life as a rough draft

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Legislate running | Sun.Star Cebu | May 28, 2010

I had cleared the bedside table of its usual residents—dog-eared books and Vicks inhaler. Last night, I had a neatly folded pair of running shorts, a dri-fit shirt, new pair of socks, and my running shoes, to take the place. My phone would drill its way into the pillow and wake me up by 5 a.m. I belong to that kind of sleepers who can’t be roused by birds chirping, sunlight falling or dogs barking. I need a bit of panic, say, a divine apparition or a tropical depression. I was going to try it out, brave the dawn and trudge a good stretch of the SRP, up to wherever lungs and limbs could carry me.

I figured if I could lift my soul in this first attempt, enlightenment is a matter of a 5K run. I figured if I could get into the groove, set a new default setting on my body clock, in no time, I’d have a six-pack to show off on Facebook. I figured I could probably be a matinee idol before Noynoy is proclaimed or put a sudden halt to the career of this guy Derek Ramsey. I figured I could be spending my life endorsing boxer shorts and hiding from groupies in mini skirts.

I was thinking that with a longer life and sturdier muscle tone, I’d be perfect with a century to waste to finally read through a backlog of old books. I’d finally be able to leap beyond two chapters in “Moby Dick,” “Ulysses” or “War and Peace.” I’d have the healthy mind to fully absorb philosophical puzzles in any of those untouched tomes on my shelf.

Dream on. And I mean that literally, because way beyond 5 a.m., in my dream, I was still Jabba the Hut wolfing on Talisay lechon. When I opened my eyes, I was the fictional character in Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”—the gigantic man-insect who couldn’t heave his bloated body off the bed with all the innumerable limbs working all at once. I gave it an hour, until the smell of adobo burst forth from the kitchen. It lifted me to heights unimaginable, like joy-riding in Shangri-la. Ah, paradiso!

Such is the redundancy of vice, its overwhelming weight on the lives of not a few of us. When president-apparent Noynoy Aquino said he is not considering giving up smoking, I thought that if the executive won’t be bent on conjuring up life-saving policies, the legislative can come up with laws requiring every citizen a five-kilometer jog each week.

That’s it. Let the citizens run, wring their necks into compliance. That will be way more efficient economically than spending your health budget on intensive care for citizens with the eating habits of a T-Rex. Noynoy, the economics graduate, probably understands that a citizenry’s oblivious appetite for pork and lack of exercise is directly proportional to a health budget.

The trick in this proposed law will be that if you don’t run the 5-kilometer-per-week requirement, you’ll go to jail, although in there, you’ll have a different level of physical fitness, courtesy of the late Michael Jackson. With my psychomotor incorrigibly haywire, I’d rather run the 5 kilometers than rouse Jacko’s soul into eternal unrest and earn YouTube fame. My genetic make-up left that part on grace in motion.

The morning, such as the one I just had, is one of those countless mornings of failing to keep a promise. Really, I’m just joking about the running law, although there could be a way to legislate for the health-being of citizens. Tonight, the Ungo running club, led by colleague Max Limpag, will make parallel travel through history in the city’s Kabilin tour. Since you can’t check on my six-pack yet on Facebook, you can seek details of the Ungo run there.

Sci fi Koalajeje | Sun.Star Cebu | May 24, 2010

In a galaxy far, far away, Captain Barbers speaks before the largest delegation of leaders in Planet Kewljeje, some 999 trillion light years from Earth. He had traveled through ten black holes and reports about strange sightings of Earth-like bears who, he says, could be intelligent life forms plotting to sabotage the otherwise invincible circuitries of Poll2010jeje, a device that ensures the universal and synchronized succession of leaders in majority of the planets under the UNjeje Treaty. The machines, created by an outsourced pool of turbaned geniuses from the southern cluster of the Alpha Centauri, had exponentially complex encryptions that made them function like human physiology with all its chemical configurations.

“Mr. Speaker, sir,” Capt. Barbers, an erstwhile cloud-dweller in Nebula XXX, begs for an audience. “I can beam this body a hologram image of these strange creatures. And I shall prove to you that there, indeed, is a glitch of damaging proportions in the integrity of our Poll2010jeje!”

At this time, shouting bursts forth across the hall.

“Shut your beaks, everyone!” The Speaker, a tusked old man from Deneb of Cygnus, calls out. “This matter is of utmost importance for the survival and peace of all planets under the UNjeje Treaty. It is then our biggest responsibility to cast light in every dubious corner of the Poll2010jeje process.”

Capt. Barbers doesn’t delay in beaming his shots of the strange creatures who he said have a comprehensive knowledge in the rigging of the universe’s electoral process. A sea of varied reactions rises in Housejeje Hall.

Congressman Loxy calls out to the Speaker, “Mr. Speaker, sir! That is a joke! That is a Koalajeje bear!” As it is beyond the heads of most people in the hall, Congressman Loxy explains the nature of Koalajeje Bears.

Koalajeje bears, he says, are shameless snub-nosed marsupials that thrive in the gaseous strips of many planets in the galaxy. These are galactic on-call bystanders who are usually hired as special operatives by disgruntled leaders out to spin planets off their usual axis.

Koalajejes, Cong. Loxy says, are dyslexic by nature and are poor in spelling. “As evidenced, distinguished citizens of the UNjeje Treaty, this Koalajeje beamed before you by Capt. Barbers is a phoney! He can’t spell the system correctly. It does not have a terminal ‘jeje,’ and is therefore a joke of nebular proportions! This nova is a super-dud!”
Noise erupts across the hall. A one-eyed elephant falls off the balcony. The marshals later report he was a politician from Pluto who spent his life’s fortune to buy votes. He lost.

“But it’s a reputable bear!” says Capt. Barbers, and went on to describe that in gaseous territories, cuteness is proportional to truth and honor.

“But a Koalajeje is not a bear!” replies Cong. Loxy, this time he has turned red and his vertebra is expanding portentously into spikes.

“It’s more than you can bear, congressman? Is that what you’re saying?” Capt. Barbers says.

“You’re a son of a Vitch!” Cong. Loxy yells at the captain. “Vitch” is a derogatory term pervasive in not a few planets, but of unknown origin. Professors from Hubble University say it could come from the word “Visigoths,” and it could be what came into Cong. Loxy’s mind as he looked at the hooded Koalajeje.

And so it was learned later that Capt. Barbers was in cahoots with the Koalajejes. He lobbied for anarchy, says Cong. Loxy of him later. He played a part in the grand and protracted plan to keep the old rule of corrupt leaders in the universe.

There is no assurance that the planets of UNjeje will live happily ever after. But at least they have rid themselves of the diabolical plot of the snucky Koalajejes and Vitches. They have also learned a lesson that Koalajejes, after all, are merely bear impostors.

Postmodern polls | Sun.Star Cebu | May 18, 2010

There is a large explosion across the street. A monstrous cloud billows over the neighborhood like an angry beast. There is fire everywhere, people spilled into the streets with expressions of shock and awe on their faces. Fire trucks arrive, but the fire arched over and licks another section across the street. You can see how powerless the firemen are against the hellish wave that gobbles every solid structure in its way. Such a gross dosage of hyper-reality, and from a distance you are looking at the whole spectacle with the heat vibrating against your face and body. There is screaming and wailing, and it is through them that you know some twenty families are trapped and are probably charred in the inner portion of the neighborhood. Because of the shouting, you also know there is fighting among people and cops and firemen and government officials. Everybody is here, except one: the media.

The day after, you switch on the radio to wait for the news program. But, no, there was no news of the fire. You turn on the TV, but no mention of it. The papers say the day before was thoroughly lackluster. Will you be disoriented? Will you for a few seconds doubt your grasp at reality? Will you think you were just dreaming the day before?

I pose these questions to my students in a class called postmodernism. A cultural theory asserts that in this day and age, there seems to be an aberration of the old concepts of truth. Reality is not what you can touch or see for yourself. The people’s grasp at reality lies at the mercy of an intermediary or the media. The copy, or “simulacra,” is what is real.

A friend of mine who was backing a candidate in his barangay in a southern town in the last election had a hard time convincing his neighbors about a certain issue. His neighbors, otherwise trusting in ordinary times, would rather believe in what a radio commentator, whom they hardly even knew personally, would say. They didn’t trust what their own neighbor was telling them.

I must have pointed this out in a column earlier during the campaign period. The old notions of machinery—where local candidates carry national contenders—have become passé. The battle is no longer fought on the ground. The skirmish takes place mid-air. Media’s power grows, not relying on reach alone, but because it has become the intermediary that practically defines and narrates what is supposed to be real in a postmodern society. As I narrated earlier, a fire that you saw with your own eyes wouldn’t be as real as when it is being narrated by media. If it didn’t come out in the news, you would have doubted for a moment whether the fire actually took place. The theory describes this as the “loss of the real.”

Villar stood a fighting chance when he bombarded the airwaves with his political ads until Aquino leveled up in both news content and advertising when the official campaign period started. The dominant message in the end put Villar in a bad light. Teodoro insisted on basking on the old notion of machinery, relying on the campaign of local candidates and didn’t invest much on media. He was practically thin air, and ran like a goat. If you believed in the surveys and closely watched it, you’d have seen that the ticks in the figures were triggered solely by what was happening on the airwaves, not by the dynamics of traditional machinery on the ground.

However, the shifting notions of “machinery” are not only brought about by this expanding role of the media, but by the change in the dynamics of power since the local government code. But let’s take that up some other time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The great divide | Sun.Star Cebu | May 14, 2010

When 2010 opened, I was filled to the brim with optimism. At the very first waking hours of the year, I took my erpats and my six-year-old niece to the beach. On that breezy stretch, there was just the three of us, cozy until a slight argument ensued. The lolo wanted the little lady to eat her baon first before swimming. The niece said no, and I said let her go, she’d be hungry in a while. After a few minutes of battling with the waves, she returned to the table and said she was starving. I was right.

In the succeeding months, the great divide. The two of them became solid Gibo supporters. My niece had since stopped eating the yolk in her sunny side up because it was “yellow.” To demonstrate her loyalty, she tried eating pichay because it was green, but it was something her taste buds rejected. Green reminded her of goats, she said. Unable to ingest “green,” she suggested we should buy green plates instead. She isn’t one who easily gets conned by campaign ads that sounds like nursery rhymes, which was why Villar’s ads were beyond her. She hates nursery rhymes, in fact. You can understand. She has a problem with hitting the right notes and she’s given to insisting her own lyrics. Anyway, the dinner wares stayed white.

The old man was most dogmatic. The intensity was familiar, and he had the same firm resolve when he wagered for Oscar De La Hoya against Manny Pacquiao in 2008. When “The Dream Match” took place, while I screamed at the top of my lungs as Pacman beat De La Hoya to a pulp, I was wishing the old man’s pride and prejudice have gone black and blue, ka-blam on the canvas. He had all the tasteless arguments against my candidate, and the irony was I could trace them all to a radio program he listened to in the mornings, the one with Bert Empaces, verbal contortionist par excellence. My blood boiled each time, not because Bert attacked my candidate, but because unwittingly he put asunder a supposed father-son tactical alliance. Certainly, the niece would have been an easy swing vote. But the household had since become a tense zone, and nowhere was the line “Hindi ako tinanong ng survey” became so right than in our house. Had the SWS came, the surveys would have shown a different picture. Gibo was a sure winner in our dining room.

The old man said I was grossly crazy for using sentimentality or emotions in my choice. I told him that emotion is not necessarily an independent fact from intelligence. A family who lives by P80 a day will find news about a president eating P1M for a Le Cirque dinner very emotional. When you heave heaven and earth to be as honest as you can with your SAL, while you have a president who spends her time trying to get around with her own, certainly you’re not autistic if you become emotional. The rather loftier term is “social injustice,” so tell me if in the face of it you don’t discover fury that is a classic hybrid of the emotional and the intellectual.

But here are the more pragmatic facts, I told the old man. A politician who dismisses the emotional quotient in a campaign is a living blunder. I wrote in my earlier column about a study entitled, “The dynamics of emotions in political game theory.” A group of academics from the disciplines of psychology, mathematics, anthropology and political science have merged their theories to quantify emotion so they can gauge its contagiousness in a political phenomenon. Another study by the Democrats in the US inspired a different tack in Obama’s campaign, setting aside the cold policy arguments in more formal fora.

Emotion, issuing from Edsa and Cory’s death, did my niece’s leafy vegetables in. When I arrived home yesterday, she jumped and screamed, with all of her missing front teeth, that she was no longer for Gibo and that she will now eat the yellow in her sunny side up. I was sorry for the old man eating crow. Again, I was right.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Threshold | Sun.Star Cebu | May 4, 2010

I understood psychiatry a bit more squarely than my classmates in college. I loved the subject, and I must’ve told you that in an earlier column. As the topic persists in today’s social narrative, allow me to talk some more about it.

I do not quite remember how the topics were arranged in the syllabus then, but I do remember a diagram: it was a wellness-illness spectrum, and humans, unstable as we are, sway from one end to the other at various times in our waking life. The semester started on one end, which is the wellness end, and we talked of various forms of defense mechanisms humans employ consciously or unconsciously. Say, when you find yourself at the losing end of a survey, your mind automatically switches to “sour-graping” mode: “Surveys are bull! They should be banned!” Akin to that is the “sweet lemon” mode: “Oh, well, at least it’s not Manny Villar.” Or, perhaps, into the sublimation mode: you go ahead and rip a candidate’s campaign poster. Or denial mode: “We will win!”

These defense mechanisms may be employed, too, at the other end of the spectrum, which is the illness end. But let’s get to that later.

As the class went deeper into the lessons, towards the illness sphere, many discovered that, in one way or the other, certain degrees of those pathological traits were present in every one of us. It was not uncommon that every now and then, anyone in class would cringe secretly with a little bit of guilt in his corner when a lesson or two hit him.

I realized how blurry the line is between normal and mad. If a media personality consistently wears white, from top to bottom, that could be an indication of either a fetish or obsessive-compulsive behavior. But that doesn’t mean he had crossed the pathologic threshold, which is why I don’t propose he should get into a psychiatric test for fear of endangering the minds of the public that patronizes him. Should I push for a nuttiness check, the burden of proof will fall on my shoulders, not on him.

If you think you can heave the country’s famished body politic to a life of affluence, you could have delusions of grandeur, and you’re bordering on the mental illness end of the spectrum. On second look, however, there could be a blurry line between Don Quixote who fell into the obsession of titling windmills and a presidential candidate who wishes to salvage the country from a sea of filth. For one thing, there’s a blurry line between idealism and madness, although if you say idealistic things for the sake of sound bites, that raises you to another level of mental illness: psychopath. But I wrote about that already.

So, thank God, there’s the Psychological Association of the Philippines to tell everyone, unlettered in the discipline of mind-reading, to put some sense into the sordid mudslinging in the name of psychology. The PAP considers it an affront to the profession. Doubted as it already is as a “pseudo-science,” it may not help to reinforce our naivete on the discipline of psychology and the circuitous workings of the human mind.

All of a sudden, everyone is a psychiatrist. How can you tell that a person who comes into a cockpit is sick in the head? He’s bringing a duck. How can you tell the people are nuts? They bet on the duck. Just because it looks like a cock, some people want to dignify a dubious psychiatric report by proposing a head check. Too late in the day of the grand derby and funny, your cock is dead. But, as the song goes, “only fools rush in.”

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Earth Warrior

Lawyer-environmentalist and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Antonio Oposa Jr. and me. Photo taken on Earth Day, April 22, 2010, at the School of the SEAs, Sta. Fe, Bantayan. Behind is the "Sailing School of the SEAs," an innovative environmental educational facility that travels to the islands, shows films to the fisherfolk, brings a barangay ordinance template the community can adapt and pass, educates the community on the urgency and benefits of creating marine protected areas in their municipal waters, orients them livelihood with livelihood options and/or whip them with a stick if they don't comply with the law. Fair enough.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Testing Daybreak: Tides, poor signal teach ‘citizen-driven’ operations team lessons on enforcement

by Januar Yap | Sun.Star Cebu | April 16, 2010

Weekend operations in northern Cebu give volunteers a good look at the challenges of enforcing ‘green’ laws

Lawyer-environmentalist Antonio Oposa Jr. raises the need to move on from law enforcement’ and get more citizens involved in the campaign to save marine habitats and resources

“SWIFT, painful and public.”

This was the brief the Visayan Sea Squadron (VSS) took for itself when it geared up last weekend for what could be its biggest operation against illegal fishing.

The team is a composite of volunteer lawyers and citizens, backed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) 7 and special operatives from the Philippine Navy.

For months now, the coastal residents of Sagay, Negros Occidental have been complaining of blast noise from the sea. There had been reports that fishers from the island of Lipayran in Bantayan, Cebu have been using explosives.

The area had long been in the red list of the VSS for a couple of years, so that when reports of dynamite fishing persisted and were confirmed by the NBI 7, environmental lawyer and Ramon Magsaysay awardee Antonio Oposa Jr. and lawyer Ben Cabrido immediately sought permission from RTC Branch 23 Judge Generosa Labra to allow the VSS to search the area.

The team was granted 12 search warrants, making the operation the biggest offensive against blast fishers in the country, says Oposa.

He branded the move as “Operation Daybreak” and customized caps for the whole fleet with exactly those words.


Oposa also instructed a group of law students to make a scrapbook that will document the operation and turn it into a model for environmental law enforcement.

It would take note of every detail—from the checklist for dry box contents (“You don’t want plastic on land, but you definitely need plastic in the sea,” says Oposa) to ensuring the chain of custody for the material evidence.

On the eve of Operation Daybreak, the group finally knew the exact location. All respondents of the 12 search warrants were in the island of Lipayran. The squadron, whose members would approach from different points in the nearby islands, was scheduled to jump off at exactly 2 a.m. and converge in the sea to wait for daybreak.


The plan seemed ironed out down to the last detail, the tides and sea currents included. That was to ensure the “swift” part of the operation, and it was “public” enough with the fleet having about 50 volunteers on board.

“We want to emphasize that this is a citizen-driven operation,” said Oposa.

But as with any experiment, it was not free of glitches. “Reminds me of Murphy’s Law,” says Oposa. “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

A bit past midnight, one of the navy boats could not leave because it did not have a “directive.” This was a minor setback, though, as the bigger gunship was well on its way from Cebu City carrying two bomb-sniffing canines. The Philippine Navy had also sent a patrol plane hovering in the vicinity.

The boat carrying the volunteers was stuck for some two hours in shallow waters and unable to put its engine on full throttle, as the tide was unusually low.

The third and final glitch came when, nearer the targeted island past 4 a.m., all the mobile networks’ signals proved elusive.

This left the rest of the group with no contact with the NBI, who, it was learned later, went on anyway with securing the area and conducted the search as early as 4 a.m., although not simultaneously serving all the 12 search warrants.

It should be a lesson learned, Oposa said.

He asked: If, along the way, the dogs will detect an explosive in a house that is not a subject of a search warrant, can the operatives break into the house?

This left the paralegal volunteers discussing the matter.

A student’s question caused some comic banter: Can the dog’s actions be taken as personal knowledge?


The 12 search warrants yielded but one successful raid.

Samuel Jamili, 41, was caught with sacks of ammonium nitrate and home-made dynamite in softdrink bottles.

According to the NBI, led by agents Jose Ermie Monsanto and Arnel Pura, the amount of chemicals can make about 2,000 dynamite sticks and would cost about P15,000, net.

That amount of chemicals can sweep about 10 hectares of marine life, said Oposa.

Monsanto says Jamili will face three cases: violation of RA 8550 or the fisheries code; illegal possession of explosives, and the Comelec gun ban.

Jamili had allegedly figured in intelligence reports as the main supplier in the island.

Following the raid, a supposed delivery of more ammonium nitrates from Panay did not come.

Jamili, a father of two, suffers from paralysis in the lower half of his body and limbs. During the arrest, an NBI operative had to carry him out of the house.

Jamili broke down when his daughter wailed and tugged at his pants.

Maluoy intawn mo nako, sir. Wa man gud koy ipa-eskwela sa akong anak (Please have pity, sir. I need money to send my daughter to school),” he said. His eldest daughter is now in junior year as a Hotel and Restaurant Management student in Cebu City.

The daughter cried and knelt before operatives, begging for them to spare her father.


Jamili was, however, turned over to Barangay Captain Orlando Aliw for custody until the case is filed in court today.

When the neighborhood gathered, Oposa scolded Aliw, and told him he could be sued, too, for negligence of duty.

He remembered Aliw committing to curb illegal fishing once in a gathering of barangay officials. He said he would have brought lechon to the island as a reward, but instead came with a whole fleet of law enforcers, following frustrating reports.

Oposa told the residents to help stop illegal fishing. “Unsa pa may makaon sa inyong anak kung hutdon ninyo’g pabuto tanang isda? (What will you feed your family if you kill all the fish?),” he said.

Some volunteer groups will go back to the island to show “Sangtuwaryo,” a Cebuano film that tells the story of dynamite fishers, and will educate them on alternative livelihood.

“I want a mind shift,” said Oposa, “we should be moving on from law enforcement.”

International observers

OD has brought along international observers.

Nicola Peart, who had been involved in environmental groups, says, “OD is not for the faint-hearted.”

She said young people abroad are also concerned with how the generations have “affected the environmental security” of their future.

“Operation daybreak is a lesson for young people around the world. As Oposa teaches us, the time for action is now,” she said.

When it turned out that the prime suspect was a paralytic and had so little means for a livelihood, Peart realized the social dimension of the OD.

At one point, NBI officer Monsanto suggested that there should have been people from the Department of Social Welfare and Development to take care of the community’s livelihood following the operation.


Although the operation was able to apprehend only one suspect, lawyer Cabrido says it is not significant.

The success of the operation is measured by the impact it has on the community,” he says. Somehow, he says, it will impress upon the community the seriousness of environmental law enforcement and that they should begin focusing on alternative livelihood.

Comic relief

Back on the boat, the volunteers suddenly noticed a foul smell.

Oposa discovered he had stepped on something on the beach, prompting the crew to haul water to wash his shoes and the deck. Everyone laughed.

“You know, I should write something about this,” he said.

Someone a suggested a title, “Shit happens.”

Another suggested, “Swift, painful and with a little bit of dog shit.”

(A slightly shorter version was published in Sun.Star Cebu, April 26, 2010)