Friday, September 29, 2006

Deus irae

AFTER Howler Milenyo raked across the megalopolis leaving a trail of debris and death, well-meaning lawmakers summoned God in a closed-door hearing. Maybe grilling. Whatever reasons lie behind so-called “acts of God” have to be made clear.

Lawmakers turned dour and sour at the sight of fallen trees crushing cars and hurting people in them. Too, streets turned awash with retted tree leaves and broken boughs—eyesores and traffic hazards these. And a lot of woes for trash collectors. God got away with mayhem and murder when those God-made trees were erected.

Lawmakers have boned themselves on the National Building Code, more so on certain provisions that call for soundness and integrity of structures given permits to be erected in the megalopolis. Those culprit trees are more than usual suspects.

It was suspected that God must have bribed a lot of people or twisted a lot of arms in the permits and licensing offices of local government units. If not, how could He have been allowed to put up structures hereabouts with substandard materials?

The tell-tale signs are there and could be swallowed in any civil court as prima facie evidence. Those postcard-pretty fixtures called trees plopped down at the height of the howler.

Divine handiwork ought to comply with the strictest standards set forth in the existing building code. Pertinent provisions of the code have to be hammered into God’s brain, if He has any.

Say, trees have to withstand intensity 10 temblors on the Richter scale. Like bridges, tree boughs ought to bear both vertical and horizontal pressures of up to 30 tons before toppling like a giant billboard. And those leaves and branchlets need to be firmed up—so that gale-force winds of up to 200 kph would hardly stir ‘em tree parts.

In addition, allowable contraction and expansion of tree parts caused by extremes of heat and humidity should be at a millionth of a millimeter per 100 degrees Celsius drop or rise in temperature.

To err is human, yes. That ought to explain why a lot of those giant billboards infesting major thoroughfares were toppled by a howler’s 130 kph wind blasts. That should quash any argument why rain-soaked concrete walls can come crashing down.

Let’s credit such fiascoes and casualties resulting therefrom to a lapse in structural engineering. Indeed, to err is human and lapses in sound judgment in construction of eyesores, claptraps and death traps ought to be forgiven.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


A SPRINKLING of the country’s ScrabbleTM players have earned for Filipinos one of the three top ranks among the world’s best in the word game. That feat of a dozen or so board game competitors sent out to participate in the ScrabbleTM Olympics doesn’t mean we’re world-class in word power—75% of the country’s annual 400,000 college graduates have “sub-standard English skills.”

Achievement tests given to high school seniors in the 2004-2005 school year revealed that less than 7% could read, speak and grasp English well enough to enter college. And about 45% had no inkling of English.

Cebu lawmaker Eduardo Gullas is eyeing word games like ScrabbleTM and crossword puzzle books as tools to rev up learning of English. Indeed, the road to mastery of a global language is paved with desperation.

Sadly, acquiring a cache of stand-alone words—bled of context and content—but ready to be plunked down onto a ScrabbleTM board or tiled in on a crossword puzzle blank don’t inhere a grip on a foreign tongue.

People possess words. Words possess people who have delved into both the content and context of words at their command. So it is bruited that words one possess—or word power-- determines one’s role in civilization. A limited vocabulary will limit one’s potential role.

Researchers claim a 700-word vocabulary is the minimum to get along. It takes less than two years—get acquainted with a new word each day—to muster that minimum. It takes a 3,000-word arsenal—built up over eight years-- as minimum to land a job.

A stockpile of at least 10,000 words primes the individual for a social role. It may take over 27 years to own such a pile, learning a new word a day. Wordsmiths in the league of William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Rabindranath Tagore or Kung Fu-tze are known to have nurtured a 60,000-word nursery that grew on them, in them.

We might as well pore over the workbooks and textbooks that Filipino schoolchildren use—most of ‘em books are as boring, dull, lousy and numb as their authors who rake in millions from such books.

We could use lively writing in ‘em books to inject life, maybe infect our schoolchildren with a love of learning—whether the subject is math, science, or English.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dogs of God

POPE Benedict XVI is of the Dominican order— from Domini canis, literally “dogs of God” to evoke canine loyalty and devotion and probably draws humorous inspiration from god spelled backwards.

Dominicans are incorrigible scholars of sorts. Hereabouts they founded the University of Sto. Tomas in the 16th century making it the oldest university in this part of the globe. Dominican friars were also responsible for introducing irrigation system in growing rice, thus doubling yields of the Filipino staple food plus paddy-grown vegetables in the 18th century.

Papa Ratzi is a typical Dominican. Dominicans are known to shun useless chatter. They do daily rapt labor in serene quietude. Or bury themselves in tome after tome of knowledge to keep their minds razor-sharp and agile. Why, such a mind once stretched by a tempest of ideas won’t return to its original dimension—the mind stretches out, reaches into vast frontiers, opens toward limitless horizons.

The current Prince of the Church typifies such a devout scholar. In a speech in Germany last week, he quoted 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus. It was that emperor who claimed that everything Prophet Muhammad brought was evil, “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

That was an ancient emperor’s opinion.

That wasn’t Papa Ratzi’s, make no mistake about that.

Sadly, ‘twas the pope that got the ire of Muslims worldwide. He had to reiterate that his use of medieval quotes critical of Islam did not reflect his own convictions. He was misunderstood.

“But for the careful reader of my text it is clear that I in no way wated to make mine the negative words pronounced by the medieval emperor and that their polemical content does not reflect my personal conviction.

“My intention was very different. I wanted to explain that religion and violence do not go together, but religion and reason do,” he pointed out.

He said he hoped the whole furor could eventually serve to encourage “positive and even self-critical dialogue, both among religions as well as between modern reason and the faith of Christians.”

Papa Ratzi’s explanations would readily be understood by Sufi Muslims. In contrast to the prevailing Islamic view of the dog as a foul, vicious and unclean animal, Sufis held the poverty and wretchedness of the dog in special esteem, considering themselves to be dogs -- or less than dogs -- in the eyes of Allah.


MALACAÑANG’S shilly shallying whether to assign Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan as government’s anti-gambling czar or consultant on national security need to be resolved pronto. It wouldn’t hurt to name a battle savvy guy like that as anti-gambling lord— every bettor in the street would wager on him taking on the role, playing it to the hilt.

People would love Palparan to ply the usual terminate-and-destroy tack. It ought ot be the same sort of war plan that seeks to extirpate the 8,000-strong New People’s Army in two years flat in which hundreds of civilian sympathizers and suspected Reds were turned into stiffs.

With Palparan at the reins of the government’s anti-gambling drive, we can expect fireworks. Lots of.

Plus a staggering body count—ready the body bags, no prisoners will be taken.

For starters, our idol may be tasked to neutralize coddlers and protectors of, say, jueteng. The illegal numbers game has plagued Luzon for centuries—quite more formidable a challenge to weed out than a 30-year old or so communist insurgency.

People expect lots and lots of jueteng coddlers and protectors done in and queuing up for their appointment with an embalmer.

It is now common knowledge: coddlers and protectors infest local and national government. They come in such guises as councilor, mayor, media practitioner, barangay chieftain, congressman, police or military official, maybe even kith and kin of Malacañg occupants. Self-confessed jueteng bagman Sandra Cam did implicate GMA's hubby and eldest son as among those who were fattened by jueteng protection payoffs, did she not?

That is a formidable array, a multi-tiered assembly of corruption that exploits the Filipino penchant for the get-rich-quick way via gambling.

People would wish for Palparan to take care of ‘em jueteng coddlers and protectors, apply the usual terminate and destroy tack on ‘em. It’ll be a massive cleansing campaign.

Dissidents and their sympathizers call our idol as “butcher.” Enough of such tacky epithets and cranky name-calling.

Once Palparan gets his marching orders as the nation’s anti-gambling czar, people should bequeath him a more appropriate sobriquet.

Say, “redeemer?”

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Basta gasta kasta

LAMPAS na ng hatinggabi nang masumpungan sa bukakang bukana ng kalyeng patuhog sa Avenida ang babae. Humarang sa daanan.

Kainaman ang tindig. Makinis. Naghuhulagpos sa galit ang suso sa nakahakab na kamiseta. Kainaman ang ganda ng mukha. Gitara pa rin ang hugis ng balakang. Matindi pa rin ang asim.

Paanas na inialok ang kanyang natatanging paglilingkod. Sa kama.

Napansin siguro nang humugot ako ng ilang pirasong salaping papel. Pulos hilatsa ni dating pangulong Manuel Roxas ang nakabalatay. Binayaran ang napiling guayabano— hustong isang kilo—sa matandang nakapuwesto sa bangketa ‘di kalayuan sa babae. Masarap ligisin ang himaymay ng guayabano. Para lubusang kumatas. Maihahalo ang katas asim-tamis sa paboritong marka demonyo. Isa pa’y pansupil sa mga hindi kanais-nais na singaw at alimuom mula kapaligiran ang mga binhi ng guayabano.

Inulit ng babae ang paanyaya na subukan ang kanyang serbisyo. Pagbigyan ang bisyo.

Inginuso ko ang kuna ng sanggol na kalapit niya. Ilang buwan pa lang ang edad ng sanggol na naroon. Gising pa. Naglilikot. Nakangiti. Walang malay na pagngiti.

“Anak mo?” untag ko.

Tumango ang babae.

“Eh ang tatay nito?”

“Ako ho.”

Tumindig mula sa kinahihigang likmuan sa bangketa ang isang lalaki. Naglalaro siguro sa 20-25 ang edad. Putlain. Lawlaw ang tiyan. Bahagyang nakangisi sa pag-amin na siya ang ama ng sanggol sa kuna.

Iglap na natuos sa utak kung saan mauuwi ang turing na halaga ng upa sa katawan ng ina. Buy Filipino. Eat Filipina. P100 sa tatay na payag namang mapindeho. P100 sa sanggol. P100 sa mismong nagpaupa’t nagpaupak.

Napakamura talaga.

Tiim-bagang na napamura: Putang ina!

Biglang-bigla nanikip ang aking… Hindi dibdib.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Plugging leaks

WE’RE not buying the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo position—“no retake” for the batch of June 2006 nursing examinees. That sounds like pandering to the infamous batch. The leakage mess will hound them, not forever but for a long time.

A professional puts a prime value on integrity, why, even a true statesman would call for snap elections to shoo away any miasma of a sham mandate. It is expected of those examinees to hew to a similar conduct— yeah, pearls will remain pearls even if they’re strewn among pebbles.

It’s not a matter of plugging a small leak, as a Dutch folktale would have it. Remember: An innocent boy spent the whole night, missed dinner, suffered body numbness. He had to hush his fears of the dark and endured biting cold. But he stood his ground plugging a small leak in the dike with his puny finger. If it were not for that act, the small leak might have grown large. That would break the dike that holds back the sea from engulfing that boy’s community. It was a boy’s courage that held the floodwaters in check. He also saw beyond a mere leak that could touch off tragic consequences for his community.

Indeed, a little leak can sink a great ship—even a multi-ton tanker like Solar I that has spawned a massive bunker fuel spill off Guimaras island. The price to pay for tragedies proves to be more costly.

For decades, our policymakers have merely sat on their fat butts as the nation leaked out its best and brightest health care workers, nurses including. The erstwhile wee leak has widened into a floodgush rushing overseas.

So, who plugs a leak that has grown gargantuan?

Admittedly, as a health professional point out, the demand for nurses in the US, UK and elsewhere has turned into the motive force shaping the crass commercialization of nursing education and the profession.

Whatever fuels the huge demand for a nursing diploma and license to ply the profession has given ground for motley scams that victimize students, their parents, and future patients.

Dump the Hippocratic Oath or whatever oath they swear to. We’re pursuing dollars and have been in pursuit of that myopic policy of exporting skills. Why, over eight million of them skilled workers turn in some $10 billion yearly to prop up an economy in crutches.

Over here, we’re warming up to a shortage of health care professionals and the inevitable crisis of the nation’s health care system.

He's a beauty!

HE’S an oddball alright, the sort of chap infected with child-like enthusiasm and spread the contagion any which way he could. Ain’t he a beauty, that crikey character Steve Irwin?

He couldn’t skeedaddle off into the Great Beyond just like that, we’d cry buckets.

We didn’t mind the thick curious accent as he spouted tidbits of facts. We hardly noticed his khaki outfit that spoke of a fashion sense much close to a carabao’s than to a gadabout mall rat. Irwin didn’t make any fashion statements. He made sense.

Neither did he gab about lazing around in spas for body toning or consultations with a dermatologist to correct skin flaws—he wasn’t that self-absorbed or too indulged about the appearance he gave out to audiences.

He wasn’t cast in the mould of sought-after celebrities puttering about the vacuity and howling emptiness of their lives—we’ll be doubly glad if they just drop dead like flies, let their fans and followers follow suit.

Irwin wasn’t the type “cropped, hedged and distorted by outward, trivial forms, fads and fancies.”

He wasn’t at all squeamish toddling after those slithering critters, handling ‘em with as much care and wonder with a wee bit of whimsy. He was making a pitch for all of ‘em creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful.

Do we have anybody like him around?

Nah, they all want to be our next idols, plying out song-and-dance acts or going through the motions of acting— terrible phonies all.

Oozing with energy, Irwin gawked and squawked about Nature. He sang to it paeans and praises. Adults these days, especially those soaked through in glamor and marinated in the mediocre don’t come any close to that.

And he could do mud-wrestling with crocodiles, fill in notebooks with sketches of reptiles, plop himself down on mud pies, celebrate life of the wild kind with nary a care.

That must have been a wonderful life!

Now showing

IN Con-Air a crew of death row inmates took over a plane. They crashlanded it smack at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. That was a bit of help in the landmark’s scheduled demolition with lots of money and debris flying. Most memorable quote off this 1997 movie: “Just so’s ya know… there’s now three people I trust.”

Con-Ass is something else that we’ve got to see. Could be an outright rip-off from Con-Air. Yeah, we’re copycats. And proud of it.

It might be about a different crew of inmates aboard a huge ass. They may be out to butcher the poor beast, do lots of mumbo-jumbo to transform the carcass into sumptous morsels called pork barrel.

Or the plot could vary. It could be a houseful of asses out to con us, then, leave us high and dry in the desert sand. A circle of vultures and buzzards ought to see our predicament, move in for the feast—and that ought to be a horror-packed film that could scare the living daylights out of viewers.

We’ve seen a trailer before the main feature—something that had the title Murder by the Numbers. Sheer quantity of numbers mustered by Palace minions steamrollered a quixotic attempt to impeach the current top tenant in Malacañang. The tragic try was squashed. That left the antagonists and villains to partake the victuals called pork barrel.

Playing a film critic of sorts, Sen. Loi Estrada views Con-Ass as a disaster movie, citing such “shameless and unconstitutional" attempt by pro-administration congressmen to rush the convening of the lower chamber into a constituent assembly is the "clearest proof why the people should thumb down Charter change."

According to her, under the present condition, a shift to parliament would only entrench the tyranny of numbers that Malacañang and its allies have already welded into a powerful weapon in frustrating the truth from coming out and in disregarding the true will of the people on vital issues affecting them such as the legitimacy of this government.

Far from bringing the country into a new "economic paradise" and bridging the political division now plaguing the country, the opposition lawmaker noted that Cha-cha and its creation, the unicameral parliament, is principally meant to "paint over and constitutionally put to rest" the legitimacy issue hounding the administration.

We expect something of a memorable quote off Con-Ass. Something similar to that plied in Con-Air.

“Just so’s ya know. We can’t trust asses out to con us.”