Showing posts with label The Journalist within. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Journalist within. Show all posts

Journalists and Jueteng

Jueteng is again in the headlines of dailies and newscasts. Like a recurring fever that refuses to subside, it goes on and off the radars of journalists. Again, the expose of a high-ranking church official triggered the simmering reaction.

It is an old story with a new lead character. Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz plays the hero this time. He recently exposed alleged transactions between local officials and Jueteng lords in several regions throughout the country. Refusing to drop names, he said many mayors and governors are in the payroll of gamblers or are the gambling tzars themselves.

However, Corruption and gambling are no longer the appalling angles of the issue. What's more glaring is media's "ningas cogon" attitude towards Jueteng. Journalists burn with passion in attacking the illegal numbers game at the beginning, but give them two to three weeks and their passion flickers without resolution.

This is how media institutions think today-- "Let us ride the times while the hottest issues bring ratings, ratings that rake in profit."

They had been consistent. There were "Hello Garci," "NBN-ZTE," "Quedancor," "fertilizer scam," "Morong 42," "Hacienda Luisita," "Ampatuan Massacre" and a host of other issues. They all started with a bang, but we hear nothing of them today. Whatever happened to these issues? Our gate-keepers just decided one day, "We're tired. Let's move on to the next."

"Journalism needs to be current," they say. But the last time we checked, Journalism as the fourth estate exists in the service of people. This attitude, if they haven't noticed has become to us a disservice.

And so, we are left with a multitude of loose ends which we unwillingly stash away until the "informers" remember them, until the "guardians of truth" decide that they're newsworthy again. Because of ratings, perhaps? Or because they just genuinely remembered? We do not know.

But one thing is sure, we wait patiently, hoping that this flash fire will finally burn Jueteng to the ground.

A Bible and a Challenge: Armin’s encounter with the Word

He was wearing his signature loose polo, a smile painted across his face while waiting for the shy freshmen to take their seats. Wrinkles lined his forehead and cheeks as he observed the chattering youth in that evening’s Bible study.

They were in a small circle, squatting on the cold floor infront of a church in the University of the Philippines. Behind them towered a giant wooden cross.

It was a cold Thursday evening. As it was the start of the month, the attendees were anticipating a testimony fellowship. “Tonight’s speaker is Kuya Armin Alforque. He is an elder at the Diliman Campus Bible Church (DCBC),” a student began. The first years were as silent as ever. But some also looked curious, their ears twitching to hear Armin's life story.

When he was in college in UP Diliman, attending a fellowship or a Bible Study would be deep down in Armin's list. Engrossed in different “-isms” as a philosophy major, he spent much time reading and studying the literature, claims and principles of different worldviews and religions. He would pore over voluminous works on Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Marxism among others.

For him, the claims of Jesus Christ, like those of other founders of different faith-systems, were but intellectual discourses, no different from the claims of Stalin, Lenin, Buddha or Mohammad.

Armin opened his talk the way he did on countless occasions. Picking an old and worn-out book from a heap of notes and handouts, he began by introducing his Bible.

“This is my very first Bible,” he said. “It has been with me for almost a decade now.”
Armin held the blue pocket New Testament Bible for everyone to see. The gold letterings that once bore the words “New Testament,” “Psalms” and “Proverbs” had faded. Even the small jar at the lower right corner had lost its luster.

His was a Gideon’s Bible, distributed by Gideons International, an evangelical Christian organization focused on bringing copies of the Bible to over 190 countries. During the organization’s centennial celebration in 2008, it reported giving out close to 1.5 billion Scriptures since its inception in 1908.

Armin is a proud recipient of their Bible. It took many years, however, before their paths crossed.

It was the year 1971 and the Philippines was in the brink of anarchy. Militant groups hounded the government for dissatisfaction with then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. Prices of commodities and oil were skyrocketing. People were losing jobs daily. The inflation rate was soaring. Rallies were held in the metropolis. Violent dispersals left hundreds dead and injured.

Then, there was silence. President Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972.

Even before this, however, Armin had flown to the United States to join anti-Marcos organizations there. He was active in campaigning for the ouster of the late strongman and spent much time with the Left. He was a vocal critique of Martial Law and a firm believer in communism.

But things did not turn out as he expected.

“With the collapse of the socialist world in the 1980s and also with the splits within the communist movements in the Philippines, I was adrift. The things that I believed in before no longer seemed able to explain the world,” he paused.

“So I was looking for answers.”

He went back to the Philippines for good in 1990. Though Marcos was toppled from power by a popular uprising, he felt that his life was left in the limbo. He was so preoccupied trying to fight a dictator that a sudden rush of victory left him dumbfounded and unprepared for what’s next.

“I also went into depression. I didn’t know what to do. My life had no meaning anymore so I sought professional psychological help,” he said.

After the restoration of democracy, he worked for Joseph Estrada from his vice-presidency until his ouster in 2001. Armin was director of the Management Information System of the Department of Agrarian Reform.

After Estrada's fall from power, Armin resigned from his post and decided to enter Law School in UP. On a faithful freshmen orientation day, a Christian organization went around the audience giving out free pocket New Testament Bibles. It was here that Armin received the Bible which would eventually introduce him to Jesus Christ.

Upon receiving his free copy, he thought to himself, “Okay in between breaks in reading cases and doing my law studies I can probably go and read the Bible as a diversion.”
He never did. “I kept the Bible but never really opened it,” he said.

Like many Bibles, Armin’s also spent more than a year gathering dust in one of the bookshelves at his home. He never finished Law and after a year, got disillusioned and dropped out. This was the time he and his wife from a second marriage, Maquette, got invited to the Discovery Meetings, a series of discussions on critical issues of Christianity.

Organized by DCBC, the event ran from April through May in its first year in 2002.
“During the first meeting, the speaker, Pastor Minho Song, challenged us to read the Bible. He recommended that we start reading the Book of Mark,” Armin said.

He added, “When I went home, I looked and looked but all I could find was the small Gideons Bible I received from Law School.”

He took the Bible and decided to read from the start.

"Right away, I could not put it down. I read and read,” he said.

Explaining his experience with the first three Gospels, Armin said, they appealed to his intellect. They gave him what he had long been searching for—a worldview and a philosophy alternative to Marxism and Leninism.

“Wow! This is what I’ve been looking for… Matthew, Mark and Luke blew my mind! They appealed to me intellectually and I felt they were reasonable. Everything was logical,” Armin’s voice cannot hide his excitement. Even his hands moved in tune with his words.

Then, like a father approaching his sleeping daughter, his voice went mellow. “Then I read the book of John.”

“John appealed to my heart. So it was not just an intellectual acceptance or intellectual satisfaction, I also experienced emotional satisfaction,” he added.

“In essence it was reading the Bible that converted me. This is what’s called ‘self affirming.’ The Bible affirmed itself in my life testimony,” he said.

By the end of the two-month Discovery Meetings, Armin was comfortable enough to join the Sunday service at DCBC. He was baptized on June that same year and ever since had been walking closely with the Lord.

He said it wasn’t automatic. When he accepted Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, there were still teachings which took time before he could fully accept by faith.

“I’m not saying that my study of the Bible is now complete. It’s a process and it’s continuing until today,” he said.

Little by little, he learned more and more in his own study of the Word and in group Bible studies and Sunday teachings. Now, the things that once ran contrary to his own belief system are treasured in his heart.

“The greatest change for me is more of the inside than the outside. I wasn’t a drunkard or a smoker or anything. What changed was my thinking. From essentially an atheist and an agnostic, I came to Christ through His Word,” he said.

Dok Z: The Educator and the Engineer

He was an early-bloomer. As young as four years old he already knew that one day he would become a civil engineer. Though at first he thought of becoming an architect, he reconsidered because he wanted something more than art. He loved science.

As a young boy, he only had a handful of friends. Very often his parents forbade him and his siblings from playing with other children their age. They were even expected to be home at 5 p.m. He said this happens when you have a sociologist for a father, especially if he specializes on deviant behavior among adolescents.

But at 41, Dr. Mark Zarco maintains a wide and healthy sphere of friends—both young and old, online and offline. And of course, he is now a full-fledged civil engineer with a PhD attached to his name.

It was a typical Tuesday afternoon in the College of Engineering. Several students were waiting for Dr. Zarco inside a medium-sized lecture room. They could hear him coming because of his distinct accent and his powerful voice. He would greet several people as he navigated the corridors of Melchor Hall.

“Hello, how are you?” his Indian-like accent boomed at a lady who was obviously his former student. The clinking of keys followed him as he beamed to almost everyone he met. From afar he looked like a schoolboy because of a giant lunchbox he was carrying around.

“Aha! I have a pasalubong for all of you,” Dok Z, as he is commonly known, announced to his class. He just arrived over the weekend from a seminar in Thailand. “But I’ll bring it out later. It’s a surprise.”

The landslide engineer

A true-blue Iskolar ng Bayan, Dok Z took up his preschool to doctorate all in the University of the Philippines. Both his parents also taught in UP, and he himself is now a faculty of the Department of Civil Engineering.

He specializes in Geotechnical Engineering. This is a branch that studies different materials from the earth like soil and rocks, including their mechanical properties. He also thinks of ways of using them to build structures.

“What specifically do I study? Landslides,” he said. “There are very few people in the Philippines who study landslides... It is a field that is not yet explored,” he added.

Dok Z said this baffles him because next to flooding, landslides kill more people in the country—even more than earthquakes. In fact some of the worst disasters in recent history were the landslides in St. Bernard and the Cherry Hills Subdivision.

As a civil engineer, he develops not only structures to prevent landslides but complete systems and action plans. In Sorsogon, for example, he and his team employed a system that dealt with three aspects of the disaster.

First, they assessed and quantified the likelihood of landslides near a geothermal plant in the area. Then, they installed early-warning systems that notified residents of impending landslides, giving them enough time to evacuate. Lastly, they introduced mitigation schemes like the greening of mountain slopes with specific plants to decrease the possibility of disaster.

“Very often when you have volcanic areas, the volcanic ash that is deposited becomes very prone to landsliding because of rain and weathering…The problem is that's also the place where you have all the sources of geothermal energy,” he explained.

Besides the geothermal plant, they are also concerned with the residents living in danger zones. Most often they choose to stay even if they know they could get buried alive under loose soil and rocks.
“We also have to understand that volcanic soil is also fertile soil. It is their livelihood that’s at stake,” Dok Z added.

Just last year, he became a panelist of a collaborative effort to create landslide sensors. The project started as a thesis and it is now used by geologists and even the government in their disaster-mitigation programs in the Bicol region.

“We develop systems that are low cost and easy to do and do not require a lot of technical expertise so that even non-scientists can use them,” he said.

Lessons from a teacher

This is Dok Z’s life on the field, but inside the classroom he goes back to the basics, teaching even general education courses to undergraduates.

That afternoon, he was in his Engineering Science 12 class, a core subject of engineering students that dealt with the mechanics of rigid bodies. He had quite a reputation in his college. Every enrollment period he is among the top picks of students. He is also among the most recommended.

“We are going to solve three problems today,” the professor said as he moved around the room giving out sheets of paper. “But there are several similar problems in your handouts. I expect you to answer them on your own.”

One by one he gave his students the questions, calling most of them with their nicknames. Then, he carried the lunchbox to the center table, opening it for the first time since he entered the room.

“I promised to give you pasalubong. I couldn’t think of any so I just bought you chocolates,” he beamed. He handed everyone at least two pieces of Hersey’s Nuggets, jokingly scolding those who hoarded the treat.

Dok Z employed the Socratic Method of teaching. Moving around, he threw questions at students—some were easy and others tricky. At one point he sat opposite three sophomores and grilled them one after the other.

“Is the bowling ball moving clockwise or counter-clockwise?”

“Is the force against the ball?”

“Is there friction involved?”

“Will it continue to move indefinitely?”

His students are used to his style. In fact, they engaged their professor, and also asked him questions.
After about an hour, they finished answering all three problems. Before letting his students go, Dok Z reminded them to study in advance for their fourth long exam.

“When I began teaching I thought it’s just a matter of teaching well and your students will learn. But now I know that there are so many things that happen outside the classroom that affect the ability of students to learn,” he said.

Dok Z had had several students who frequently absented themselves not because they were dull but because one of their loved ones was terminally ill. Having witnessed his own mother suffer from cancer, the professor knew exactly how they felt.

“You also have to understand that this student doesn’t do well because he's worried about a loved one who’s sick…we have to figure out how to motivate them, inspire them to study,” he said.

Living away from home

When he took up his PhD in Virginia Tech, he experienced how it felt to be unmotivated first-hand. It was his first time to be away from home so the adjustment was difficult.

He said there were times he would go to the shower at three in the morning and cry for two hours until the hot water ran out. Of course he only laughs about it now, but the experience taught him to look beyond students’ scores and attendance, and actually get to know them as individuals.

“What happened was that I found a [Christian] church and people there were very very supportive… they were also very caring. If you did not show up in a meeting, they would immediately call you and automatically assume that you were sick. And if you were sick, they’d cook for you,” he said.

At Virginia Tech, Dok Z’s once limited social sphere exploded. He gained many friends and most of them he still gets in touch with even today. Some already passed away, especially those who were much older than him.

He learned to stand on his own and to cope with the difficult curriculum. He said his classmates were brilliant and admitted that sometimes he learned more from them than his professors. But he also had equally inspiring teachers there.

Dok Z also learned to cook and bake well while in America. Whenever there were potlucks in school or in their church, he would bake bread as contribution. There was even a time when he volunteered to cook for a friend’s wedding. From the bridal shower down to the reception, Dok Z was the chief chef of the whole event.

Then, he had to come back to the Philippines largely because of the prodding of his parents. They did not want him to stay in the United States forever.

“It’s not the opportunity. I believe you can always engineer opportunities. But the people are difficult to leave behind, especially if they’ve become a family to you, ” he said.

Dok Z packed his things after his afternoon lecture. When he stepped outside the room some students greeted him. He beamed back at them. As the professor walked back to the faculty room, the clinking of keys followed him again. He was still carrying his lunchbox.

From the way he walked, his smile and countenance, it was obvious that Dok Z is at home as an educator and an engineer.

Another Side of Regulation: the Case of the Cheaper Medicines Act

According to economic theories, price regulation is generally disadvantageous to business. Everytime the government imposes price ceilings, it undermines the role of market forces in determining product prices.

Instead of market competition and the interaction of consumer demand and goods supply, the government becomes the all-powerful force, attempting to balance the complex capitalist market.

Economists argue that government intervention fails to reflect real market conditions. The prices are imposed arbitrarily and almost always miss the equilibrium point of supply and demand, resulting in either shortage or excess of goods in the market. These spell disincentive for business players.

The Philippine drug industry, however, seems to be an exception. Decades of unfettered business, instead of lowering drug prices through competition and supply-demand interaction, resulted in exorbitantly priced medicines in the country.

High Prices of Philippine Drugs

Comparative records from other countries reveal that for the longest time, drug prices in the Philippines failed to reflect real market conditions. In a 2007 cheaper medicines forum, Dr. Alberto Roxas, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, said “Filipinos buy medicines at prices 3.4 to 18 times higher than the international reference index.”

Rep. Emilio Abaya added that the Department of Health Pharma 50 Program revealed that Philippine medicines remain “40 to 70 percent” more expensive than in other Southeast Asian countries.

Rep. Ferjenel Biron, one of the main proponents of the Universally Accessible Cheaper, Quality Medicines Act of 2008, used the asthma medicine salbutamol as a concrete example. He said in India the drug is sold at only 85 pesos. In the Philippines, however, its “identical replica” imported from Australia costs 410 pesos, five times more expensive.

The Issue of Price Controls

These examples moved Biron to include a drug price regulatory board in his version of the Cheaper Medicines Act (CMA). As expected, it was opposed by drug firms through the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), the largest group of multinational drug companies in the country.

In a position paper given to Congress, PHAP pushed the idea of price ceiling as a disincentive to business players in the drug industry. PHAP said price control will “dampen innovation” because it “leads to conditions which stifle investment in R&D (Research and Development).”

“By pushing prices of drugs towards a certain ceiling regardless of the amount of investment needed to bring each new product on the market – profits (and therefore the ability to recoup R&D investment) of producers of innovative drugs inevitably fall. Price control has been shown to take away the incentive to invest in new research to develop new products,” it added.

PHAP also said that the artificial prices brought by the control will “stifle competition” in that it produces rogue feedback from unnatural supply and demand interaction. Instead of sending signals to players to increase or decrease supply based on demands, the information is utterly useless because it does not reflect real market conditions.

The Imperfect Market

This position relies heavily on Western economic theories. However, coming from the same school of thought, the late Nobel Prize recipient economist Paul Samuelson argued that “imperfect market competition” can equally blight demand and supply interaction. This may well explain the phenomenon in the Philippine drug industry.

Samuelson wrote that “Imperfect competition prevails in an industry whenever individual sellers have some measure of control over the price of their output.” That is, regardless of the market conditions, business players can dictate the prices of their goods, undermining the signals from consumers and suppliers. Market monopoly, oligopoly, and monopolistic competition are examples of such.

Monopoly in the Philippine Drug Industry

In the final form of the CMA, the drug price regulatory board introduced by Representative Biron bowed to Sen. Manuel Roxas’ version of a price control through a Maximum Retail Price (MRP) in the hands of the president, consulting with the DOH secretary.

Monopoly was the battle cry of CMA supporters in Congress as well as smaller Filipino players in the drug industry. The same argument convinced Senator Roxas to reconsider the MRP which was not part of his original Senate proposal.

The data from drug industry statistics speak for themselves. Records show that 60 t0 70 percent of the industry belongs to multinational firms with much higher prices. Interphil, a multinational company, controls 80 percent of total drug manufacturing. In the case of wholesale distribution, its sister company Zuellig, and another company, Metro Drug, control 65 to 75 percent of the industry. Mercury Drugstore with its over 600 branches in the Philippines and Watsons form the retail monopoly.

In a statement, Dr. Geneve Rivera, Secretary General of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) said the high prices of multinational medicines are “fueled by their insatiable greed for profits, greed that is perpetuated by their monopoly.”

HEAD worked closely with pro-CMA representatives during the enactment of the law.

According to PHAP, drug prices are high because of the costs of research and development. In their factbook, data show that it takes more than 15 years to develop new drugs, with expenses reaching as high as “one billion dollars.” A third of the expenditures are incurred in the clinical evaluations.

William Fabroa, Director PRO of the Philippine Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry, the local counterpart of PHAP and a supporter of CMA, has another story. He admitted that drug R&D is expensive, but whether local or multinational, all drug firms go through the same process.

That is, Filipino-owned companies also incur the same expenses as multinationals, but they can sell at much lower prices. He said multinational drug firms even have the advantage because they recoup their investments much faster because of market dominance. Despite this, they charge much higher prices for their products.

Asked, then, what the deciding factor in the difference of prices, Dr. Fabroa agrees with Dr. Rivera of HEAD. His answer is simple. He said, “Greed. That’s the only thing, greed.”

“When the multinationals entered our market with their patented products, they started with sky-high prices…We had no choice, because we had no drug industry then. We can’t even manufacture paracetamol…And they never reduced their prices even when the off-patents came, unlike in other countries,” he added.

The Work Begins

Recognizing such monopoly, CMA’s MRP provision is eyed as a potent weapon to truly reduce prices. Despite moves from multinationals to stop the signing of Executive Order 821 which will implement the MRP, the president nonetheless pushed for the reduction of 22 of the 647 essential drugs identified by DOH.

Dr. Fabroa said, competition cannot bring down the prices of the essential drugs because more than 400 are exclusively produced or marketed by multinationals. This means, they can set prices according to their whims. Here, monopoly is evident, and a price ceiling necessary.

Unfortunately, with only 22 drugs covered by the MRP and only around 200 influenced by competition, multinationals still have considerable leeway in the control of prices of the remaining 400 essential drugs.

Here, Rep. Satur Ocampo’s thrust for a nationalized drug industry gains ground. In a statement, he said, “we will continue to stress that we should not only focus on mere adjustments in the existing mechanisms. After all, the key to safe and affordable medicines is a nationalized drug industry based on willingness to serve the people and not just to satisfy the thirst for profit.”

Dr. Fabroa shares this vision and encourages support for local drug research and development. In the long run he said this will boost technology and give Filipino firms the capacity to produce more of the essential drugs to bring genuine competition in the market.

Regulation in an Imperfect Competition

The Filipino drug industry reflects imperfect competition that prevents market forces from truly reflecting market condition. This gives a limited number of players the freedom to impose prices without competition and outside the interaction of supply and demand.

In such a condition, regulation becomes a tool against monopoly. Even proponents of CMA, however, recognize the need for a long-term solution, which, unfortunately is beyond regulation. But at the moment, the MRP is doing Filipinos good-- it has reduced a number of medicines direly needed by the poorer sectors of society.

But the promise of accessible cheaper and quality medicines is still a work in progress.


I have to admit, almost four years of training at UP dulled my senses. I no longer write the way I do when I was younger. I have lost the flower and the inspiration. I have forgotten the passion and the courage. All I have now are the facts and the structure.

I'm afraid I lost track of the novelist and creative writer in me, and instead, unleashed the journalist. Journalism has its strengths, but as to writing, people love the creative writer more. Having this realization, I'm really left with not much.

I tried to fuse my old style of writing with what CMC has been teaching me, but they're two completely different worlds. They don't fit; they just end up a hodgepodge of poorly constructed sentences-- a string of thought that goes nowhere.

How must I write now? I don't know. But something inspired me last night. A video from Ted Talks reminded me that, more than anything, I'm only the vessel of the creative energy. The energy just channels through me. I do the writing, but the creativity does not come from me.

I attribute this creative living energy to the One who made me. He is more than my genie or genius, He is my God. So, what is my point now? Perhaps, I just have to keep on writing in the hope that someone, out there's reading. :)


I also wrote this for a CW10 class back in my freshman years. :)


“It’s so hot.”

“Do you want me to direct the electric fan to you, Lola?

“I am so thirsty. Do we have water?”

“There’s water in the fridge. Do you want me to pour a glass for you?”

“No.... They’re watching our every move.”

Lola? Who’s watching us?”

“THEY are watching us.” She pointed at three passersby on the side walk. “It’s dangerous. They want us to die of thirst.”

There was silence; then, she spoke again.

“He poured my water on the ground. He said I’m not allowed to drink.”

“I promise you, Lola, I will not let him pour your water again.”

“Are the Americans back?”

“We already won the war, don’t you remember? The Americans came and left. We’re free now. ”

“The war is over?”

“Yes, it’s over. No more Japanese. No more killings.”

“What year is it?”


“Who are you again?”

Vince stared at his grandmother who was sitting on a creaking rocking chair two feet away from him. She was wearing those sad eyes she usually wore when the conversations got messy. Her silence told him that Lola Pinang was trying to piece together a puzzle with mismatched tiles. He could read on her facial expression what she was thinking—

“How can the war be over? The Americans just left us. The Japanese just captured Bataan. We are about to cover a 50-mile distance to Pampanga. How can this boy be sure that the Japanese are gone? They’re just hiding. I know they’re just around. I must not let my guard down.”

Vince stood up and left the torn history book he was reading on the floor. In a single stride he found himself beside his Lola. He was close enough to notice the wrinkles on her forehead that told him how deep his grandmother’s thoughts were.

Lola, I’m Vince, your first and only grandson.”

“You are? But my children aren’t even adolescents yet. My firstborn, in fact, is as old as you, maybe even younger. How old are you anyway?”

“I just turned eleven last month. Don’t you remember my birthday party?”

“You’re eleven!? Oh, I remember now. You aren’t Vince. You’re Manuel! You’re my eldest son. My eyes are failing me…”

Vince gave off a here-goes-lola-again type of sigh. It wasn’t the first time Lola Pinang mentioned the name, Manuel, but it was her first time to regard him as her firstborn. Vince was confused because as far as he knew, his grandmother only had three sons—Tito Boni, Tito Ceasar and his own father, Felipe. Vince thought his father was the firstborn and not this Manuel his Lola was mentioning. He was also sure that his father was just nine years old during the Japanese occupation so he couldn’t be the one referred to as Manuel by Lola Pinang. From the first time he heard this name, Vince believed in what his father had ingrained in him—Manuel was just a figment of Lola Pinang’s imagination.

The hinges of the yakal door gave off a high-pitched creak as if annoyed in the entry of a visitor.

“Vince? Have you finished your assignment? I told you, no assignment, no outdoors.”

“I’m almost done, pa. Lola’s just telling me something.”

Mr. Asuncion shot a piercing glance at his mother. Only Vince noticed this for Lola Pinang was looking far out of the window, her back toward her son. Vince always wondered why his father looked at Lola Pinang that way. His glances could easily be mistaken for profound hatred. Vince knew it was baseless, but his instincts told him otherwise. Mr. Asuncion motioned for Vince to come closer to him. He leaned to his son’s left ear and whispered.

“What did she tell you about this time?”

Lola mentioned Manuel again, pa. This time she said he was her firstborn. Weren’t you Lola’s eldest son?”

“I am her eldest son. There’s no Manuel in our family tree.”

“But Lola’s always mentioning him. What if she’s saying the truth? What if I have another tito?”

“Don’t start it again, Vince.” There was an air of authority in his voice emphasizing his years of law practice. “I’ll tell you one last time. Your Lola’s memory is mixing the past and the present, what’s true and what’s not. This Manuel, whoever he is, is a result of her memory’s handicap.”

Vince noticed how his father broke their eye contact in the last part of his statement. Instead of throwing the words at him, he seemed to have directed them to the wooden flooring of the room.

“Why don’t you listen to her for once, pa? I think she wants to tell you many things.”

“Vince, that’s enough.”

“What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you want to talk to Lola? What has she done to you, pa?”

Mr. Asuncion displayed the reaction of an overruled lawyer. He shot another piercing look at his mother, this time a lingering one. Vince watched as the contours of his father’s face transformed to reveal how his lungs squeezed out all the air he was trying to inhale. A throbbing vein in Mr. Asuncion’s temple became visible to the child. Vince sensed the tough emotion his father was suppressing.

At that same moment, Lola Pinang turned her head toward her son. Her eyes, swelling in tears, met his, burning with repugnance. Vince saw all these. His silence gave him the chance to absorb the intensity of the situation. He had never seen his father’s eyes display such anger. He knew that if only they could talk, those sharp stares would spill out an indescribable rage only Mr. Asuncion would hear and understand—

“It’s you! You killed him! You sacrificed him! You did not do anything to save him. You are a worthless mother!!!”

The silence was broken by Lola Pinang’s desperate voice. She spoke as if answering Mr. Asuncion’s furious thoughts.

“Tasio, please don’t give them Manuel. Think it over. He’s your son for God’s sake. Don’t sell them your son.”

Vince looked at his father’s face. There was no bewilderment in his reaction, but he saw his father’s eyes still speaking. They were shouting words he could not hear, but those blazing eyes made him sure they were stabbing his grandmother’s soul to the core—

You’re lying! Don’t blame father for what you did! He died mourning over our loss while you didn’t even show a single affection for my brother! You killed him because you’re selfish!!!”

Mr. Asuncion turned around and walked out of the room as if he heard nothing from his mother. The creaks of the hinges were silenced by the loud bang the door made. In Vince’s mind, he was racing to comprehend the significance of his father’s stares and his grandmother’s words. He was transfixed. He knew his father was hiding something.

“Manuel, come closer.” Lola Pinang’s words were uttered in between heavy sobs.

Vince knew he was the “Manuel” her grandmother was calling. He moved toward her. His feet wobbled as he walked. He was still disturbed by his father’s silent outpour of anger and her grandmother’s sudden outburst of tears. He reached his grandmother who now resembled a child crying over a candy which fell on the ground. Vince stood at the exact spot he had been standing on before his father interrupted their conversation.

“I tried stopping your father, Manuel, but he said selling you is the only way for me to survive. I pleaded him, begged, but Tasio would not listen. I said I could bear what they’re doing to me, but he still sold you. He sold you to the Japanese. He sold you to those wretched men who knew nothing but to kill and to bring pleasure to their flesh. He killed you the moment he sold you. I am so sorry…. I hadn’t saved you… I’m sorry…”

She opened her mouth to speak more but her sobs choked her. She was keening now, her cries echoing in the long corridors of their ancestral house. Vince unconsciously found himself embracing his grandmother, trying to calm her down. He caressed her white hair like a mother comforting her crying son. She wept on his shoulders. They lost track of time; then, her shaking subsided. She stopped crying and became silent again. Vince let go of Lola Pinang who reclined back on her rocking chair. Her face no longer bore distress, but her eyes were still sad.

“Tasio…” Lola Pinang was speaking to her nonexistent husband. “I told Felipe we sold Manuel to the Japanese because I needed money for my medicine. I know I should have told him the truth but he would not understand. I didn’t want to burden his young mind.”

“What do you mean, Lola?” Vince uttered, his voice full of anxiety. Vince’s mind was flooded with questions, but he felt that the answers were within reach.

Lola Pinang glanced toward her grandson. Her eyes were watery, her brows furrowed.

“Manuel, your father decided to sell you in exchange of my freedom. He couldn’t bear the thought that the Japanese soldiers were using me every night, one after the other to satisfy themselves. I told him I could take it for as long as our family’s spared from death. But he said, no. Tasio said he would sell you to the Japanese to become their errand boy. He couldn’t do it himself because of his paralyzed limbs so he only had you to rely on. When the Japanese had you, they let me go, but they treated you as their slave… They killed you of hard labor… They killed you...”

Lola, tell papa the truth. After all you’ve been through, I couldn’t bear him treating you like that.” His voice was resolute.

“Manuel… I want to cry but I can’t. I must be strong. I don’t want Felipe to see me weak. I need to show him an example… But every night I cry alone. I mourn for you.”

Lola, please tell papa what you’ve just told me. Tell him please…” His voice now sounded desperate.

Lola Pinang stared at her grandson’s face. She was still, only her breathing could be heard. It was calm.

“There’s no need to tell him… Vince. He doesn’t deserve the pain.”

She fixed her eyes on Vince’s. The child noticed that they were alive, no longer watery and no longer sad.


EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this for a CW10 class when I was in first year. Chiness helped me. This is purely a work of fiction. :)
I sat on the front steps of my sister’s dormitory typing a message on my K-700i. Without looking at the keypad, eyes staring blankly at the deserted street, my thumb pressed the keys rapidly finishing my message in less than ten seconds. A drawing of a yellow envelope appeared on the screen, below it were the words Message Sent.
Ate, where art thou?
Beep-beep, beep-beep.
Wait, I’m coming. (^_^)
Ok. Hurry up. It’s already 2:30.
Beep-beep, beep-beep.
I’m almost there. Wait a minute.
I was erasing her last message when a shadow hovered over me like a lost phantom in the afternoon. I looked up and saw my sister standing behind me, smiling. Her hair was tied in a bundle at the back of her head, secured by what appeared to be a chopstick. Silver beads were dangling freely from the tip of the chopstick, swishing left and right with every movement of her head. She was wearing a dress made of cotton that glowed yellow as it reflected the afternoon sun. Her bony hands were emphasized by the loose and baggy sleeves that looked like saggy skin hanging from an old woman’s arms.
At the back of my mind I remembered an old Chinese movie we used to watch as children. It was an action-packed movie about a kung-fu master known as the Iron Centipede. He was actually a Robin Hood type of hero who struggled against a corrupt clan of warriors known as the Flaming Bees. The Iron Centipede always wore a tunic with loose sleeves. Whenever he appeared in the scene, his clothes swished like a vortex, creating the sound of clothes fluttering against the wind. My sister’s dress resembled closely the Iron Centipede’s tunic.
“Was that quick or what?”
“If you call a thirty-minute delay quick, then I’ll agree with you.”
I puffed up my cheeks while my sister raised her left eyebrow threateningly. From a stranger’s point of view, we looked like rivals ready for a big fight, but actually, we did these whenever our “corny radars” sensed intruding jokes attempting to make us laugh. We struggled to control our laughter, but we ended up laughing at our distorted faces.
Ading, what’ll you do next after you get your laptop?”
“I have no idea, but if you have other plans, we can stay there, ‘till say 5:30?—Just to avoid the rush hour?” I said.
“5:30’s fine with me. I’ll just check out some stores in Mega. It will be quick, promise, cross my heart.” My sister said while drawing an” x” mark over her chest. I smiled at her hoping that we had read the word, quick, in the same dictionary. I read mine in Oxford. I think she read hers in Chamber’s.
By three in the afternoon, we joined the long procession of shoppers passing the security check of SM Mega Mall. My sister joined the line for girls which was considerably shorter than our line. I was greeted by a stern-looking guard standing at the entrance, nastily clutching a metal detector in his right hand. His ears were sticking out in a peculiar manner, like that of dwarves minus the pointed tip. It gave me the impression that he was very eager to hear his detector beep. He glanced at a poster on the wall bearing the faces of the most wanted men in the Philippines, and then he shot a suspicious eye at me as if checking if I resembled any of them.
I opened my backpack and he inspected it rabidly, moving the metal detector on every corner of the bag. His detector remained silent, and when he finally realized my innocence—no bomb, no ammunition whatsoever in my bag—he allowed me inside, reluctance painted on his face. My sister was already waiting at a telephone booth when I saw her. Waving her hands furiously, she beckoned for me to move faster.
“Villman’s Computer Shop’s located in the third floor”, I told my sister while reading the address from their claiming receipt.
“I remember that. It’s even beside an art gallery. But I don’t remember whether we used this elevator or the escalator in the Department Store.” I was about to answer her when she blurted out, “Wait! Don’t talk! Memory… Memory… Don’t fail me… I remember now! We took the Department Store escalator. Ok, this way then!” She started walking towards the Department store while I trailed from behind.
Ate, wait! I think it’s faster if we take the escalator near Celine. That will bring us directly to Villman’s.”
“Are you sure about that? But we took the Department Store’s escalator when we went for repairs, remember?”
“We did take that route but the Department Store’s so packed with people it’s difficult to move around. It took us forty minutes to reach Villman’s, remember?” I exaggerated my question to prove my point.
“If you insist…”
“I insist”, I said firmly.
My sister grinned.
Why did I fall for that one?
I found myself bathed in the yellow light of Celine sitting on a long wooden bench among several women stooping down, their hands on either foot, trying to fit their choice of sandals. My sister was sitting on my left tediously counting the beads on the shoe she was fitting. An apparently well-off lady embellished with golden bracelets like overweight snakes was sitting on my right. She was having a heated debate with a saleslady in peach about the sizes of shoes in the store.
“Miss”, croaked the lady in a disparaging voice, “I have always worn size seven shoes, so don’t tell me that my feet have grown without me knowing.”
“Ma’am, it happens to everyone. One moment you’re size seven, the next you’re eight. Be thankful you’re not nine”, the saleslady retorted wearing an irritated face.
“Not to ME!” said the lady firmly.
Ading, hello? Are you still there?” my sister said, nudging me on the ribs, bringing to an end the radionovela episode I was rapturously listening to.
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing”, I answered promptly, not wanting my sister to realize that I was eavesdropping.
“Ok. What do you think about these shoes? Nice, huh?”, my sister drawled. She stood up and walked back and forth in front of me, flaunting the glittering shoes.
“Er—I don’t really know. In a girl’s point of view, are they supposed to be nice?”
“Look at the beads! They glitter! Look! They’re beautiful! Tell me they are!” My sister implored, gathering her hands piously, her voice sounded desperately like a child bawling for candies.
“Hmmm.. They’re beautiful? If you say so.” I shrugged.
“Don’t you find them lovely?” She voiced, fixing her gaze on the shoes that glittered against the polished floor. She fell silent, as though entranced by the playful sparkle of light on the glistening shoes.
I felt a pang of guilt. After all, it took my sister more than an hour hovering over the racks and searching for the perfect pair that would match her taste, like Cinderella with her glass slippers—except of course, hers was an awfully beaded one.
I should have told her they were just fine, I thought, wishing I could find a way to console her.
But at least we could now leave this store, my mind’s other half argued, and my lips suddenly curled meaningfully.
Ading?” My sister’s voice sounded hoarse. Her head rose slowly as if reluctant to detach her gaze from the floor.
Just bear in mind, the storm shall pass, I whispered to myself.
Ading—“, she was now facing me. I couldn’t make out the expression on her face.
Is she angry? Is she sad? This is it, I crossed my fingers behind my back.
“Can I have one more hour?” My sister implored, clasping her hands again, her voice squeaking like china colliding with each other.
“Please, please, please… Just one more hour. Please.”
“But how about—“
“Please, Ading. Just one more hour?” She was leaning closer now, her eyes were half-pleading, half-demanding.
The argument’s over. Nothing’s stopping her, I thought miserably.
My neck now felt like thawing gelatin, and I found my head bobbing back and forth in an unmistakable nod.
“So much for hoping”, I sighed as I watched my sister disappear behind a cabinet of sandals.
Hands propping my heavy chest, my back created a gradient brae as I contented myself watching the saleslady in peach. Through the corners of my eyes I saw her placing a size seven sticker over a size eight while the lady with snake-like bracelets busied herself giving the store manager a free lecture on her feet size’s history.
“What time is it?”
“Half past five”, I said.
“Yes”, I answered in an it’s-about-time-you-realized sort of way.
“Can you hold this for me, Ading? My ice cream’s melting.”
“Let me have that”, I said, taking the glossy paper bag that held her sandals.
“Thank you.”
“Quick! The ice cream’s spattering on your dress.”
It was too late. Two large blotches of brown ice cream had fallen and trickled on her left sleeve. They spread rapidly, forming a horrible swastika that clashed violently with her white dress.
“That’ll leave a mark”, I said, feeling sorry for my sister’s besmirched outfit.
“Definitely”, she remarked in an unusually delighted manner, “But someone’s going to let me look for a new dress.”
“Not me.” My answer was cold.
“You guessed it right! It’s you!”
“No, I’m not allowing you. How about my laptop? It’s nearing six. We’ll go get that first.”
“You’re not allowing me?”
“You are?!”
“No! I’m—not—allowing—you”, my voice sounded crisp as I emphasized each word of my statement.
Sensing my clabbered patience, my sister stood transfixed unable to speak. For a moment she appeared apologetic, then she stirred from her reticence and began using her well-coiled reverse psychology against me.
“Can you endure the humiliation your beloved sister will go through because of this stain?” She murmured, trying to sound miserable as she stretched out her left arm giving me full view of the terrible stain on her sleeve. It now resembled an amoeba with its undulating pseudo pods about to swallow food.
She opened her mouth again, and to my horror, she began her usual speech of plea accompanied by seemingly choreographed gestures. She clutched her fist, raised her head to the ceiling, straightened her arms, bowed her head and rested her clasped fingers over her heart.
“You’ll choose a laptop over your own sister? Oh! The pain! The excruciating pain! I can’t take it. My heart—“
“Ok! You win! You can look for a new dress! Just stop that terrible monologue! You’re attracting too much attention”, I blurted out, pulling my sister’s hands down to hide the gestures that were catching people’s eyes and curiosity.
“Really?” My sister purred, almost shrieking, the hint of exuberance teemed in her voice.
“Yes, Ate! Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible!”
People were still shooting glances at us; their faces wore lopsided expressions. I even heard a child tell her mother, “Mommy, when I grow up, I don’t want to be like them.”
“You better not be baby, or mommy and daddy will be extremely unhappy.”
My sister took no notice of the people. Instead, she pulled me by the elbow into another shop in psychedelic shades of pink, white and crimson. I just had enough time to make out the name of the shop—HerBench.
I wondered if I would ever see my laptop again as I watched the amoeba engulfing more of my sister’s sleeve.