Friday, June 9, 2017

55 reasons why

My friend Jenny came home briefly last month to bring her daughter back here and to launch her book of fiction. Before she left, she gave me a present -- one of her own.

It looks like a rosary but it is not. My friend is, after all, an atheist. The present is a bracelet made of strung-together beads, 55 of them. You are supposed to take a few minutes each day to touch the beads and make each stand for anything you are thankful for in your life.

Since she has already used the beads -- she was wearing them around her wrist, in fact -- she told me to follow a little ritual: Put the beads on a dish, sprinkle salt over them, put them by a window where there would be moonshine and let them stay there overnight. The idea is to remove all her energies so I can truly own the beads.

And now that I've performed that, I am ready to list down the 55 things I am grateful for, today.

1. For Netflix, because I am watching Back to the Future I with the kids and intend to see II and III as well, really soon.
2. For the book I finished last night, Smaller and Smaller Circles by F. H. Batacan. I had long been wishing to return to reading but could not seem to pass the time.
3. For the fact that I checked my BPI account and discovered that, despite the glitch, the modest amount that was left of my savings is intact.
4. For the polvoron at Goldilocks, which Sophie picked out. Talk about some great dessert.
5. For the fact I don't have to be anywhere today.
6. For the fact I don't have to bring Elmo anywhere today.
7. For the possibility that the other half of the office salary would, at last, be available this afternoon.
8.  For the office outing tomorrow -- a chance to just unwind with the people you work with.
9.  For the fact Sophie is starting a workshop tomorrow at The Failure School -- and I got her in for free.
10. For Josh's three-night gig at the Pen, which begins tonight.
11. For the last of the plump strawberries which I finished just now, and which remained delicious four days after I received them.
12. For the fact I feel better, more stable and more in charge these days than I ever was in months.
13. For the fact I wrote and submitted two stories to Inc last night.
14. For the fact that one other source is just waiting for me to send my questions.
15. For the interview I did yesterday, so that I can have a column on Sunday, for a change.
16. For cloudy skies and the drizzle, which look so beautiful this early afternoon.
17. For my bed, and the pretty quilt on it, which are a constant refuge.
18. For the rocking chair beside my window, from where I can observe the world
19. For my friends, who check up on me every now and then especially when I am quiet on social media
20. For the pounds I lost, even though I never went on a diet.
21. For my short hair, which everybody says becomes me.
22. For the new work engagements that came this week
23. For the invitation to write the text for a comic book discussing gaming addiction.
24. For Elmo's trip, which I didn't realize is so near already, which will be a mind-blowing experience for him.
25. For the chance to fix my things today, it being quiet and cool.
26. For the Mary Grace ensaymada I had for breakfast.
27. For finally finishing House of Cards this morning

I am halfway, but now I am sleepy and can't do much else. Will get back to the list later.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The "stranger" on my bed

Like any other kid I had a phase with dolls and cute stuffed animals. Trouble was, I lived in a neighborhood where dust accumulated inside one's room fast. My grandmother thought it wise to protect my bears by wrapping them in plastic -- not the best way to enjoy their company. Since I shared a room -- and bed-- with her, I did not have a choice.

And then I had to grow up fast and ditch the teddy bears, having real-life babies to take care of.

It's only now that I am able to fix my room exactly the way I want it. And no, I have not quite outgrown my fondness for bears. I have one on my home office desk, another beside my lamp, one that acts as a bookend, and one that sleeps on my bed.

I never thought of naming them, though, until Elmo asked what I called the one that inhabited my bed. I thought long and hard before coming to a decision.

Meet Mr. Xiao Long Bao. :)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Waitress takes charge

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I saw the 2007 movie Waitress last night and was blown away by how simple and poignant and silly and empowering it was.

This one was marketed as a "food" movie, because the lead character Jenna (Keri Russell, who played Felicity with the curly hair on tv many years ago) was a waitress who dreamed up recipes for pie. The names she gives the pies are amusing and culled from her personal experiences.

Jenna is in an abusive marriage and one night her useless husband gets her drunk and as a result she becomes pregnant. Her OB is cute but married -- nonetheless, they have an affair. Jenna is not happy about her impending motherhood and in fact is saving money so that she could run away from her husband. Alas he foils her plan and discovers the money she has stashed away. She becomes resigned to her fate.

While in labor, however, she gathers the courage to face her issues. First, that she must leave her husband. Second, that he boyfriend is in no way leaving his wife for her. She is better off with neither of them.

And when she looks at her baby for the first time, Jenna realizes she loves her instantly and becomes bold enough to tell Earl she wants a divorce and tell her doctor this is the end of their affair.

She is soon able to put her pie-making skills to good use. She is able to buy the diner she used to work for.  Her friends -- co-waitresses -- are with her until the end. She raises her child, Lulu, on her own.

The last scene has mother and daughter, in identical yellow dresses, walking off on a road, a promising future ahead of them.

In one scene, Jenna confronts her boss and asks him whether he is happy. He says he is happy enough. But "happy enough" is not enough. Everybody deserves a "happy!!!" One must stop waiting around for things to happen. It is never too late to start over and take charge of your life.

I can say only two things: First, great films need not be "art" or award-reaping films. Two, the best love stories do not necessarily involve the opposite sex (or the same sex, however way one is oriented). Sometimes you need only yourself: your old pathetic helpless version, and the one you eventually evolve into.

Friday, February 17, 2017

End of the Ice Age

I had to go to the dentist last week. My years -- no- decades -- of being an ice cruncher finally caught up with me. See, I simply delight in ice, looking forward to finishing my drink just so I could gather lovely pieces of frozen water in my mouth and then break them down into tinier, lovelier pieces of frozen water. 

The act is automatic. My friends know this and express their support for my preference every time we go out. One even went as far as gifting me with rubber-bottomed, artsy ice trays. 

But pain had been building up until that week when I could neither eat nor sleep well anymore. I was lucky there was no serious cavity to address, just severe sensitivity that perhaps came with age and wear and tear.

So, no more crunching. Good thing there are compromises such as this -- drinks just on the edge of freezing. 


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Best love stories

Not sour grapes, but bittersweet ones

There are no such things, I think.  

It's 4am Valentine's Day and I have not gotten a second of sleep. I had just finished chatting with a friend -- ah, the trials and tribulations of murky relationships! Afterward I remembered I could not go to sleep just yet. I had a deadline for a business magazine story I was looking forward to write.

Apparently, I looked forward to writing this more. 

I can just imagine the circus on social media today -- the happily coupled post giddy photos of themselves and their flowers and their restaurants and their hotel getaways. I will have no such thing. I am officially single, thriving and unapologetic. 

Believe you me, I have had my share of love stories and have heard even more of them. My favorite podcast in the world is Modern Love -- the New York Times' gift to humanity, a collection of elegantly written narratives about that glorious human experience.  I said glorious, not happy or sweet or simple. 

Who knows how many stories there are out there? There must be one story at least for every person on earth. I said at least. I am just one person, for example, but I can offer at least four. On average, one for each decade of my life. 

Traditional media has also been filled with "inspiring stories" -- those that defied odds, endured time or distance or both, gave rise to heroic deeds, ended in blissful I dos.

There are more powerful ones, I think. Those that did not come to be -- unrequited, unrealized, unconsummated. Some sites on the Internet offer us exquisite letters of famous writers. They read so well today, decades or even centuries afterward. One wonders: will I be able to experience something as consuming, as riveting, as life-altering as the one they describe? There is melancholy, and loss, and regret, but there is also the recognition of It.It with a capital I.

Life soon takes over, and one is sucked up by the things one has to produce, deliver, perform. A glimpse is enough. A little of bitter, a little bit of sweet, and a whole lot of glory.

Now my deadline. It will be daylight in a while.

Friday, February 10, 2017


I am not particularly prayerful or religious but for the past few weeks I have been asking God  -- the Universe -- to step in and restore me to my equilibrium.

There is only so much a girl's mind can do. I may appear smart and in control to many people but in fact I could be in shambles, doubting and questioning and screaming in desperation at finding no answers now.

It's quite a burden to believe everything depends on our own efforts.  I have given up -- I am too human, too frail, too dumb I guess.  Exhausted, too, and sick of it.

I need an intervention to whack me back into shape. I have been off my balance for far too long and it's not a nice place to be in.

This is my shoutout, my plea, my prayer.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


No words :)

I love the library. I loved it more than 20 years ago when I was in college, and I love it now for the solace and focus it continues to inspire in me. 

I was not your typical university student. I was in Ateneo between 1993 and 1997, getting my AB on full scholarship, but at that time too I was undergoing great changes in my life. I had gotten married and had had two babies, born one year and eight months apart. I never had an org (much as I wanted to), never had a group of friends much less a tambayan (much as I wanted to) and obviously not a lot of free time (much as I needed). 

At home -- okay, at my in-laws' home -- it was difficult to study.  I had babies to care for and a husband to serve. So whatever free time I had, I spent in school -- at a wonderful place called Rizal Library. 

In the 1990s, only the first floor, the Filipiniana section at the second floor and the reserve section at the third floor were air-conditioned.  Everywhere else, you got natural ventilation. The campus had lots of trees that lined even the roads, so you could imagine how beautiful it all was from the seats by the large windows. Especially when it rained. I spent all my vacant periods there.

Music usually accompanied me.  I remember lugging around a walkman and some cheap headphones. I listened to the radio if i could pick up a decent reception from where I was. My favorites were City Lite 88.3 and Crossover 105.1. I tried getting into classical music, having read about the wonders it was supposed to do to your productivity, but failed.  I also had two favorite cassette tapes -- Sting's Fields of Gold and Alanis Morrissette's Jagged Little Pill -- with me all the time. 

I did not get much org exposure or any social life, but at least I got that degree in four years along with everybody else. I could say RL was a big part of my education. There, I did my homework, read my books, wrote my papers, but also scribbled furiously on my journal (the old-school, steno-notebook type) and daydreamed about the life that was ahead of me. 

I remember staring out into the tree-lined driveways and wondering: Where am I headed? Where am I meant to be?

Now it's 2017 and I am 40 years old. 

The babies I was caring for? They are now 23 and 21. Both have still yet to get their degrees but have already pretty much found their place in the world. 

There is no longer any husband (*does cartwheels).

I am now editor of a broad sheet, as I have been for the past 10 years. This broad sheet was where my mother used to work, and some of my colleagues actually knew her -- imagine that, actually knew and worked with her, when I barely knew her myself. 

And now I am in school again, in this same school, teaching journ every Thursday afternoon.

The old RL has been converted into University Archives and RL-Annex is now Faber Hall, housing some of the administrative offices.  They did erect a new building altogether to call RL, and it's cooler than ever.  There is air-con everywhere, and CCTVs, and Internet connection, and I can just as easily pick up a device to take a picture of, and write down my thoughts not on a steno notebook, straining my hand, but on the computer I bring everywhere, typing away like a madman. 

There's a lot of work to be done, as always, and quite a number of monsters to slay. I still find myself wondering: Where am I headed? Where am I meant to be?

One thing appears sure. So long as I am able to experience this kind of solace, this ability to revel in silence and beauty and the gift to see the world through window panes, I think I will do just fine.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


published 29 January 2017

THE Internet is abuzz with comparisons of how Barack and Michelle Obama behave differently from their successors Donald and Melania Trump.
Whereas the Obamas appear to genuinely enjoy each other’s company and treat each other with respect and trust—that, or they are such great actors—the first images of the current US President and First Lady point to anything but a loving, respectful relationship between husband and wife.

Social media point to body language, using clips and GIFs to show the not-so-subtle clues.

For example, when the Trumps came to the White House to meet the Obamas, Mr. Trump got out of the car and proceeded to the shake hands with them, leaving his wife to get out on her side of the car, walk around the back of it and then ascend the steps on her own.

By the time she got to the top of the step, her husband was already on his way into the building. Both Obamas then welcomed her and put their hands on her back as if to prop her up.

Mrs. Trump handed Mrs. Obama a box, a present, and the latter did not seem to know what to do with it. She was frowning, but now it is being interpreted as a frown upon seeing another woman treated the way the former was treated.

When Mrs. Trump walked to the platform of the Capitol just before the swearing in and took her place next to her husband, he merely looked at her. They did not speak to each other. In contrast, Barack Obama took Michelle’s hand and kissed it.

During the inaugural dance, it was as if Melania was pulling her body away from her husband’s. She smiled when he looked her way but descended into a frown when he was not facing her.

All this is speculation, of course, but if we go by the context offered by these images, it would appear that the woman is repulsed and disgusted by her husband.


There is a rather patronizing article at The Huffington Post called ‘Melania, Are You Okay?’ It was written in the second person, directly addressing the first lady, asking her questions about how she must be feeling and what thoughts she might be having as the spectacle of her husband’s presidency has begun.

During the campaign, Americans and the rest of the world saw the way Mr. Trump regarded women. He was quite the character, really. He was given to calling women names like “fatty,” or saying they were “nasty.” He reportedly groped or assaulted women—and then bragged about how they just allowed him to do that given his stature. Mrs. 
Trump later on came to her husband’s defense, saying this was no longer the man she knew now, and that what he uttered was simply locker-room talk. You know how boys can be, she seemed to say in an interview.

She was not convincing.


A trophy is something you’d like to be seen with to increase people’s regard of you. Believe it or not, it’s 2017 and there remain societies, families and individuals who believe they must get themselves “trophy wives” to boost their stock and to prove they have really come a long way.

A “trophy wife” is beautiful, fairly educated, docile, beautiful, devoted, always smiling, and beautiful. She is always ready to stand by her man however much of a fool he shows himself to be. She makes allowances for his shortcomings, even boorish behavior, because he is so important, and busy, and in need of her understanding. If they have kids, she is most likely an “ideal mom” as well—aware of and involved in her children’s activities in school and outside it. Her family is her life.

But she has time to pamper herself, too. She can shop for whatever she wants. She goes to the gym and sees her friends for brunch or coffee regularly. She goes on date nights with the husband and sometimes hosts gatherings for their friends or his colleagues.

Isn’t her man just enviable?

For instance, some people imagine Mr. Trump must be in heaven—because he is a billionaire and his wife is so beautiful.


Truth is, there is neither genuine pride nor happiness to be derived from trophies.

The trophy possessor will be revealed as unhappy and superficial. 

You don’t really need to bother how people regard you—and happiness is not found in what you acquire, anyway. It is what you already have within.

You can work hard and achieve esteem from your colleagues, provide material comforts to your family and get yourself a beautiful, agreeable life partner so you can be the talk and envy of all your friends. But these are just appearances.

As for the “trophy”—well there must be no trophy to begin with. One person does not and should not own or be under another. Partnership is being able to be yourself and freely express your thoughts. It is being respected as an equal, not somebody to be possessed or controlled or dictated upon. It is to be genuinely cared for—not just when you suit their purposes. And, of course, you do the same.

We started with Melania Trump but this is about the millions of women and girls who may be seen for less than who they actually are by a society that still says the “essence of a woman” (since it’s pageant season) is to serve their men, make them happy and affirm their success.

Nobody needs trophies. Refuse to be one, and vehemently.

Falling into place

Quest for that yellow umbrella on a sea of black

My friends say I am an optimist. I think so, too. I think that if I weren’t, and given what I have had to deal with since I was a kid, I wouldn’t be here today.

Key to being an optimist is the belief that sooner or later everything is meant to fall into place. We may not know how, or when. It suffices we believe – no, we know and claim – that it will.

Let me cite a few examples.


I did not go into journalism at once after college. I felt I needed to find gainful employment and working at a newspaper would just pay a pittance. I also had young kids whom I could not leave when there is a coverage. Mom was a reporter, herself, for Standard and for other newspapers, and so I knew what the demands of the job were like.

And so for nine years I wandered from job to job. Some engagements lasted two years, some, just a few months. I was in business and in government and even in a cooperative. I wrote stock market reports, speeches, many other things. It did not help that life at home was turbulent and dissuaded me from contemplating an actual career. Until one afternoon I got a call: somebody wanted my resume and samples of my work and asked if I could meet him for an interview. That somebody became my first EIC.

This was how I got started with Manila Standard. I am still here, more than 10 years hence. We have many...ugh... complaints, my colleagues and I, but we stay on because at the core we love what we do.


Twelve years ago I started plotting carving out a life of my own. I even tried to effect this change from seven time zones away. Alas, I always fell back into the hole.

Actually, wanting to carve out a life of my own took even longer, perhaps five or six years before I actually started plotting. I remembering cradling the infant Sophie in my arms, putting her to sleep, while lying on a hammock by the garage of our old residence. I could see a patch of sky when I looked up. In the daytime there were clouds against the blue. At night, there were stars. Occasionally I could see an airplane passing, blinking in the dark.

And I thought to myself: Is it all there is to it? This life I used to be excited about? Will I just die like this not knowing what it is to thrive, to really live, to have a spring in my step?I could not immediately say what day of the week it was: each was as bleak as the one before it.

It was only in July 2007 that I mustered up the courage to do what in my heart I was meant to do – live, with my children, on my own terms. I have not looked back since.


Yet another example was my pursuit of a graduate degree.

I had amassed most units for an MA in applied business economics, but failed to get the degree. Several years later, I got into the UP College of Law. Any person less stupid or less distracted would have jumped at the chance to finish and excel. But again, for a myriad of domestic reasons, I was unable to continue. I did not even make it to second year.

Still, I had always known I was cut out for higher studies but I had no idea where, or what. Development economics, perhaps, in UP, since all I really wanted to do was make a difference?

One day in late 2010 a colleague asked me why I was not applying for the MA program in my school. I honestly did not know that there was a masters program in journalism – in fact, for undergrad, I shifted out of Communication (and into English literature) because I felt comm was too broad and all I really wanted to do was write.

I snagged the fellowship and earned decent grades, building my knowledge and contacts along the way. Wouldn’t you know it, the same department offered me a teaching post for its undergraduate journalism subject. I am now typing this entry from my desk at school. :)


Finally, leaving town.

All my life I had lived in Valenzuela City, but I knew that at one point I must move out and settle somewhere else. It made practical sense. Valenzuela is at the northern tip of the metro, traffic was terrible and it is notorious for the flooding. It’s not just me to worry about, it’s the kids, too because they’re grown and going out a lot, themselves.

I stayed put just half seriously considering options. The places we were looking at were too pricey. Can I really manage to move cities?  In my heart though I knew I wanted a change. In my mind I wanted a great view, great ventilation, and a functioning kitchen. Home after all is a place you can't wait to go to. 

And now we live where we live.


Now again I am at that point where I know I am meant to be somewhere else but I do not know how on earth I am ever going to get there. It is just too difficult, and I am just too human, and often I feel I am just too worn down to fight.

Control freak that I am, I also cannot seem to accept that things and situations have always been there and I have no power to change them.

This is now why I feel I have no recourse but go back to believing that things will eventually fall into place. Otherwise, I will lose my mind.

Perhaps the outcome that I want will happen. Perhaps the universe will take care of all the big and little aspects of my dilemma and voila! I will get as I wish for. Perhaps the right people will grow some spine and act on what they say they want to do. Perhaps all the duplicity will stop and we can trust that people are who and what they say they are. Make choices and stand by them. Because I am who and what I say I am and I stand by the choices I make.

Or perhaps something greater is in store. Something I cannot contemplate or fathom or know, just yet. Perhaps it will be immensely better than what I think I want. Ah, I tingle with anticipation! But I am also mad with impatience!

Where I am now is unenviable. This is a place of uncertainty, insecurity. Despite everything I still think I am blessed. I am able to imagine a future date when I am no longer here, when all questions have been answered, when I am exactly where the universe wants me to be.

And then I will say, with a chuckle: “Aaaaah, so this is why I was such an idiot back then.”

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Reclaiming my mornings

Some chairs you love. Some, like this one, can swallow you.

In August I started a full-time part-time job as editor and writer for a regional online magazine.  I say full-time part-time because I only needed to spend four hours a day in that office, but I had to be there five days a week. 

Needless to say, it was taxing. Not even the fact that the office was a two-minute walk away from the Standard newsroom did not quite erase the fact that it left me, often, exhausted and drained. I had to leave my home right about the same time that everybody else does -- during the rush hour. Surges in Grab and Uber are considerable. And then of course I go home at the usual time -- in the mid- or late evening. And do the same thing all over again the next day.

I found, too, that I had neither time nor energy to apply myself to the demands of my other engagements. I often found myself sleepy, grumpy, and without appetite or enthusiasm or clarity of thought for most things.

I missed my mornings. 

Since I began working at Standard, and especially since I struck out on my own nearly ten years ago, I had been used to having my mornings to myself.  I could sleep late, or do housework, or work on other projects, or watch television, or meet with friends for lunch, or just do nothing which is the most awesome of all, before I get ready to go to the office at mid-afternoon.

It also meant I could remain true to my calling as a night owl. Early to bed? No - that just wasn't me. 

I missed my mornings so much that not even the new challenges of the job -- the immensely wider scope, the thrill of meeting and interviewing people from Southeast Asia, the new personalities and management styles I had to deal with, and of course the additional stable pay -- could convince me that it was worth staying on a regular basis. 

(The furniture also took some getting used to. I did not want to stick around for that.)

So over the holidays I gave in to the idea that had been nagging at me for a while. I decided, not to sever my ties with the magazine, but to limit my engagement to that of being a freelance writer. I would still enjoy meeting people online, interviewing and writing about them, and developing my reporting skills in the process. But I do not anymore have to haul myself out of bed, grudgingly, every morning. 

 As a result, I am now a sunnier, cheerier person, too -- a greater joy to be around. :)

I'm happy I started the year with a great decision.  May I follow through with a lot more.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A milestone

And just like that, after the flurry of the past several months, I am listening to jazz again. How it calms and lifts me!

Music is, indeed, a balm for the soul. It was here before us; it will be here long after us. Quite an effective way to quell any delusions of grandeur -- or permanence. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Late afternoons

Can sit here forever. But that's impossible because it will get dark soon.

I booked a massage at 5PM today but realized it was a mistake. I re-booked for 6. 

Saturdays are the only days I get to witness the sun set. On all other days of the week I am trapped in the newsroom, often surprised upon seeing that is already dark outside. My work starts in the mid-afternoon and lasts well into the evening. 

So on Saturdays when I don't have anywhere else to be, I become witness to how light turns into dark. It is especially beautiful from my vantage point, several floors up and with no major obstruction. I don't exaggerate when I say I see the Eastwood, Ortigas and Makati skylines without turning my head at all.

Today it is overcast and breezy, and my chimes sound as I behold the view. 

It is just a bit brighter to my right -- this is where the sun is supposed to sink a few minutes from now. 

After all these years, sunset has never quite lost its magic. Every. Single. Time. A few months ago I thought I had discovered sunrise. Darkness turned into light. I thought it was great, too, because I watched the world stirring alive. One moment you and just a few other souls are awake. And then you start hearing engines of vehicles, shrieks of children dragging themselves to school. The sky turns color. Hurray! It's another day!

Sure, there's a bit of drama there too, but dusk wins, hands down. 

Dusk recognizes that something, one particular day, is ending. It carries with it all the struggles and mishaps and joys and confusion. That they are ending is bittersweet. But one almost welcomes the setting of the night so it gives you time to pause and let everything sink in. 

No, you are not ready for more brightness -- you need to, first, retreat and feel and think. What did I do right? Wrong? How can I make it better - how can I be wiser?

Sunset allows you to say: I will start over as I need to -- but not just yet.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Making Tokhang palatable

published 22 January 2017
THE first red flag was the invitation.
On that breezy Saturday morning in December, the barangay captain, during her welcome remarks, said she was overwhelmed at the turnout of residents at the village basketball court.
This comment was met with silence by the crowd. People were thinking: Of course we would show up. Who would dare be absent if your household received a letter that went like this?
“Rather than have police knocking at doors of your houses there will be a meeting to be conducted by the Quezon City Police District for all residents and homeowners.
1. All residents and homeowners of [village] must attend. If you cannot come, please send an adult family representative.
2. Only adult family members may come as family representatives. Household help, drivers and maids are not qualified to represent you and the family.
3. During the meeting, the objectives, processes and methods of Operation Tokhang will be explained. You may ask questions on this topic and other concerns as well.
4. If you do not attend or send a qualified family representative, then the police team of Operation Tokhang together with Barangay representatives will come knocking at your door.
The Quezon City Police District have kindly consented to a barangay meeting to save you the concerns and trouble of having police from knocking at your door. So please take the effort to attend and participate in this important meeting. Again we reiterate, come personally or send an adult family member as representative. Attendance will be recorded.”
Subtlety is a virtue—and apparently it’s difficult to come by.
At the full-house meeting, Police Chief Supt. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, district director of the QCPD, explained that they specifically sent out invitations couched in this language to get more people to come and heed the message of the police. “It was never meant to be a threat,” he later on said. They just really wanted a high turnout.
What was the message? That people need not be afraid of Oplan Tokhang. Tokhang, which is a combination of the terms “toktok” and “hangyo” (to knock and to plead) is actually part of the Philippine National Police’s two-pronged approach—Project Double Barrel, as directed by PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa on July 1, 2016—to curb the illegal drug problem in the country. (The second component distinguishes between high-value and low-value targets and prescribes different approaches for them.)
Eleazar presented a flowchart of how Oplan Tokhang should go. It begins with collection and validation of information about people known in the community as engaged in illegal drugs. There will be coordination for the house visitation. The person will be “invited” to come along. He may or may not come. Eleazar played a video that showed how a drug addict in the family was rehabilitated because he decided to heed the police’s invitation and submitted himself to a reform program.
The police director took the conversation one step further. Since there is less instance of drug activity in Quezon City villages, he said, they modified their approach so that the police no longer have to go to neighborhoods and knock on doors. Rather, the supposedly more enlightened citizenry would be invited to a meeting where representatives of the police would discuss their efforts to curb the drug menace.
Call it “taphang” instead—from “tapok,” to gather, and “hangyo,” to plead. What’s to fear?
All this sounds benign on paper, but it is starkly different from what we actually know and feel about the government’s efforts to curb illegal drugs—seemingly at all costs and through whatever measures. The Tokhang Eleazar was talking about seems different from the police operations we hear about, where suspected dealers and users are killed for “resisting.” Reports on planted evidence abound. And now there is a new scheme—tokhang for ransom—that unscrupulous cops are going into. It’s a way to make money, really, taking advantage of the war being led by no less than the President himself.
As the new year kicked in, we heard that nearly 6,000 have been killed in the name of this war and the people are beginning to fret. This is shown in a recent survey that said eight out of 10 Filipinos feared they or somebody they knew would become victims of the government crackdown on so-called drug personalities, whether these are founded or not.
In November we heard about how a suspected drug lord was killed by cops right inside his jail cell in Leyte. And just this week, we were appalled to know that a Korean businessman was strangled by policemen inside Camp Crame.
And we are told there is nothing to fear.
We do not argue that the drug menace threatens our nation and our young. We also find merit in the determination of the government to crack down on those who enrich themselves by endangering the lives of others. But the manner in which the objective is carried out, and the temptation to abuse this blanket authority, cast terror and doubt among us all.
Not even the best made videos or the most eloquent of explanations can make the war against drugs palatable if it violates the most basic of rights.

A time for everything

published 01 January 2017 
MANY say 2016 was a bad year in many respects. Many prominent and well-loved names passed on, there were a number of disasters, and Filipinos got a surprise they never quite bargained for. I know some friends for whom the year carried a less-than-fair dose of surprises and tragedies. Personally, 2016 for me was still good, and I would prefer to call even the bad episodes sobering.
The best takeaway I had was that we should, for the sake of our sanity, make time for just a little bit of everything.
Time alone.
The cliché is that we work so hard on regular days that we should find time, on weekends or during breaks, to spend time with the people who matter to us. Whether it’s a movie date, dinner, coffee or drinks, what is important is the opportunity to catch up and be updated with what is going on in our loved ones’ lives. Perhaps we dish out advice, but for the most part, we offer companionship and that’s good enough as it is.
In doing all these, we forget there is one other important person to spend quality time with—ourselves. Some people, extroverts mostly, may be horrified at the idea of dining out or going to the cinema alone, or even spending one full day indoors with no human interaction whatsoever. This year I learned that time alone is premium time. It recharges you, gives you the proper perspective and puts you in your place.
Time to bring order into chaos.
When you don’t clear your desk, the paper piles up and entropy takes over until what lies in front of you is a large blob of things made up of things you need, things you don’t need, and things you think you may need at some future time. It’s a kind of laziness, really, to avoid making these little decisions so that we get rid of the baggage and accumulate less. As for me, I try to set aside 10 minutes every day for this exercise. It’s liberating.
Time to shed the image of perfection or invincibility.
Parents, especially, or those occupying positions of ascendancy, may find themselves bogged down with the pressure of always having to be perfect: Knowing all the answers, always being right. In truth, this is all an illusion. Even the brightest people are bright only in their field of expertise, and sometimes make serious errors in judgment. The compulsion to let everybody else believe they are not capable of being wrong, or stupid, may take a toll on their well-being.
So, for once, it may be good to show one’s weak side. Slip up and let others know you are capable of hurting, or crying, or admitting your frailty. After all, what is important is the journey back up, not the fall.
Time to indulge.
We sometimes confuse being smart as always playing by the rules and always doing the right thing. This is the ideal behavior, but we are not robots. I learned that it is not a crime to indulge ourselves sometimes: overloading on your favorite food (whatever the doctor says), binge watching your favorite series at the expense of your scheduled tasks, traveling without an itinerary, or even spending an insane amount of time conversing with a friend online.
We must all be adults sometimes and need to get back to what we have to do, eventually. We must not punish ourselves so if we slip up from time to time—so long as we know when it is time to whip ourselves back into shape.
Time for processes.
Everyone has had to deal with varying kinds of disappointment. The human reaction to such is not at all pretty. In fact, it could be ugly. For somebody who is always reasonable, logical and in charge, unpleasant surprises and frustrations may seem like a death knell. Imagine being lodged out of your equilibrium, not having all the answers, wondering whether you have all the truth in front of you, and feeling as though you just want to disappear from it all.
You will yearn for immediate resolutions. You wish you can get over your disappointments right away, and cross over to the part when you are already okay. You will give anything, do anything, to be in charge and logical and whole once again.
You can’t. Processes take time, and there is no way to get around them. Otherwise, progress will be a sham. Don’t worry—it will come, just not now. Don’t you want to stick around to experience how awesome it will be?
Time to do nothing.
We were brought up to believe that to be idle is a bad thing. Working, and working hard, is the ideal situation. Perhaps it is knowing more about life, or growing old, or both, but more and more my idea of a perfect day is a day to do nothing. Again, it is not a crime. On the contrary, we need it so that when it is really time for is to do something, we will be rested and powered and raring to do more than we ever set out to do.
Time to disconnect.
Over the past few years, the internet has changed the way we live. We have always been available, easy to reach and easy volunteer information about ourselves, whether we realize it or not.
Being “out there” all the time can be quite exhausting. How to keep up with friends and family who are all also out there, discoverable with just a click of a finger?
To deliberately take time off might then be the single biggest favor you can do yourself. If a matter is truly urgent, people can call you on your landline or mobile. Everything else can seem to wait. It’s magical, quiet and immensely peaceful. And then after this lull, you feel you can take on and make sense of the noise of the world again.
2016 was challenging. May we all thrive in 2017.

The gift of taking control

published 25 December 2016
YESTERDAY morning, Christmas Eve, I sent a Word attachment in the group chat I share with my kids, ages 22, 21, 16 and 14. It is a template of some sort of planning exercise, a step-by-step guide to charting one’s path in the new year and beyond.
“Good morning, children. [This is something] I hope you will consider as we all look forward to the next year. I hope this will help you clearly define what you want and what direction you want to take. It’s ok if you find this corny or refuse to even read the file. You will realize its value in about 20 years.”
True enough, I got no overwhelming response to what I sent. I imagine there must have been snickers and shaking of heads. As I said, however, that is fine with me—although I still believe we must impart to our children the notion that we should seize control of our lives at the earliest instance.
What I sent is more than the usual list for New Year’s resolutions—which everybody seems keen on doing until he or she slides back to the usual habits. Here, there is no danger of that, because the plan is thorough and deliberate.
First, one must list the major categories or areas in one’s life. Common headings are family, career, relationships, finances, domestics, health, intellectual growth, etc.
Next, list accomplishments and failures in the current year. This forces a person to look and look hard at the good and bad things that happened this year—and, more than that, the key factors that played a role in the successes and the lessons that may be learned from the failures.
The task includes a visioning exercise—at this time, next year, how does one see oneself? At the end of three? At the end of five? The more specific the visual image, the better. How do I look, what am I wearing, where am I and where am I going? Am I busy, relaxed, optimistic, resigned to my fate? What is the nature of the smile on my face?
The core values come next. These are the non-negotiables that will define what one can and cannot compromise in pursuit of one’s objectives. Next, one is asked to look inward—identify strengths and weaknesses—and outward—opportunities and threats—in relation to the life categories earlier listed.
With all these laid out, one can now proceed to setting objectives for the coming year—and, more importantly, listing specific action points that would help achieve these objectives per category. If possible, the objectives should be measurable, and the action plans time bound. The three- and five-year goals however may be a bit less specific, and for so long as one has a general idea where he or she wants to be, and how the shorter-term objectives are aligned with these one should do just fine.
I have been doing this exercise for at least 12 years and so far it has done me wonders, enabling me to track where, and how much, I have progressed, and where I still need to do some more work.
In fact, during this break, I unearthed printouts of my old plans and I was quite amazed that, for the most part, I am now exactly where I just dreamed I would be. It’s gratifying as it is exciting. Just imagine—in three, five, even ten years, who will I have become? What blissful outcomes and surprises might there be?
One cannot, of course, plan everything. There are many things outside of our control, and we may not even be able to imagine what they could be right now. For the most part, however, the quality of our life is a summation of the big and small choices we make every day. We are responsible for our actions, and if our life is not as ideal as we would like it to be, we cannot blame anybody else and say we had no choice. Because we always, always do.
At the same time, planning improves our resilience to life’s blows. We may not be able to say when they would strike, and in what form, but we can always plan our disposition when they do. It does not guarantee we will cope better, but it increases the likelihood that we will come off our crises, not unscathed but stronger and with a clearer purpose.
At the risk of sounding like a prophet, I say this again—any plan is better than no plan. Life is too short. Time is too precious to spend staring into nothing figuring out what to do next. Perhaps the greatest disservice there is to our being human is to allow ourselves to be tossed into any and all directions. We have to claim responsibility and seize control of our destiny.
We live the life that we think we deserve: This is the best shoutout we can make to the Universe.
Merry Christmas, dear readers.

Holiday thoughts

published 11 Dec 2016
IT IS 14 days before Christmas and in my home there is no sign of the holidays. No wreath on the door, no dancing lights, no tree. Certainly no trite carols on loop.
Last year we purchased a nine-foot tree and had a fairly happy time setting it up, engaging even the children’s friends. But now that the novelty of moving into a new place had worn off, I am back to the usual holiday lethargy—wishing, instead, that the season were over and that everything would get back to normal, whatever normal may mean. Now I don’t even know where I stored all the décor after I had put them away.
I have plenty of reasons to feel this way.
First is the sorry state of transportation. Getting from one place to another is oppressive as it is at any time of the year and at any time of day. Everything gets magnified tenfold in December. For a good 10-11 kilometer distance, one has to set aside a good two hours one way. It’s decidedly longer for those who take buses or trains. What alternatives do you have? Boorish cab drivers who demand extra payment before they consider taking you in and who have no qualms turning you away when you are not headed in the direction they are taking. You turn to either Grab or Uber--but the surges, even late at night when you’ve killed time at the office and found ways to be productive, or binge watch your favorite series, can still make you cry.
Second is the pressure to give presents. I do not mean the people who are truly close to us, to whom we want to give tokens of friendship or love or gratitude, and who will definitely feel happy and appreciated with a well-thought-out gift. I mean instead the mad rush to the malls just picking up something—anything—because turning up empty-handed does not help spread the holiday cheer.
Third, the expenses. This may not be a problem for those used to spending without thinking about the flip side: generating revenues. It is as if there is an exhortation to mankind to spend on food, on clothes, on big-ticket acquisitions. Perhaps there is the cushion of a bonus—for some. Woe to the few who do not know whether their employers would be human or compassionate enough to release their salaries, much less their 13th month pay, on time.
Fourth is the contrived environment of cheer. Parties and reunions are being scheduled left and right. Food is consumed in copious, conspicuous amounts. People go to malls even when they have nothing to do there. See people they don’t even feel like seeing. Wear their jaws out smiling for photos. Spend thousands on their hair or use that insanely expensive bag for when they meet up with people they don’t care about but want to impress.
All these, in the backdrop of hypocrisy and duplicity and all the chilling things happening amidst us these days.
So who’s feeling Christmassy yet?
Now the New Year—well that is a different story altogether.
I have always loved the New Year holidays. The kids and I are not big on the noise but we appreciate a good vantage point from where we can observe the fireworks from all parts of the city. I wrote about this in my New Year piece, “Charmed,” earlier this year ( There is something about fireworks—how the burst of colors lights up the sky and serves as backdrop for the introspection one should be having as the last few minutes of the old year pass.
The thought of crossing over from one year to another contains a significance that trumps all other reasons for celebrating. In the past 12 months, we might have been naive, foolish, overbearing, lazy, misguided, arrogant, foolish. We might have encountered storms that, as I wrote a few weeks back, shook us to our core. These may have made us doubt our worth, become terrified of trusting others, question whether life is fair and whether the future is still worth being hopeful about.
The answer to the last question—a resounding yes.
We do shun tradition and superstition on New Year’s Eve. For instance, why buy 12 varieties of round fruit or splurge in an insane amount of food the family won’t be able to finish? Why wave a half-full piggy bank into the air while stashing none into your real savings account? Why create a list of resolutions and then fall back into the same old patterns after just a few weeks?
What we—well, at least I—embrace is the opportunity to begin all over again without discarding the old. In each area of your life – career, family, relationships, friendships, finances, what were the accomplishments and, most importantly, what were the failures? Why were there failures? Look inwards and examine your strengths and vulnerabilities. Look outside and anticipate threats while identifying opportunities. And then, deliberately and realistically, under each area, create a vision of yourself by the end of next year, in three years, in 10. What is the plan—and more importantly, how does one get to that?
It is also important to recognize the importance of baby steps. We may not shed our old selves drastically, but what is crucial is that we are never stuck in the place we were in yesterday.
These days it is so easy to drown in the exuberance. Let’s try not to lose our heads, this season and onwards.