 pm program. Marivir got somebody to talk on the issue of women dragged into virtual prostitution by a Caucasian who operated an Internet café here that allowed customers online pleasure (as in cybersex) with the women.

The guest’s name was something like “Anna Yongco”.

She was introduced to me by Marivir when I arrived at the radio station. But since that was the first time we met, Marivir took care of introducing her on air. She was Attorney Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco who worked on cases involving violations against women and children, and an advocate working to address major global concerns such as women trafficking or modern-day slavery, child prostitution and pornography.

She shone in her field without that air of arrogance most lawyers have. She was expounding on women trafficking, emphatic but never intimidating. In her soft-spoken unassuming manner, she was able to put the message across that women are pressed with the major issue of “the struggle for power”. She cited that feminist advocates should be alarmed that Cebu has unfortunately become both the main passage and destination point in the trafficking of women and children. Her point was recently supported by the survey released by a non-government advocacy group, which stated that no less than 1.2 million children have been trafficked for prostitution, child labor and domestic servitude in 2003 alone.

Yesterday, ‘torni Arbet was laid to rest after four bullets took her precious life on the morning of October 11 inside her office at the corner of Alcohol and Sikatuna streets in barangay Zapatera. She handled mostly pro bono cases, particularly the Ecleo parricide case, and others, like that of the shooting of a prominent Danao city businessman, of a man sentenced to 26 counts of death penalty for raping his own twin daughters, and another case involving a girl rescued from sex slavery.

Sharing ‘torni Arbet’s feminist advocacy, I can’t help but be angered by such a senseless killing. “Kon naglagot man diay, dapat mokiha! Ayaw lang patya! The person killed was a good woman, wife, sister, and lawyer alone in her fight.” She was the lone prosecutor in the Ecleo case. With that one-hour she spent with us over the radio, she showed us how firm she was in her stand to free women from the claws of virtual prostitution. ‘torni Arbet told me it is part of the fight, to educate women so they will have options and/or alternatives other than trading their flesh in exchange for cold cash, including the virtual flesh vending.

She said some women don’t know the quagmire they are in because they simply don’t realize they are victims. Expounding this stand, but without imposing, she left behind a message that the best thing an educated woman can do is to get a fellow woman out of that quagmire of ignorance, to walk with her another mile, and show her there are better paths for women to take.

‘torni Arbet was shot while she was reading her Bible at her office. You can just imagine the ruthlessness of the gunman! Her death is indeed a loss to the legal profession, an attack against the judicial system, a loss to our feminist advocacy. I remember her words well “the attack on women and children is an issue involving people enslaved by their struggle for power”.

Even in her death, she carried the issue of being attacked by people enslaved by their hunger for power, of people who enjoy moving around brandishing their arrogance, happy at phasing out good people from the face of the earth to whitewash their guilt, cowards who can’t overpower a woman’s wit in the sala of justice other than to silence her with a gun.

As for ‘torni Arbet, vaya con Dios! You fought a good fight. They had taken your body, but not your spirit. They might have tipped the weighing scales, but never will they have power over it! They will continue with their arrogance, fanning the fires of their malevolence, but good shall triumph in the end. It has been written, it shall come to pass!

(For comments, reactions, suggestions and contributions, crank up my addies: wild_pechay@yahoo.com or pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com)

The Skimmers

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
October 25, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

Lanky Mark is obviously obsessed with his skimboard (skiffle to Americans, skidboard to Aussies and Kiwis). He is in love with the offshore wind that playfully tussled his unkempt hair before he headed out to sea. His eyes were admiring the frothy seashore, lapped endlessly by the waves he had fallen head over heels with. And then he ran to pick up the right wave – the very secret of skimming.

To have good wave judgment, say, employing some spectral profile to decipher the contents of the sea's brains, would lead to a successful flip or a headstand. Using such technique, Mark amazed me with an “ollie” bringing his body to a turnaround with skimboard magically glued to his feet like iron fillings attached to a horseshoe magnet. I was left there, some distance from him, shaking my head and clapping like another Chapman wild over Lennon, my eyes deep ocean green with envy.

I happened to bump into lanky, bubbly Mark and his crowd of skimmers at the remaining minutes of my stay in Agusan. I was walking my way from Trianggulo in Nasipit, Agusan del Norte, to the port to catch the boat back to Cebu after a successful climb in Mt. Magdiwata, a caving activity and a trip to the Agusan marshland in line with the Naliyagan festivity of Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, when a guy named Rich called my attention.

"Miss, climber ka?" he asked. He was there sitting on this bench in a carenderia. I was slowing down my pace some minutes before he had thrown at me the question. I was hoping to feast on adobong dabong (stir-fried bamboo shoot) for lunch at the eatery.

After we went through that rite of exchanging halllleerrrrs, and after getting my serving of the tempting bamboo shoot strips fried in soy sauce, made all the more palatable by the aroma of crushed garlic, Rich ushered me to his motorbike and we sped away to their office in barangay Talisay, close to the Nasipit wharf. I met the rest of the gang – fellow nature freaks, I would say - skimmers Bryan, Ronky, and Mark.

It was so easy to connect with them as we shared the same passion and love for the great outdoors. We easily jibed, except that though I love the surf, sand, sea, sun and the froth at the breaking of seawaters, I am a total stranger indeed to skimboarding. Well, it’s because my being uncoordinated remains a strong force to reckon with.

Mark was the most talkative. Oh, well, they all talked about lots of "nature stuff", but Mark had the most stories. I spent most of the afternoon with him, while waiting for the Cebu-bound ship. He did an “aerial” to begin with, catching the air off a wave and landing back on the face of the wave.

And there I was etching on the sand, what I believe am only good at, figuring out this relationship between the art of skimming on waves and the art of skimming the waters of life. Mark said that it would be best to choose a flat beach. Of course, of what good will bumps and humps and jagged and rocky areas do to your board and skimming pursuit? The sight of dents and the pain of failure, for sure.

"See here, L (my name shortened)," Mark shouted like a pro-skim instructor waving his skim and pointing to the surf "the best time to begin running for a wave is right after the wave breaks. Once we reach the water or wet sand, we throw down the board so we can jump on it."

He did the act with so much ease and grace that for a beginner like me would give tummy knots. Somewhat physically challenging! I learned that it is more difficult than it looks at first and many people don’t stick with skimboarding because learning to ride the skag is too hard. However, with persistence and patience, even the most uncoordinated person can learn to skimboard.

That's what am told, so I bank on the encouragement (*smile!). Well, all aspirants have to take a few bruises learning how to get themselves first on the board. Close to the real picture. We do have our brushes with the bruise-inducing, pressing issues of our lives. The art of gliding through either harsh or tamed waves is for us to muster.

To skim through life, we must be prepared for the waves and learn to inhale the offshore winds and exhale inshore winds. To deal with our skims, we must keep our weight centered over the board, keeping it pointed towards the ocean. Talking of balancing our priorities, our schedules, our decisions, our quality time. Toward the ocean. Not against it. Toward the sun. Not against it.

There might be instances when nature would call us to go against the elements. Say, fly a kite against the winds or be like the pink salmons traveling back home against the currents. But with skim, we learn both to face the harshness and the friendliness of the oceans. With life, we bring ourselves to look at our concerns squarely. It is common to accelerate too quickly and lose control in skimming so that it is important not to run too fast. That brings us closer to the facts of life: Man can play neurotic and can be one. With fame, fortune and wealth all fleeting he easily loses control. So skimboarding rule applies to life as a rule of thumb: Don’t run too fast. Just run this race. Run and arrive somewhere.

Then the skimboard meets the ocean, the riders' weight must be on their back foot so the nose of the board does not catch on the water. If this is applied to how we deal with life, we would be neatly gliding up over the waters of challenges instead of plowing through it.

By being insistent, persistent and consistent, the rest of the moves would be executed flawlessly. If the rider has enough speed, balance and ability to turn, he can do various maneuvers while banking off the wave and riding toward the shore. Unlike surfing, skimboarding allows for the ability to spin, greatly increasing the rest of the possibilities on moves.

Skimming I think is not just awesome. But incredibly so! No wonder it has won popular approval even in the absence of early records and even if its history is shrouded in mystery. Here in Cebu, how the sport was introduced to local folks is not annotated but there is the Liloan Skimmers Club headed by Daisy Senido creating waves in this kind of aquasport. It is expected then that this art of riding a board across water or wet sand would take more beach buffs creating more tricks where there’s about an inch of water.

After that ceremonial rite of tying around my right ankle a piece of his life and culture – his Manobo tribal necklace – Mark encouraged me to take an idyll with the waves through skimming, to have my own magical transport to some other horizon through the skimboard, and to love the psyche of every skimboarder. Well, I am beginning to love the sport long before I can even do my very first ollie. Matter of fact is, I have been beautifully skimming through my life's waters all these years.

(For your comments, reactions, suggestions and contributions crank up my addy: pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com).***

Below is an e-mail from my alibata yahoo groupmate:

ADDY BUDDIES. "Ang sining ay buhay at mulat na kalayaan, lahat ng bagay ay magkakaugnay, hindi kailan man tayo makakalikha kung wala tayong kalayaan at mismong tayo ang kumakahon sa ating mga isipan, bukas man na nakakaalam o hindi self censorship. Ito ang mga norm, ethics na isinaksak sa kaisipan ng mga edukadong takot humarap sa katotohanan dahil sa makasariling interes at ang tingin sa nakararami lalo na ang mga katutubo ay mga mangmang, at ang iniluluwal ng lipunan na virus ay mga taong grasa at street people, gayong ang lipunan ng mga unggoy ay walang ganitong mga nilalang, eskwater at lipunang pinagsasamantalahan na ang pangako ay ang abstraktong langit na inilalako ng maraming relihiyon habang nagpapakasasa sa yamang pamana ng tunay na may likha.

Ang mga kaisipang de lata o de kahon ay hinulma ng mahabang panahong sistema ng edukasyon na virus ng mga sininsay na kaalaman sa bayan sa malayong silangan, karamihan sa mga edukado sa kanluraning institusyon ay may bias agad sa mga kaalamang hinulma ng karanasan ang mga edukasyon ng mga pagkakaugnay-ugnay ay hindi nila nauunawaan at kung maunawaan naman ay wala itong pakinabang sa kanilang makasariling interes dahil ang natutuhan nilang edukasyon ay ang abstraktong indibidwalistang aroganteng mapanakop at itinuturing nilang superior subalit wala ng kalamnan ng pagiging tao ito ay malinaw na matrix ng nabubulok na mapanakop na digma na nakasalalay sa industriyang pangwasak sa tunay na sining ng buhay. Takot na takot silang magkaroon ng talakayan sa mga bagay na tutumbok sa kanilang bulok na sistema dahil ito ang magbubukas sa tunay na anyo ng kanluraning edukasyong mapanakop na nagkakanlong sa huwad na kaunlaran ng iilan na sinsay sa tunay na sustenableng kaunlaran na makikita natin sa pag-inog na kalikasan. Mabuhay ang patuloy na pag-aaral natin sa baybayin (alibata)." – Gene de Loyola

Todos los muertos

Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
November 1, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

The candle flames dance freakily to some kind of rhythm made by wafts of air from the Grim Reaper’s busted lungs. His shadow is partly buried in hardening tallow, but his eyes are lunar orbs staring lustily at the wick of life, slowly devoured by the flame of age, of weariness, of disintegration.

He frequents this place, loiters around here, hangs about, struts with the smell of death, teases prospect with his shimmering scythe. His hood hasn’t successfully concealed that sarcastic grin stuck like slime at the side of his mouth. He is taunting, mocking: “Of what good have all your worldly struggles done you? You all fall on bent knees before me, defeated and equal in the face of death”.

Strange journey! We are confronted with the reality of a “special trip to the afterlife”, but not given enough time to pack some bags. Where our hearts are supposed to find eternal comfort, we lust for it with an indescribable longing. We wait for the assuring “so long, farewell” to come by, and not the disheartening “goodbye”, that we might channel properly the thought of safely bringing back the craft to its Maker. But death is a gift given by one night crawler in his stealth, surreptitious manner.

We drain brains to accomplish big things – from the fusion and fission of atoms and space voyages to stem cell research and the regeneration of species, but that same energy exerted in the unlocking of quarks doesn’t come easily in formulating an elixir for immortality. And even if we are promised to die is gain or that we would have our taste of resurrection and or a serving of that Great Rapture, to slip through another phase in space or another dimension in time is something we entertain in thoughts, but rarely deal for real.

We drool over the idea of peace found only in eternal rest. But it’s crazy to want death without yielding to the judgment call of the Grim Reaper. Here we are holding on to the last knot of dear life, banking on the shadow of the future that comes silhouetted as the “now, the present, the today”. Come to think of it: If we could only touch death first before it engulfs us, maybe then we would be okay. And it is easier for us to hie off sans the satchel of our worries or the backpack of our cares.

Much of what we see are the dazzling, titillating, hypnotic, disorientating threads of materialism unraveling before our naked eyes, and then woven to clothe us with the promises of comfort and vows of flower-strewn pathways. This form of subtle seduction makes it hard for us to accept we are but cinders in space that have emanated from and would succumb to one Divine Shadow.

We salivate at the flavor of fame, and dip our fingers into the cream of wealth, though they create for us nothing but spiritual carcinogens. With the way the world views the kaleidoscope of materialism taking awesome patterns, there’s no sense anymore on pondering why it is so difficult to draw humanity together. In fact, it would be very nice to have snapshots of our emotions when faced with the tempting calls of materialism, and to try to de-scramble that later on to find out what temporal messages were expressed there. Might be too complex.

Might be a venue for denial. Might be too complicated. Might be sending our lids flipping with the things we associate with death – frustration, sadness, guilt, and rage. But we are to drink from the chalice of death, to make a contact into the void.We maybe are young, beautiful, wealthy and famous, but who and what can spare us from the inevitability of death? We all shudder at the sight of the Grim Reaper brandishing the blade of his scythe, sending our blood curling at his guttural cry. We see death by the sickle a shameful way to fade away.

The Grim Reaper went on with his song: “Human beings trapped by happenstance in a dark and bitter cold. There was one who possessed a stick of wood. The dying fire is in need of logs, but the human held her stick back. For on the faces around the fire, she noticed one was black. The next man looking across the way, saw one not of his church, and couldn’t bring himself to give the fire his stick of birch. The third one sat in tattered clothes, he gave his coat a hitch. Why should his log be put to use, to warm the idle rich? The rich man just sat back and thought of the wealth he had in store. And how to keep what he had earned from the lazy, shiftless poor. The black man’s face bespoke revenge, as the fire passed from sight, for all he saw in his stick of wood was a chance to spite the white. The last man of this forlorn group did give only to those who gave was how he played the game. The logs held tight in death’s still hands was proof of human sin. They didn’t die from the cold without, they died from - THE COLD WITHIN.”

Jump in. Be counted. We have so much coldness within. We delight in some hardened, frozen craft come home to its Maker, and we never ever go ashamed of our folly. How queer indeed to be this chilled within, to be this damn frigid, but to be greeting each other in the netherworld: “Todos los muertos!”

(For your deadly comments, fatal reactions, lethal suggestions or death-inducing contributions, crank up my cybertomb: pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com. Happy Halloween, mortals and immortals alike!)

"Ladder for life"

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
November 8, 2004

Sharing my four-year stint as a volunteer for the Rescue 160 of the Bureau of Fire Protection here is inspired by the John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix starrer, "Ladder 49".

A co-volunteer of Rescue 160 coined the _expression "ladder for life" during one of the seminars we were required to attend. It was actually a pun for "slide for life" which he used to refer to the ladder techniques taught to us. The phrase was coined primarily to give us the kick.

Though "ladder for life" was at first a very awkward phrase, we have come to adopt it to refer to our romance with ladders in rescue drills. Later on, we have also come to embrace the fact that the ladder indeed is made to extend not only the capacity to do work, but life itself. At some points, we are challenged to cling on to the ladder – for dear life!

Ladders come in handy, and when locked on the rung, it can be adaptable to jobs of any size – from window cleaning, to tree cutting, vine pruning, decorating, painting, cleaning out gutters – and in fire fighting, most especially high angle evacuation procedures in search and rescue/retrieve missions.

Ladders, may be simple machines, but they come in for the purpose of accomplishing things in an easy, safe and secured manner. Of course, they vary according to purpose.

There are the aluminum and timber step ladders and loft ladders and double and triple aluminum extension ladders for various trades, spiral and space-saving staircases at homes, schools and offices, durable and strong towers for buildings, and of course, the specialist ladders for surveying roof work and for fire escapes.

How did I come to appreciate these "ladders for life"? An experience back in childhood sent me on a journey to the Bureau of Fire Protection as volunteer for the Rescue 160 group. I threw myself into a group of novice rescuers and firefighters in the earnest hope I would be able to deal with pyrophobia after I almost had our family house reduced to ashes.

I was only about ten years old when tasked to prepare supper. I had to stir-fry tomatoes in heated cooking oil. But as soon as the dripping tomatoes sizzled on the smoky fat, flames from the firewood consumed everything on the frying pan. It happened so fast that the ball of flame sitting on the pan danced before me and began licking the nipa-thatched roof. I was quick to grab a gallon of water and poured the contents into the fire-consumed pan. I contained the flame, and put off any bigger damage but the experience really left me trembling, both in literally and figuratively.

My parents are both advocates of safety. They would tell us never to mess around with matchsticks, to never leave the house without putting down the lever of the fuse box, or to always make sure cords for the teevee and that of other appliances are always unplugged after use. For a time, I wouldn’t want to go near that dirty stove that gave my spine burning sensations.

So I decided the time to deal with pyrophobia is to be near the fire - to dance to the tune of the flames and to do a romance with the heat, to literally play with the blaze. At the bureau, I met men who "rush into burning and collapsing structures when everyone else are running out.”

Seeing those men do the opposite thing — straight into the hands of peril — gives me a feeling of being grateful to strangers who do the dirtiest, hardest, most stressful work in the world because they believe they should.
Right there and then, I have come to witness the nobility of a goal and the love of work made visible. And from there, I have come to realize that the ladder, simple as it is, is the most difficult thing to handle in rescue operations.

All the while, I thought it was the rope techniques for I find doing it so complicated. To deal with the ladder, one must learn to climb it with an erect body, without holding on to it, so as to free the hands. This training allows the body to carry a victim or patient or other tools up and down the ladder. The next technique to master is sliding, facing the ladder, touching its smooth sides. This comes in handy whenever one wants to save time in the descent. I had my share of bruises and gashes on my hands, arms, and even on my chin (hee hee) before I learned to accomplish this technique with the grace of a pro firefighter.

"Ayaw lagi suwanga, Nor. Don’t hold on too tight and don’t get your face near that thing. Slip lightly at the sides," my mentor would scold me.

Firemen are rescuers who at any moment could swap roles with those being rescued. This happened to Joaquin Phoenix (Fireman Jack Morrison) in Ladder 49, my mentor would relate. At the ladder team, he once worked on checking the roof, thudding it with the head of his axe, but the structure was already gutted by fire and was too weak to hold his weight. He slipped through the ceiling and was, within seconds, gobbled up by the blaze.

Thanks to a fire-resistant suit and a quick mind that’s been seasoned to handle a situation like that, he was able to bring himself to a portion away from the lapping flames. Eventually, he was lying on his tummy, making good use of fresh air available a foot from the floor, while waiting for his teammates to locate him. Reversal of roles! That is a dazzling fact, and my mentor says every firefighter must come to work with this biting reality.

Fire fighting could not be that popular a career back here and firemen are not at all times given the full honors accorded to three of John Travolta’s (Engine 33 Captain Mike Kennedy) men in funeral rites. But I would somehow recommend to young men and women to go and pursue fire fighting. It is a career able to exalt man’s purpose: made for service!

Firemen have this contagious passion for the ladder. Love and service performed on a ladder connects them to people clinging on to an endangered life that’s bound to change. Because, however risky fire fighting may be, there has to be somebody willing to give up his very own life for a job that has to be done!

(For your fiery comments, flaming reactions, blazing suggestions and razing contributions, burn up my addy: pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com. Celebrate firemen’s spaces in space!)