Monday, June 18, 2007


Once more I am revisiting an old journal entry, written three years ago, on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 2004. When I wrote this, cicadas made a comeback in the Northeastern portion of the United States. This year, after also 17 years, cicadas are back with a vengeance in the Midwestern portion of the US. I grew up very familiar with cicadas back home in Mendez, Cavite (when it was still heavily wooded, and when life was simpler). I am reposting this entry for posterity.

Cicadas Come and Gone

This year’s (2004) northeastern U.S. seaboard’s weather has been a story of coming and going. Spring went away as fast as it came, bringing relatively warm, wet, and at times, sultry and muggy weather in its place. It was bad for people who engaged in a once-yearly battle of allergic proportions with pollen. The air was sodden with moist pollen all night and all day, bringing in its wake itchy noses, itchy eyes, and icky throats that left a sour note on the optimism of much-awaited spring. The sudden squalls and tornadoes were bad enough. But feeling sick without really being sick, tormented by free-floating pollen could be worse. For all the glories of spring spoken of by romantic poets from both sides of the Atlantic, there were people who were plain miserable as snow melted and buds went a-blossoming.

But as people’s throats itched and their voices croaked, certain critters muzzled silent all these past 17 years, arose from their long slumber, and broke through the muffled sufferings of people just beginning to shed their heavy coats and sweaters. Cicadas, last seen 17 years ago in Maryland, given by mother nature just the right temperature and humidity, rose from their almost two decades of entombment in the soggy ground, and within days, millions of these noisy critters were caught up in a 100 decibel strong constant and organized cacophony, to the delight or disgust, as the case may be, of many people.

The cicadas, though, were music to my ears, even as the unpredictable spring weather, with its rains, thunder and lightning, seemed more like “home” to me. It was exciting to see and hear cicadas merrily booming their loudest, especially for one who last heard cicadas (known as “kagang” in Cavite) back in 1965 in then idyllic Mendez. Having gone beyond the 100 decibel rating, the noise those cicadas made was technically illegal in America. Illegal and generally unwanted and unappreciated by most, their glorious cacophony rang sweetly in my ears, as they brought back carefree, childhood memories of the Mendez, Cavite I still kept in my heart – memories that unfortunately, now run counter to what is current reality, a tree-less, almost barren and brown, once lush countryside, now giving way to the onslaught of unplanned so-called development.

A Flash of Reagan Magic Come Once More and Gone Forever

Reagan’s passing away was characteristic of what, and who he was – the great communicator. He could not have chosen a better time, just when the leaders of the G8 nations were due for a meeting in U.S. territory. Media attention was diverted from the world leaders’ meeting to the week-long farewell fit for royalty. America was as emotional as it could get. More than 200,000 people filed past his bier lying in state both in Simi Valley, California, and in Washington’s capitol building. Millions more were glued to their TV sets, a great many of them unabashedly crying in private or in public. An actor-communicator with a perfect sense of timing, Reagan’s magic flashed and shone once more for eight days, as it did for eight years as President, and for many more as Governor of California, fading away with absolute panache in a mythical and fabled sunset burial by the hills overlooking the Pacific ocean.

Fil-Ams on the Rise: Making Waves in America

The 106th Philippine Independence Day celebrations took place all over America where Filipino-Americans are present. Now officially 2.4 million strong in America (918,000 in California) alone, the many, varied, and disparate groupings of Fil-Ams came up with a series of celebrations to mark Independence Day. I was fortunate to have been present in one such Dinner Gala celebration for Fil-Ams of the Metro Washington, DC area where I delivered the Invocation. J.W. Marriott hotel at 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue became festooned with the trimmings and trappings of a barrio fiesta atmosphere, as dance troupes, singing groups, and rondallas, along with immaculately and appropriately dressed Fil-Ams in indigenous gowns and barongs vied for the best vantage point in the big lobby, prior to the official dinner program.

As the celebrations and merry-making wore on through the evening, it was hard, at least for me, to shake off that nagging thought of how ironic everything was. There we were celebrating independence, while our honorable politicians back home reminded the whole world all too clearly how shackled and fettered the whole Filipino people still are, to an antiquated, and enslaving system of doing politics, to an equally obsolete system of conducting elections, which, I maintain, together with PCP-II, remain as an “expensive and immoral process.”

Filipinos scattered all over the world, now more than 8 million, might be “making waves” in their adopted and adoptive home countries, but our home country, the fabled “pearl of the orient seas,” is fast slipping down the road towards becoming the basket case of Asia, with that structural evil called politics as a primary contributing factor.

Coming and Going: A Story in the Making

The natural order of things in the world of creation is a recurrent cycle of comings and goings, waxing and waning, ebbs and flows, and birth and death, as sure as the sun rises and sets each day. Summer is once more officially in, and the rebirth of spring is now something to look forward to again for next year. The hordes of cicadas are now long gone and an eerie silence now fills what used to be enclaves of roaring, whirring, piercing shrillness. Having tucked their “progenies” in between crags of trees after a three-week-long existence, the cicadas just faded away gradually into the silence of perhaps another 17 year waiting time. The eggs will somehow find their way into the relative warmth and safety of the ground, where they will suck the life out of juicy roots of trees, waiting for the right time and the right conditions to once more strut their hour upon the stage of life at some time in the distant future.

I would like to think that the Philippines, with all its myriad problems and trials, is also an ongoing story of dying and rebirth, of falling and eventually rising once more. Once known as the Switzerland of Asia, envied before by neighboring countries for its level and standard of education, second only to Japan in economic growth in the late 1950s, the Philippines has definitely seen better days. It has had its 15 minutes of fame in the worldwide arena of freedom-loving nations back in 1986, when it peacefully worked for regime change that was believed to be the start of its gradual rise towards its rightful place under the sun.

The few weeks that cicadas roared their way into their noisy existence only to lie hidden once more under the ground for a long, long while seems to be a huge, huge waste. Their ephemeral presence has led many, many people to ask themselves: “Of what use are the cicadas in the order of life as God envisioned it?” Finding no real, concrete practical utility for the millions that serenaded a huge part of Maryland for some three to four weeks all day and all night, existing apparently only to mate and assure the species’ continued presence in the world, people waxed poetic and philosophical and waned pragmatic and utilitarian, for a change.

Cicadas, for all the seeming futility of their short-lived existence, succeeded in teaching harried and hurried people who think that everything must have a practical and useful purpose to ever exist. For one, they made a 48 year old hopeless romantic like me, race back to a time when dragonflies, beetles, and spiders were more than enough to make children happy. Those cicadas made philosophers and pray-ers out of people who have learned to take simple things for granted, who appreciate their handiwork much more than they do God’s own. The cacophony they reveled in for three weeks taught people to listen to the voice of a God who is raring to be heard and paid attention to, a God who remains steadfast despite the waxing and waning of people’s fortunes and personal and collective stories.

The cicadas have come and gone, even as the “grandeur that was Rome’s and the glory that was Greece’s” are long gone now. For those attentive and discerning enough, their story of coming and going is but a reflection of what human life is, “like a flower, here today, but gone tomorrow.” In their temporariness lie their greatness and power. In their glorious cacophony, we find intimations of the contemplative chants of pray-ers and philosophers who realize and understand humbly that “here, there is no lasting city,” and that “the old order must pass away” and give in to the new.

As for me, it was well worth the wait from 1965 to 2004, from Mendez to Maryland, from mischief-maker to an adult, responsible man, to see and understand much more than meets the eye about the relationship between cacophonous cicadas and contemplative chants of worship addressed to a God who knows the ebb and flow of the tides, who is greater than principalities and powers that rose and fell in history, who remains lovingly steadfast and faithful, despite the waxing and waning of people’s loyalties, and whose Son’s dying and rising, is ultimately reason enough for cicadas to go on singing, and people like us to go on hoping.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


I am again revisiting an old entry, dated August 3, 2003. I partly speak about the infamous mutiny at Oakwood in the central business district of Makati, just a few days before I left for the US. I remember getting apprehensive about traveling then that I missed my appointment with the novices in Cebu, where I was scheduled to give a week-long formation seminar-workshop. It is ironic that one of the mutineers, after the recent national elections, will soon be included among the list of so-called “honorable” senators. So what else is new? I am, as my title puts it, a pilgrim in a not-so-strange land.

Grueling weeks and days trying to make the best of the little time available for two crash courses at the Don Bosco Center of Studies, prior to my departure for the U.S. ended July 30 with the submission of grades and the returning of my students’ papers (tests and research works) all the way up to the last hour of classes last Wednesday morning. As I gave back my students’ papers, I gave in to their clamor for me to say a few words of comment about the recent failed putsch (Oh no! Not again!). The last few weeks had indeed, been rather full. Another retreat-seminar occupied me till the last weekend of July. And the day before I left, I just had to finish all that needed to be finished, on top of everything I had to do to put a closure to some other stuff I was engaged in.


After two sleepless nights, I got to the posh and renovated SFO international airport about 40 minutes behind schedule, that is, at 9:40 a.m., the same day I left Manila, 31 July. The good thing about going transpacific from the so-called “far east” is that one gains a full day, arriving the same day one departs from Manila. The trip was uneventful. It was pretty obvious Northwest Airlines is cutting down on expenses. Food was not as plentiful as before. Portions are considerably smaller, and non-essential snacks were scrapped out. As usual, the waitresses from Manila to Tokyo were more personal and warm. Their rather older American counterparts from Tokyo to SFO, expectedly, were more rough and gruff.

California! The place used to be the epitome of the great American dream, part of the proverbial search for the wild, wild west, for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Alas, the great Silicon Valley bubble has burst a long time ago. Gone is the euphoria that was there ten years ago, when real estate and housing shot up in prices, when the great demand for more and more from upwardly mobile computer wizards and electronic gadget aficionados was the run of the day. What remain are signs of a once upbeat rush for “new developments” that carved out huge chunks of “prime” real estate on the balding and now yellowish hillsides of Northern California east of the San Francisco bay. Somehow, the city itself that was made popular by songs like “I left my heart in San Francisco” just does not anymore show the same luster and glitter that I thought it had just 19 years ago, when I first set foot on the famed cable car city of everyone’s dreams.

The quality of life is steadily going down in sunny California! Starbucks coffee shops dot the city slickers’ paradise. But one espies hobos and homeless people waiting for their better heeled counterparts go out of such enclaves of coffee-comfort, in order to grab the precious commodity called a Starbucks-emblazoned paper cup, empty it of the remaining contents, in order for them to go stealthily inside the milk, tea and coffee palaces, fill their cups with hot, nourishing milk from the spick and span canisters of delight, and then go out casually to drink their fill of milk, courtesy of the capitalist crowd, who would, of course, rather spend a couple of dollars for a fancy cup of coffee, rather than three scores of cents’ worth of watery café americano, found in just about any greasy spoon , hole -in-the-wall affair all across the continent.

It was all like seeing California again for the first time! Traffic builds up daily at 880 freeway, not the way things used to be in the state where freeways are the most extensive, the most complex in all of the United States. Hybrid cars now begin to see the light of day, their drivers and owners well aware that petrol is bound to become an expensive and scarce commodity in the coming years.


Talking about greasy spoon places … well, we got into one for lunch Saturday noon, famished after an all-morning trip to the bookstore (and more, after lunch) - a Filipino restaurant. Nothing much has changed since I first set foot into one in Chicago. They are all the same. They will never, never become what the Thai (and even the Vietnamese) restaurants are by now all over the United States. They were, and still remain, no better than a “turo-turo” affair in Avenida or in Pasay City. Professionalism, or the utter lack of it, is their undoing, as far as I am concerned. Our order of grilled chicken came with - you guessed it right - sticky and greasy knives. The waiter who took our orders, appeared to have just gotten out of bed, unkempt, uncombed, unshaven - and uncouth! He turned out to be also the cook. He disappeared in an inner room that was full of background noise. Obviously, there was more than just a kid in there who kept all the adults in the small room occupied. The other waitress was busy preparing a table for a biggish group. They gave out our orders. They forgot to give our drinks, and proceeded to eat with what turned out to be a group of relatives who apparently go there regularly. In short, the cook, the waiter, and everyone who ran the restaurant left us their customers in the lurch, alone to munch forlornly our meals. We sort of hesitated to ask for something else. The whole staff was busy having their own merry lunch in a separate set of tables. We were quite mortified as we ate our salty fare, consoled only by the blaring sound of the KTV that doled out Tagalog songs of the late 70s and early 80s - the sort that would make the fans of Anthony Castelo blush, and pine for the lilting tunes of Rico Puno.

Somehow, the Filipino professionalism - or the patent lack of it - has invaded American shores!

Incidentally, Thai restaurants have enjoyed quite a following and clientele from Americans and other expats. The Filipino restaurant somehow has not gone beyond being a “mom and pop” affair, capable of attracting only a handful of Filipino habitués, who go there, probably, just to get away from the usual fast-food fare or the “heat-it-up-in-the-microwave-see-you-again” fare that is the hallmark of every harried and hurried job holder in this fast-paced society that values a good credit line and equates a person’s dignity with a good credit record.

Yesterday, admiration turned to envy when passing through the small, cute and tightly packed downtown strip of Palo Alto, just outside of the famous Stanford University campus (again, I sighed and pined for what ordinarily could not be seen back home in the Philippines), I espied three Thai restaurants and some four Italian restaurants in a strip that was not more than a mile long, spick and span, proud of their heritage, which obviously offered more than just food to customers. Again, I felt sorry for those “hole-in-the-wall” affairs that passed for an Asian restaurant that attracted only sloppily dressed and noisy customers whose main aim is to beat the nostalgia out of their minds by belting out songs of artists whom my young students now back home would not know anymore from Adam!


I left the day Italian Job was supposed to be showing in theaters in Manila. I had been waiting for it for long. I was lucky to catch up with it over at Century Theaters at Union City. It was a story to shake the soul and once more situate it in the context of a sinful, scheming world, with little or no redeeming values to put one back on one’s spiritual track. It was as entertaining as it was draining. Its only redeeming value - the superb acting skills of favorites like Edward Norton and some others.

But the other movie, “Seabiscuit” gave me the needed lift to save me from a growing despondency. I confess I shed a few tears as I felt so involved in the lengthy film. It was all about three individuals who needed healing, three people who needed to find meaning in their lives for one reason or another. They all found it through a horse who itself needed healing, a horse that attracted no buyer as it was slightly deformed. It was a horse that did not at all look like a thoroughbred. But it found a very good trainer, a very good jockey, and very good manager-owner, who had a passion for lost causes. All three were wounded people who had the right attitude. All three were winners at the end. All three came out victorious and vibrant despite all the odds. For they had synergy. They had flow. They had what it took to become winners!


I am back in a land that is at once strange and not so strange to me. Part of me belonged here. Part of me told me I am not in the right place. But this is the land where a limping old horse probably could find the right people, the right conditions, the right frame of mind for him to become whole and help others find wholeness. Here is a pilgrim who continues to be in search, a wayfarer who still goes on dreaming to become one who would make a difference in people’s lives. Far from the people who I usually minister to, I still feel ministered to by friends and fellow pilgrims whose only wish and dream is to see me grow and glow and become the best I could be. Near the people I usually do not minister to, I feel the pull of growth and the search for depth that is the hallmark of handicapped “horses” out to win the race of a lifetime who only wants to be the instrument of others’ total healing and growth.

It was obviously a healing journey also for Tobey Maguire who played the jockey. His life trajectory is reflected in the story. He identified himself with the real Red Pollard who healed the horse and was healed by the horse, even as the two of them healed the manager-owner and the trainer.

We are all deeply interconnected. Our lives - our past, present and future - are all intertwined. As Thompson puts it: Each of us, to each other linked are, that never does a leaf fall, without troubling a star!”

Come join me in my dream. It is no longer about horses. But it is all about our intertwined lives in which horses, cabbages and kings - and yes - even eggshell pieces - broken eggshell pieces like those of Humpty Dumpty - could make or break us!

Monday, June 11, 2007


I am revisiting a journal entry I wrote back in June 15, 2002. It has always been my desire to write some kind of an apologia for my hometown, Mendez, Cavite. This original entry copied almost verbatim below had been sent to my friends and readers when blogging was yet light years away from my reach.

I would like to dedicate this piece to all my fellow Mendezenians scattered all over the world. It is no secret that of all the towns in Cavite, probably Mendez has among the most relatively numerous migrants all over the world, in particular, the United States and Canada.

The 10th Sunday of Ordinary time (which fell in the first half of June 2002) did not quite turn out to as be rosy as I would have wanted it to be. I will be straight to the point… I was grouchy. As I was into deep introspection, trying to find out the reason behind the negative feelings that opened my day, the same was further aggravated by commentators at mass who, for the nth time, did not quite get my family name right. Dimaranan, I guess, is long enough, and I don’t need anybody adding another syllable, or two, where he or she pleases – or, for that matter - subtracting, interpolating, exchanging, mixing up or what have you… murdering, it, to cut the long story short. The real issue here is plain lack of functional, passable literacy even among those who claim to be reading and proclaiming the Word of God in church. Why, a good number of them don’t seem to even understand what they are reading. You can sense it from the way they truncate phrases at the wrong places, from the manner with which they group together words and – my goodness, the way they mispronounce even simple words. We might as well ask the ICEL (International Commission of English in the Liturgy) to allow us to introduce a CONIOTIC version for da Pilipins! Now, that would really be exciting! That move would make all our colegialas instant experts in language, and instant reading celebrities in church. How about that? After all, - correct me, if I am wrong di ba it’s like this na, the way they make announcements in Church?

Ipinakikiusap po –lamang na paki turn off lang po ang inyong mga cellphones, o ilagay lamang po sa silent mode, habang nagmamass ang priest… Goodness gracious! At the rate we’re going, Papua New Guinea will soon be replaced by the Philippines as the Pidgin English capital of the world!

But now, back to why I was grouchy… I soon found out why as I was deep in thought. The driver assigned to pick me up, who usually was rather upbeat and jolly, was beginning to pique me. I noticed, as a student of human behavior, that he was taking potshots at all the priests he ever worked for, in very many and subtle ways. Most of the priests he was referring to, of course, were known to me personally. Although I knew that this same fellow would, invariably, be also ribbing others about me in future, I was not perturbed by this. What really pissed me off was when he asked where I was born, and where I grew up. MENDEZ, CAVITE, I said. And that was when he started giving me all the best that his knowledge of social studies could muster. For one who hails from Mindanao, apparently all he knows about Cavite are the usual labels and myths attached to it: matatapang, maraming tulisan, carnappers, etc. An issue that has not been fully resolved in me surfaced once more. I held my cool. I kept silent. Those among you who know me well enough, would know what is behind this, and why I insist on us being a little more considerate by doing away with any type of cultural labels and the like. As a little boy, fresh from the boonies of Cavite, transplanted to a patently different world that was Makati then, (at that time, the only building one could see for miles on end was the DBP building. Behind, or near it was a creek that ran the length of Buendia avenue, along the fringes of the then posh Bel-Air village, where the boys of the neighborhood I was in, would spend hours catching small fishes that I guess were biya fingerlings, or just plain butete. All this done, of course, without permission! Nearby, too, was a muddy hole, a pond – it was a lake for a probinsyano 7-yr old – where we would disrobe and plunge to our hearts’ delight, again unbeknownst to the grown-ups who were busy adjusting to a whole, new brave world that was Poblacion, Makati.) Well, at that time, when teachers and neighbors would refer to Cavite as a place of hoodlums and other shady characters, I just could not understand! My innocent mind simply could not make connections between Cavite and the underworld characters they would be talking about. Mendez was a good-enough place for me. There I was happy. There I saw inherent goodness and benevolence from people who I knew worked honestly for their keeps as best they could, where with each family’s little parcels of land planted to coffee, fruits and vegetables, just about everybody was working hard for an academic degree and their rightful place under the sun. I knew of no tulisans! All I knew – and admired to the hilt – were figures of old, wise women and men (my maternal grandmother was a towering figure, easily, a cut above the rest, who would be sought after repeatedly for her prudent counsel…) who spoke with deliberate clarity and utter gentleness, whose wise and timely aphorisms would have put Socrates and Chrysostom, the man with the golden mouth, to shame. I know of some clear luminaries: Andang Juan Oldan, for one; my lola, whom we fondly and lovingly called Nanay Ipay; her pamangkin by her husband Gregorio Sumagui, Kakang Juan Sumagui; the celebrated musician and composer, Kakang Emilio Maraan. Oh, how I pine for his music, played during informal academias, some kind of a gig organized by people if for no other reason than for their love of music. There the likes of Andang Ando (Alejandro Sumagui, my mother’s uncle, and their clan) would burst into poetic discourses, and plaintive songs, singing paeans to beauty, honor and undying love and devotion. Oh, how I pine for the beauty of Alma, of Pacing, all beauties personified and immortalized in the songs of Kakang Emilio Maraan! That was the Mendez and the Cavite I knew first hand, not the Cavite painted by myths from movies and cruel legends made up by ignoramuses from Manila who got by with a superficial, - if, partial and vicarious – pseudo-knowledge of a place that was more than home to me. Mendez is in the heart! It will remain so, for Mendez has spawned all the best that is in me… All the dreams that I ever had, trace their origin in a place that was built on lofty dreams, where poetry, music and holy fear of the Lord were subjects of my daily childhood experiences. In a young boy’s heart that was filled early on, with noble ideas of hard work and dedication to duty, where the likes of Ramon Magsaysay and Claro M. Recto and – even Arsenio Lacson – would often find their way in the conversations of adults along with the likes of Pope John XXIII, there was no room for violent and shady characters that I heard of – not in Cavite, but when I left Mendez, for the so called civilized city and its suburbs. Thanks, but no thanks. Nardong Putik was as unreal to me as Darna and Valentina, for all the misguided interest they engendered in the minds of Manilans and city-dwellers. The Mendez that I knew, the Cavite in my heart, is as good as any other place, for one to learn the best that the best of humanity can offer: undying hope, courage, hard work, love and devotion to family, the unrelenting search for the better, the higher, the nobler. The Mendez in my heart spawned a wide field of dreams for me and many others like me who now are scattered all over the world, mostly roaring successes in their own right.

And now, to get back to my story… As I got into silent mode, I was transported back in time to that one single place that made history for me and many others in the late 50s and early 60s, the gulod, as we called it. There, music was played; there, poetry was recited loud and clear, there, basketball games were played, without the luxury of a cemented court; there memorable academias were held, and rosaries were recited… saints were brought in processions, and countless dreams were woven. Those dreams, in time, would be realized one by one, in the persons of doctors, engineers, writers, civil servants, -even humble mariners, and navy men and others who now are found in just about every corner of the world.

Nardong Putik has cast a shadow of notoriety to Cavite. Mendez has consistently steered clear of all this, despite the wide, encompassing umbra of bigotry, bias and ignorance that is the hallmark of less discerning minds that tend to judge wholes in terms of disparate parts. That umbra, like dark lowering clouds, actually hovers over a widening area all over the Philippines, a country fast losing its soul, because it has lost its moorings in its cultural heritage, because it has lost touch with its poetry, its songs, its music – in a word, its universe of values. In their place now are inane and artificial icons that have no connectivity with one’s past and one’s glorious heritage that is as unique as it is deeply inspiring. I pine for Mendez, now, no longer the physical place. I pine for all that it represents for me; all that it has engendered in me; all that it has produced in me.

For Mendez, at bottom, to borrow Carlos Bulosan’s now famous phrase, “is in the heart!”

N.B. For my readers from the U.S and Canada who may not be familiar with contemporary Philippine slang, coniotic refers to that snooty, high browed set of attitudes that young people from the alta sociedad in status-conscious Philippines espouse. A whole lot of elements go into that general term ranging from a type of language that is a hodge-podge of English and Tagalog that takes its origins from students of exclusive schools for the rich, otherwise known as class A and B, representing the top 5 % of the Filipino people, to a style of dressing, etc. Coniotica is the generic term to refer to all that characterizes the ways of speaking, of behaving, of comporting oneself for those who belong – or, for that matter - those who are trying very hard to be counted in. The easiest passport to this make-believe world of true blooded coniotics is to speak in a way that would make Lope K. Santos (remember him and his Banaag at Sikat?) livid with rage, and the queen of England, absolutely stupefied and aghast at this bloody mélange of a language that, by the way, continually evolves with every new quickie movie and every new sitcom that the warring TV networks continually churn out.

Paranaque City, June 11, 2007