Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let's talk about sex

A comic strip in a national daily said it all. The first frame mentioned the government’s messed up plan to include sex education at certain grade levels in public schools. The next frame showed the other character saying that when he wanted to know about that double insertion issue involving Manny Villar and searched for those keywords on the internet, he ended up in a porn site.

The Department of Education (DepEd) launched a United Nations-backed sex education program last month that aims to “promote safe sex, limit the spread of HIV-AIDS and prevent unwanted pregnancies,” according to an online new report. Expectedly, the Catholic Church is once again at the forefront of the opposition to the program, their position buoyed by self-righteous conservatives. It is primarily the duty of the parents to educate their children about sex, they say, a prerogative, actually. That’s true, too. And while the program envisions an informed youth educated in responsible sex, the opposition sees it as merely a ploy to promote promiscuity. Now, that’s a lot of bull.

Let’s take the side of the opposition. Let’s agree for a moment that the DepEd’s program is flawed. Let’s keep the status quo – sex won’t be talked about in schools, we’ll leave it to the parents to educate their children about it. And if they don't, that's ok too.

So, let’s leave it to those parents who themselves were not educated about responsible sex. Let’s leave it to 20-something parents who themselves had their children when they were 15 or 16. Let’s leave it to parents whose sex education consisted mainly of their own parents not saying anything about it, or merely saying, “don’t do it.”

Let’s leave it to fathers who believe that getting a vasectomy means castration, or coming out empty at the end of a sexual encounter, or is simply just “un-manly.” Let’s leave it to most Filipino fathers who believe that having several sexual partners means being a real man. Let’s leave it to most pinoys who believe that “coitus interruptus” is an effective way to prevent pregnancy.

Or let’s leave it to mothers who believe those fathers mentioned above. Let’s leave it to the young mother who got pregnant because her boyfriend told her that if she loved him, she’d have sex with him. Let’s leave it to mothers who believe that if they stood up or jumped up and down after sex, or if they only had sex “5-days before or after” having their menstruation, they won’t get pregnant.

How about those youngsters entering puberty with raging hormones whose parents prefer not to talk about it and leave them to discover and learn about sex on their own? With the internet as the most common information tool these days, especially for the young ones who wouldn't be caught dead in a library reading a book, let’s allow them to “Google” the word “sex,” and just hope that the websites that would be listed would be ones where they can get responsible and sensible information about the topic. But no, unfortunately, what Google offers are sites that attract the most traffic, or the ones who pay them good money to be placed at the top of the list. To wit, here are the headlines of the top 5 websites that Google tells your children to visit when they type the word “sex”:

1. Free Sex Videos For Free - Enter Now!
2. Free Porn Videos & P***y Movies- Sex Videos, Porno, Porn Tube, XXX
3. Free Porn, Sex Videos, P***y Movies, Porn Tube, Free XXX Porno
5. Pinoy Scandal And Pinay Scandal - Philippines & Asian Sex Scandals

Times have changed. While in the years B.I. (before the internet), adventurous youngsters who want to be introduced to sex would have to look under their parent's bed for their father’s dirty magazines or Betamax tapes, and if there’s none, ask an older friend who can pass for an 18 year-old to pick up a Playboy or a Tik-tik from the newsstand. Or giggle and blush at the occasional sensual scene in a Saturday blockbuster movie on TV, or if they’re in Baguio, stay up late for the occasional porn shown on that Japanese channel that used to be carried by that now-defunct local cable company.

We need responsible sex education. We need it not because there’s hardly any information out there. On the contrary, we need it because there’s too much information out there – not all of which is the kind that we would like our youth to absorb. During the FIFA World Cup late night marathons last month, there was this one beer commercial that I found rather distasteful. They had a promo wherein with 45 bottle caps, you can win a chance to spend a weekend with a starlet. One of the commercials showed images of young men elbowing each other infront of a starlet's apartment, intercutting with images of the near-naked woman taking a shower, who later walks towards and opens the door wearing very provocative, very revealing lingerie. The other version shows a close-up of a man lustfully massaging the back of the same scantily clad starlet. That version ends with the man lifting up the starlet’s bikini top to his face to wipe his tears of carnal joy. I believe these same commercials were shown on regular TV too. The promo’s tagline? “Real man promo!”

So while you want your sons to be sexually responsible, last month they were told that real men collect 45 beer bottle caps for a chance to be intimate with a woman. And your daughters? Well, the commercial just told them that there's nothing wrong with girls being raffled off in a beer promo.

You’re against the government’s sex education program? Then enroll your child in a Catholic School, or home-school them. As for the rest of the Filipinos who are non-Catholics, or non-practicing ones, or practicing ones who differ with their church’s position on the issue… let’s talk about sex. Responsibly. I believe it’s a way better alternative to a beer commercial or internet porn doing it for us.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thinking small

I open my Facebook account and I was told that it’s my fault that the world is messed up. I was also informed that I must do something to save Mother Earth. I really want to, but saving a whole planet seems like a really, really tall order.

Just yesterday, I was also told that Mother Earth is at war… with me! Yup, me and my co-inhabitants on this giant orb, which as Sagan put it, is actually just a pale blue dot in the universe. I was also told that I am winning, but unfortunately, winning this war means losing it.

Ok, first of all, I did not consciously want to wage war against Mother Earth. It is not personally my fault that the specie I belong to is one that can never be satisfied, one that continues to imagine, explore, experiment, create, destroy and create again, and destroy again. It’s a vicious circle really. And we happen to exist here, on earth, on which we want to go as happy as we can. And to be happy we look at the things around us and see what we can do about it. We discovered fire and then we invented the wheel, so we can move bigger things faster. We invented tools so we can gather more food. We invented weapons so we can hunt more animals for meat, and to get rid of those who want to take our meat. At first we used found objects, like wood, and rocks. Then we discovered that some of the dirt on this planet contain stuff that can be turned into stronger materials for our tools and weapons and wheels. So we started digging for bronze, silver, gold. We were happy for a while but not for long, since as I said, we never satisfied, never content. Never truly happy. We had our floating devices that brought us across waters from one land mass to another, and later we learned that we can actually put ourselves on top of those wheels, and travel faster on land. We went farther, saw more and wanted more. More food to gather, more animals to hunt.

To make a very long story short, here we are today, using fossil fuels that take millions of year to form, fuels that when burned, produce greenhouse gasses that can result in the end of life the way we know it. The end of life itself, even. We didn’t see that coming, did we?

So go save the earth. Who me? I can’t do that, I’m no Superman. Even Superman himself can only save some people sometimes, but he couldn’t save all the people all the time. That, maybe I could do.

So don’t tell me to replenish the earth’s denuded forests and stop global warming and. I can’t do that. I can plant a few seedlings in my backyard, or if I don’t have one, any open space where a tree can grow freely, that I can do. Don’t tell me to stop polluting the earth, I can’t do that. But I can try to reduce the garbage I produce, reuse and recycle some of it as much as I can, that I can do. Don’t tell me to stop poisoning the earth’s rivers and lakes and oceans, I can’t do that. But I can try to minimize the use of harmful chemicals at home, try to minimize the poison that flows down my kitchen sink knowing that this will eventually find its way into the nearest river, and that river flows into the ocean. I can’t de-clog the world waterways of garbage, but I can make sure the canal in front of my house is clean. Don’t tell me to stop putting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, I can’t do that. But I can make sure that if I use of one of those things that run on wheels, it’s powered by my own body. And if I really have to use one of those that require fossil fuels to run, I’ll make sure that the vehicle emits as little of those gasses as much as possible by having that engine is always at its best possible condition at all times. And I’ll walk more.

There are times when looking at the bigger picture helps. Other times, it’s just much better to focus on small, practical, doable realistic things.

Afterall, though what I can do on my own may not be much, but the last time I checked, there’s close to 7 billion who are just like me on this earth. That’s a lot of small things that if put together, may just be big enough to matter.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In Baguio, when it rains

We just had our first typhoon, and I’m very thankful that PAGASA got it wrong again – what they forecasted as a typhoon that would hit Baguio directly only brought about moderate winds and gray skies for a day, it was actually nice.

While known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines – originally literally when the American colonial government declared this highland paradise as the official seat of government of the country during the dry season, I have always loved Baguio even more during the rainy season. Having less tourists during that time may be one of the reasons for that.

Now as in when I was growing up, summer for our family meant the going to the beach, so way before I chose Baguio to be my home, my mother would bring me with her on her numerous trips to visit friends here usually during the rainy season. We used to take the Pantranco bus from Quezon Avenue, I’d sleep off the first few hours of the journey and wake up just as the bus perilously starts to make its way up Kennon Road, I’d keep the window open to feel the gradual drop in the wind’s temperature as the bus climbs higher and higher.

Coming here then was like entering a theater to watch a play. Open house starts at the bottom of Kennon Road, with house music provided by the sound of the rushing Bued River. That music slowly fades out as curtain time nears – and you know that the magical Baguio experience is about to begin when the curtain of fog closes, gradually hiding everything from view. The lowland flora slowly exits the scene and a new cast of highland greenery takes its place, waiting in the wings behind the clouds to make their entrance. The air gets colder and everyone in the audience of tourists, students, Baguio folks on their way back home, change costumes – out come the thick jackets and sweaters and scarves and bonnets – back then it was cold enough to wear gloves or mittens.

And the performance begins – the curtains are drawn to reveal a majestic sight of towering pine trees, mossy rocks and thickly vegetated mountainsides. It is a multi-sensory experience – the wind chills and gently moistens the tip of your nose as you stick as much of yourself out the window to take in as much of the ongoing performance as you can, you take a deep breath and smell the unique scent of pine, and your eyes feast on the one of the most beautiful skylines you’ve ever seen. And it’s only the beginning.

A gentle drizzle would complete the overture as the bus enters the center of town. The bus slows down and even before it comes to a full stop people would be getting off their seats already, picking up their bags from underneath their seats or from the overhead luggage rack and start making their way down the aisle. You get off, and Act 1 of Baguio in the rain begins.

In Baguio when it rains, you don’t rush to hide from it like you do elsewhere. Here, you look up towards the heavens and take it all in, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

In Baguio when it rains, walking around Burnham Park is like being inside a watercolor painting where all the colors seem to feather into each other, flowers cross-fading into leaves into earth into people’s faces.

In Baguio when it rains, the lagoon across the Mansion House and the pine forest beside it are a Zen garden.

In Baguio when it rains, artists gather for an exhibit opening and later around the fire to make music; around a table for a warm drink; every establishment along Session Road provides a welcoming, warm sanctuary; the cold brings people closer together.

In Baguio when it rains, you breathe out and make a cloud.

In Baguio when it rains, at night, the lights of the houses in the distant mountains are like fireflies.

In Baguio when it rains, at night when you call it a day, the mountains sing you a lullaby and beginning with your toes and the tips of your fingers, numbs you to sleep, a welcome intermission.

In Baguio when it rains, the next morning when you wake, the sun comes out and the world is young again.

So one rainy day more than a decade ago, I decided to never be elsewhere again but here, in Baguio, when it rains.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I usually start at the fish section, the Baguio Public Market isn’t exactly as organized as a boring supermarket – though there’s only one area where they sell coffee, the other sections recur in different places.
“Tatlong lingo ka nang hindi nag-uulam ng tilapia,” my suki scolds me at the top of her voice when she saw me approaching from a good 50 meters away. I didn’t plan to buy tilapia that day, but to appease her, I get a kilo. Her sister in the next stall silently smiles at me – from her I buy three pieces of boneless bangus. I call them Ms. Tilapia and Ms. Bangus. “Ang galing talaga ng mga taga-Baguio, ‘no?” I raise both eyebrows, not exactly knowing what she’s talking about. “Biro mo, tatlong taga-Baguio ang nakapasok sa Pilipinas Got Talent.” Ahhh, ok. I smile and agree with her. “Mabait na bata ‘yang si Karen,” she continued, “bata pa lang ‘yan kilala ko na ‘yan. Kapitbahay kasi namin sila sa Quezon Hill.” I paid for both the tilapia and the bangus, and I turned to go. “O, baka tatlong lingo na naman bago ka bumili ulit sa’kin!” Ms. Tilapia chided me. I smiled at her and, “Malamang,” I said.
Behind them is where I get other varieties of fish – tuna, blue marlin, maya-maya. Today’s batch didn’t really look fresh, so I moved on to where I get my chicken where I picked a whole chicken big enough to feed all five of us at home but not too big to fit in our rotisserie. I get another kilo of leg quarters for adobo too. “Hindi ka ba kukuha ng liver?” Why not, so I told her to give me a quarter of a kilo, and politely told the little boy offering big plastic bags to put all my purchases in that no, thank you, not today, I have my bayong.
I walk past the first vegetable section, I prefer buying my greens from the hangar vegetable section. But I do stop by “GrandFa’s” for a few blocks of freshly made tofu.
Just a few paces further, I buy a bunch of bananas and some avocado and along that same row, I get my ingredients for laing – dried gabi leaves, stalks, and a bag of niyog. I smelled basil while waiting for the guy to finish grating the coconut, just behind me was lady with whole sack of basil leaves. P40 per kilo, that’s whole lot of pesto!
At the coffee place, I placed my usual order of half a kilo of Benguet coffee, fine ground. I also got a bag of muscovado. While waiting for them to finish grinding the coffee, the coffee lady asked me to come closer, and amidst the din of roasted coffee beans being pulverized in an industrial coffee grinder, she said, “Huwag kang titingin kaagad, pero ingatan mo ‘yung wallet at cellphone mo, kanina ka pa minamanmanan nung dalawang lalake doon sa kanto.” Discreetly, I turned to look and true enough, there they were, I looked them in the eye, and they immediately turned around and pretended to look at the merchandise right behind them. I stuffed my wallet in my front pocket and moved on.
Ice lettuce, regular lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and garlic, some carrots and broccoli and a bag of shitake mushrooms. My bayong was almost full already, and much heavier. Time to check out the ­ukay-ukay at Hilltop. There were bags, shoes, pants laid out on the road – ladies’ leather boots in good condition selling for P50.00. I wasn’t sure if they’re my wife’s size, but I get them anyway. If they don’t fit her, then we can give the boots as a gift to a friend. Cleats for the boys, football jerseys for the girls. That’s enough for now. I buy a couple of strips of rubber for the leak in our pipeline.
I walk down to where I started – just above the fish section is where I get my meats - I get some porkchops, some ground beef to go with the 3 kilos of tomatoes I got (atP10.00 per kilo!) for the pasta sauce I wanted that night, and some beef for nilaga (and asked the butcher for a few extra slabs of fat, which he gives to me for free).
Last stop, a bouquet of rosal for the bathroom and newspaper. There’s a long line at the jeepney stop, but in just five minutes I was already seated inside a San Luis jeep, reading the day’s headlines on my way home.
The Baguio City Public Market, one of Baguio’s treasures.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Who do you think you are?

And that, for me, is the most important lesson one needs to learn in theater. That, for me, is the one question an actor needs to answer to become an actor, and to become the actor who can become whomever and whatever he wants to be. For we are whom we think we are – think it and believe it, that’s what it’s all about. You believe and we shall believe you.
Think and believe that you have the courage, wit, talent, an unsullied sense of honor, unbending principles, a strong sense of justice and a ridiculously large protuberance for a nose, and you are Cyrano de Bergerac, we believe. Think and believe that you are being unjustly persecuted, that you are stripped of your right to love and be loved, and you are Serapio, we believe. Think and believe that you have the right to have what you want, no matter what, even if you hurt people along the way, even if you completely destroy those who get in your way, you are Machiavelli’s Callimaco, we believe, whether you are on stage or out in the streets.
Think and believe that there’s nothing you can do, and there’s nothing you can do. Think and believe that you can save the world and we shall get out of your way to give you that chance. Believe that the world can step on you and crush you and destroy you, and the world will do just that.
You may be in the grandest theater production of the decade, or in some obscure amateur stage presentation, it doesn’t matter, that production becomes what you think it is and in it you become what you think you are. Think it’s obscure and that’s what it is, think the world of it, and it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever done in your life. Imagine being able to do the greatest thing you’ve ever done in your life every single time you do anything at all – it’s a great feeling.
Think and believe it’s one of those mere opportunities for some extra money, when we go to your opening night, that’s exactly what we’ll see. You think, therefore you are, and believe it. And that conviction is the spark that lights up the passion inside of you, whatever your dreams and aspirations. And that, for me, is the greatest thing that can be gained from being in the theater – the passion. Not the promise of fame nor fortune, not even the realization of that promise. And whether you spend the rest of your life telling stories onstage or turn your back on that life and move on, that passion will keep burning inside of you. That passion is what will help make you the best English tutor your Korean students ever had; the most sincerely helpful call center agent that client ever communicated with; the most caring nurse that patient ever met.
You will always find satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment, of accomplishment, in whatever you do when you have that passion. And you are passionate because you thought it and believed it. Because if you didn’t, pity you for you are not really alive.
The 6th definition in the dictionary tells us that passion is “a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything…” I don’t even think that is enough to describe it. The 10th says, “the state of being acted upon or affected by something external, esp. something alien to one's nature or one's customary behavior…” I don’t even think that’s really accurate – it is not something external, it is really internal, though it is true that it may just really be something that is alien to your customary behavior. Customary is habitual, the usual, the way things have been and are expected to be done. Mediocre. If we all of us succumbed to the customary, the habitual, the MEDIOCRE, then the human race would have ceased to exist long ago. But time and time again, there has always been the one person who thought and believed that he can make fire, and he did; who thought and believed that he can change the world with just a simple round object called a wheel, and he did; and the ultimate act of passion – that One who thought, believed that He can and will save our souls by the dying on the cross, and He did.
So who do you think you are?