Sunday, August 31, 2008


sa bus
sa petron

si lola jude sa loob ng tricycle
squeezing ingrid's zit
the courtyard at night
sa umaga...

sabin, ormoc

Monday, August 18, 2008

Made in Saudi, Made in America

About 200 million migrants from different countries are scattered across the globe, supporting a population back home that is as big if not bigger. Were these half-billion or so people to constitute a state -- migration nation -- it would rank as the world's third-largest. While some migrants go abroad with Ph.D.'s, most travel… with modest skills but fearsome motivation. The risks migrants face are widely known, including the risk of death, but the amounts they secure for their families have just recently come into view.

From “A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves”, a New York Times article on OFWs by Jason Deparle, published April 22, 2007


One of my earliest memories as a child was snuggling close to my mother in a narrow, windowless corridor. The massive engine of the ship that would take us to Manila hummed incessantly. The steel walls and the small improvised cot that consisted of a thick sheet of plastic mounted on a wooden frame seemed to vibrate.

My father sat nearby, trying to sleep amidst the noise. Both my father and mother resigned from their jobs at Abuyog General Hospital (as Medical Technologist and Staff Nurse, respectively) for job opportunities in Saudi. I was six years old, and my brother Tyrone was two. Nanay, our grandmother, was scheduled to follow us to Manila as we would be in her care while our parents worked abroad.

It was a year after the People Power Revolution, and the country was still in turmoil. Coups were staged left and right, and helicopters were constantly heard whizzing past our two-room house in crowded Culiat, Quezon City.

I was enrolled in a public school near our home. While most children were fetched by their parents after school, I walked home by myself. I never quite understood then, why my parents were always away. They would just show up one day like an apparition at the door, bringing presents. Shortly, it would be time for them to leave again. I never dared ask why they would have to leave again, I was afraid I would not understand the answer.


During my preteen years, I finally mustered the courage to ask my father why we were so unlike regular families. Throughout our elementary years, only my mother, who stopped working in Saudi when she bore my youngest brother, took time to attend to our needs.

I had stacks of papers requesting the presence of my parents in school, but they all went unanswered. My father was always away, and my mother was usually too busy attending to my baby brother. Once, I had to forge their signature just so I could attend an event to be held outside school, which required parent’s consent.

My father’s answer was this:

“I am working abroad so you and your brothers can study in a good school.”

“Why can’t you work in hospitals here in Tacloban?” I asked.

“There is little pay here.” He said simply.

The discussion was over. The three of us grew up with my father working in Saudi for fifteen years. By now, I had completely understood the sacrifice he was making, only I had the feeling that somehow the solidarity of our family was being compromised.


It had become a familiar sight for me: large suitcases and melancholy faces of people as they said their goodbyes to their loved ones. I was at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and my mother was among those who were leaving.

She had been completing all international exams required, whilst working at Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center, and now Global Nurses found her a job in Monroe, Louisiana. A few days prior to her departure, I had to ask again.

“Ma, how come you want to live in America? We are doing fine here. I’m already working, and Tyrone is already in college.”

“There are better opportunities for us in the States.” She replied.

What can I do? The plan was already set, my father and brothers were to follow her in a few months time. So I watched my mother walk through the glass doors, to the Check-in area. I waited outside, and watched quietly as planes flew into the horizon till they were merely dots in the sky.


To a casual observer, we seemed to have it all, and the pictures proved it: two cars, lovely furniture in a beautiful house, my brothers grinning ear to ear in front of a theme park sign, and my mother and father, all smiles at Ted’s graduation at Neville High School.

“The truth is”, my mother confided over our phone conversation while I was at the office, “life is difficult here.”

“People need cars because in small US cities, there is no public transportation. You need a credit history to be approved of a loan, a loan which you will be slaving for years on end to pay.”

When my mother lost her job at St. Francis Medical Center, my father had to work as a dishwasher. US Law required a license to practice in the medical profession, and my father had only license to work as a Med Tech in the Philippines. My brother worked as a janitor to help make ends meet. Unlike here in the Philippines, where you can run to your nearest relative in times of dire need, they faced their problems on their own in the US.

My mother soon found a job at a smaller hospital in Columbia, which also had a hospice for the elderly. They packed their bags once again, and moved from their apartment in Monroe. Because college was expensive, my youngest brother Ted opted to join the US Navy, wherein after certain number of years of service, the government will take care of his tertiary education.


I resigned from my job of four years in Makati to study Nursing. My mother assured me it would be the best way to secure the future. So I went back to Tacloban, and my parents supported my education.

There were issues in financial matters and their jobs, and eventually a rift grew between my mother and my father. Then one wintry day, my brother said, Papa moved to another apartment.

But the biggest tragedy had yet to come: I received a call that my mother was rushed to the hospital for chest pains. Perhaps because she was an immigrant with no insurance, the question that remained was how the hospital bill was going to be paid- for tests to be done, medications, and doctor’s professional fees- given the fact that my mother was not working because of the hospitalization. They diagnosed pulmonary embolism, and transferred my mother to the ICU.

I could do nothing more but pray. My mother is our breadwinner, and the money she sends pays the bills here in the Philippines, along with our food and daily needs, and my 82 year-old grandmother’s medications. I felt helpless that I could not be at her bedside to care for her, and at the same time afraid of what will become of us here without her support.

On a Tuesday morning, before dawn, my brother called to give me the sad news: my mother passed away.


I wish I could say that our parents' striving for a better life sustained by years and years of work abroad was worth it, but I believe we paid too steep a price: we were robbed of our time together as a family.

The state of our country- joblessness, low wages, and increasing cost of goods leave no choice for ordinary Filipinos but to seek opportunities abroad, despite the loneliness and the danger.

The remains of my mother arrived weeks after her death. My father, my brothers, and I were together again after several years of separation. We stood before her grave, with flowers in our hands. Our relatives wept.

I touched the urn that held her ashes, and suddenly, I remembered that day when my mother held me in her arms when I was six, while we were on a boat to Manila.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

To Heaven and Back

It must have been a dream because you died yesterday.

You faced the ocean and the pink sky, fiddling with your camera. The pink t-shirt and pants were the ones you wore on our last trip to Marabut. You glanced at me and waved.


The cold of the dawn bit my face, and the hair on my arms stood. It was my idea to wake up at 5am to take pictures of the sea at sunrise. As I walked towards you, I felt the sands shift beneath my feet.

My feet hurt from walking around the hospital in uncomfortable white shoes. My clinical uniform was dirty, and 30 minutes before time off I wanted to scream. I had been in school since 8:00am, and now it was very late in the evening.

A thousand miles away, Mama was at the ICU with IV and heparin drip. When we spoke over the phone last night, she sounded weak as ever. She coughed a lot, and everytime she did, I closed my eyes and prayed.

“Please God, please.”

I tried to sound cheerful. I got 90% on my Cord Care PRS. Not bad Ma, right?

You said you were going to get better. You said they were going to move you to a regular room later that day.

Oh Ma, it hurts to see you like this.

Ted was also up, his hair unruly. My brother was shirtless despite the cold. He walked barefoot on the sand.

The surge of the tide washed gently on the shore. You were looking at the horizon, your face glowing from first rays of the sun.

“You never left, haven’t you?”

You turn to look at me and smile.

“Of course not.”

“I miss you.” I said, my voice breaking.

“I’m always here.”

The world seemed so silent, with only the sound of the waves in the background. My Mom was smiling at me. The kind of delight that lights up her eyes, much like a child whose arms are outstretched and face eager as she is about to be picked up by her parent.

The phone call. I knew what it was after the first ring. My heart pounded as I rushed to the living room.


Silence, then I heard someone breathing.



It was my brother, and he was crying so hard I could understand his words.

I sat on the couch. My brother said something but I didn’t hear anything. Tears welled up. So this was it- I never even got a chance to say how much I loved her.

Hours later, I would still be unable to move from the couch.

Then I was filled with grief, for I will never see you again in the waking world.

You wiped my tears with your hand.

“I am never gone because I’m always in the hearts of whom I love.”

You smoothed my hair, like you always did when I was very young. You always wanted us to be neat and clean, and people always remarked how well behaved we were.

“I had wanted to call you again after my duty, but I was so tired. I thought you’d be better. I have so much I need to say-”

For a moment I felt your hand, warm against my face. And you started to walk away. You turned and gave me a smile.

I looked for a trace of sadness in your eyes, but there was none.

"If tears could build a stairway, And memories a lane, I'd walk right up to Heaven And bring you home again." ~Author Unknown

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jennifer C. Hinunangan (February 9,1958-August 12,2008)

Mama had always been kind to everyone she had ever known, from her patients to her relatives, to people in our community and to her colleagues. Once, while on the way to school in my clinical uniform, the pedicab driver asked me if I was related to Mrs. Hinunangan. I told him I was her son. He informed me Mama took care of the hospitalization of his wife when my mother was still working as a staff nurse in EVRMC.
I've been trying to find the right words how to describe my relationship with my mom: she is a friend, someone who laughed at my jokes, encouraged me to pursue my silliest dreams, always supportive, and fiercely protective of my brothers and me.
Ma, we'll never quite have another one like you. Thanks for always being the greatest Mom. Thanks for the sacrifices you made for us, thanks for enduring those times when we caused you a headache. We love you always.
A few days ago, we received a phone call that my mom had pulmonary embolism. From the scans, three of her vessells were blocked. I was still able to speak with her before she went to the ICU. I told her it was a miracle. Maybe God gave us a second chance to be together since she is still in the US. Early this morning, the phone rang- I woke up, and I knew what it was.
This was my last text to my Mom:
I always pray for our family, most specially for your health. Naku Ma, we still have a lot of good times to look forward to. I'll do better in school for you. Remember God won't give us trials we can't endure. We love you!
She replied:
Thanks. You guys are my strength and my life.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

And I Get Compared to a Cat...

Samar, Leyte, or Panay
by N.

Childhood pets

I grew up in a house with a lot of pets. All through childhood, we’ve had several dogs: one, two, or three each time; a number of cats, and several goats.

We had chickens, too. Several cows and pigs, and usually one water buffalo. But the chickens were for the eggs, and for food. The goats and pigs were for food too on special occasions, although milk can be had from goats if you master the art of milking. The cows and water buffalo were for work on the farm.

Thus, one hardly thought of the latter group of animals as pets.

The best dog we had was King. He was neutered as a puppy, and became big and a bit chubby. He was my brother’s best friend. His tears were copious when King was run over by a truck.


The cats were another story. Most of the time there were three or four of them, depending on whom among the feral cats from the neighborhood decided to stay. Occasionally we would be feeding almost a dozen of them. We almost never saw mice or rats in the house.

After almost a decade of living in America, I had set-up a household in the midst of Manila. For the Philippines, this is the City of Lights, City that Never Sleeps, City of Our Affections, City by the Bay, Distinguished and Ever Loyal City.

Also City of Garbage.

The third world scourge..

An issue that carried other issues as well, like huge rats, huge mice, and huge roaches. Somehow each species deserve the adjective.

Enter Jude, or Piolo

Depending on your mood, you can call him by either name as he rarely responds anyway.
Jude, because of Thad.

St. Jude Thaddeus. Got it? I had wanted them to be relatives, for some reason that escapes me now. Perhaps because they both are obstinate and moody. Or vainly good-looking. Or dastardly when provoked. Whatever.

Piolo, after I had him neutered. That spaying is another story.

I was smitten with the puppy when the IT lady brought four of them to our place of work, as she had too many of them already. Her American Shorthair had a liaison with a pusakal, and Jude was one of her sons.

I thought of taking in a cat because of the mice and rats problem, and Jude was just perfect. He was toilet trained when he came. He went to the litter box when he pooped.

The pee was another matter. For some reason or the other, Jude was not too bright with the peeing part, like most Pinoy males. It wouldn’t be so bad if cat pee wasn’t so obnoxiously odorsome. An industrial-type stink remover was rendered inutile by Jude’s indiscretions.

He particularly liked to go with me inside my bedroom, where I also work on the computer. Many times I would forget he was there, and this brat never asks me to open the door when the time comes to pee. He loves to rub his body on my legs whenever he was hungry, but he was oh-so-silent when he peed. He would let loose the floodgates, and the favorite place was my bed.

The stink was abominable.

The map

Always, the sheets have to go to the washer immediately. Even after drying though there was a map-like faintly yellow-brown stain left.

After several episodes, it struck me that the stains resemble the Visayan islands.

Bohol. Samar, or Leyte, and especially Panay. It was never Cebu, maybe because the island is very elongated. Luzon is so convoluted, that a random flooding would never resemble Luzon. Mindanao maybe possible, but the Zamboanga peninsula made it difficult to emulate.

My childhood fascination with geography.

I remember everything. With Jude, it all came back, vivid and true.

Only, real smelly.

Friday, August 8, 2008


I woke up with the vague feeling of discomfort. The dark room was silent, except for the sound of the crickets outside.

“Oh no...”

My t-shirt was completely soaked, and so were my pajamas. I looked over to my left: Nanay and my younger brothers were fast asleep.

I slowly crept towards the door, careful not to make the tiniest sound as I made my way to the sala. Except for the red glow of the small bulb from the altar, the entire house was dark.

Creeeak! The rusty spring on the door complained as I pushed it open. On the banig on the floor I saw our helper, who was also fast asleep. I held my breath as I closed the door and walked slowly to the cabinet. Quickly, I grabbed some clothes and let myself out.

Our bathroom was outside the house, just adjacent to the dirty kitchen. I switched the lone incandescent bulb and braved the short walk.

Inside, I removed my wet clothes which were smelled faintly of ammonia. I toweled myself before putting on the dry ones. I rolled the wet pajamas into a ball and stuffed them at the bottom of the hamper. I went back inside the house.

I picked up yesterday’s paper and brought it with me inside the bedroom. With the utmost care, I laid them carefully on the bed- mostly over the wet parts. I climbed back to bed, dry and snug, and went back to sleep.

I was eight.

Nocturnal enuresis is usually not considered a problem until after the age of 6. The most common causes include genetic predisposition and delay of maturation (Cendron, 1999). The incidence of nocturnal enuresis declines as the child matures.

Sabay justify, hehe!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stage Fright

The lights seemed to hurt my eyes. Despite the constant whirl of the electric fan beside me, beads of sweat started to trickle down my temples. I was aware of my breath, and every pounding of my heart.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” I began.

“The reason why Jesuth (my tongue seemed to stick to my upper teeth!), our Lord, wath (damn, not again!) both popular and unpopular during his time on earth was His teaching which was ah, uhmm, contrary to the values of the world…”

Each time I spoke, my chest seemed to tighten, even as I kept telling myself to calm down. Epinephrine must have been pouring inside me by the buckets. My vision seemed to sharpen, as I saw every single face, all two hundred and sixty plus, gazing at me.

Luckily, this was only during rehearsals. I was asked to read impromptu, and at that time I was feeling problematic over the status of one of the projects assigned to me. Maybe it was the stress, maybe it was because I was unprepared, but damn! This was an unfortunate time to make bloopers.

Four out of the six sections submitted the wrong format, and I spent what was supposed to be a day of rest correcting the errors. With the help of five people however, we were able to submit the 725 slide presentation just in time. With that out of the way, I assured myself the possibility of me screwing up my part in the ceremony was null.

I practiced with Sister Isabel till I sounded as credible as any lector. The problem was that I am used to speaking fast, and I was certainly not accustomed to sounding as perfect and as flawlessly modulated and well paced as an electronic teller.

During the ceremony, in front of close to a thousand people, I got up to the podium calm and collected. I opened my mouth and screwed up- well, I didn’t mispronounce anything or spoke too fast- I did worse by missing some of the lines. To people who heard without really listening, they couldn’t tell what I did wrong, but those who listened to the words I uttered- their brows were probably bunched together from trying to decipher what it all meant. My mates told me I did ok so I thought great, no one noticed.

One day, I happened to bump into Sister Isabel.

“Thad, was it the electric fan?”

“Excuse me?”
“You missed some of your lines!”

“Sister… (I lost my head for a minute there Sister, that’s what happened. Memory gap, stress induced amnesia, stage fright…)

…Yes , it was the fan.” And I gave her a dazzling apologetic smile.

Thus concludes my short career as a lector.

Ironies in our Country

Tacloban is a small coastal city where life is generally slow paced. I love the laid back atmosphere- the most traffic we have occur during fiestas or festivals, and I gather no one would be complaining about that. Most of the time, people here cruise through their routines and live life simply.

This premise is however being challenged by the changing times- a “Big Dome” was just completed to serve as venue for events, and “Mall fever” hit as Robinsons and Gaisano Malls have begun construction early this year. In more than two decades of living here, it seems we’re finally going to get those plush movie theaters, minus the wooden seats and hollow block projector screen that we have now.

Passing through old Real street with my beau, I was suddenly feeling nostalgic as we passed Sto. Nino Shrine- Imelda’s ancestral home. I have never been inside, so with a little persuasion, N. agreed to go on a tour of the Heritage Museum (as PCGG would put it).

I had a little obsession back in my college days in Diliman of Mrs. Marcos’ life. As the guide (a nice lady who went on with her memorized spiel) led us around, I gave my own take on the history of the place, to which my beau gave a knowing smile.

“Imelda belonged to the poorest Romualdezes, according to a bio of her that I read. With a battered tampipi, Imelda went with a relative to Manila, where she would join a beauty pageant, lose, file a complaint, and as consolation get declared as Muse of Manila. Later she would meet a young, ambitious politico, who she will marry within eleven days of courtship.”

I continued:

“The Sto. Nino Shrine was not built until Marcos was in power. As First Lady, Imelda built a number of buildings and institutions in Manila, and of course in Leyte- among the most ambitious: the San Juanico Bridge (an engineering feat during its construction), Imelda’s Olot Residence, People’s Center, and Sto. Nino Shrine.

Imelda told people that Sto Nino Shrine was her ancestral home, but truth be told, it was merely a humble dwelling before she became First Lady. The old house was destroyed, and in its place now stood a beautiful building.”

The interior was amazing: Italian mosaic adorning the walls, chandeliers from Czechoslovakia, antique vases from China, intricately carved furniture from Korea, mirrors from Egypt, brass beds from England, King Louis XIV furniture from France, fine ivory carvings, jade statuettes, Pina and leather paneling of some of the bedrooms, antique Sto Nino’s from all over the globe, and of course, original paintings by Filipino Masters and portraits of Imelda and her family.

It was hard to believe these existed right here in a city where most people’s idea of opulence was buying a new karaoke machine during fiestas. Or displaying wedding giveaways in a divider in the living room.

I remarked to N. how the place was slowly decaying through time. The incandescent glow of the chandelier was overpowered by the light of the sun outside, and as we passed the heavily carved wooden door, I saw a sight that made my head shake in irony:

A vagrant just outside the fabulous shrine, with a pained expression, reached out her calloused hands to beg for change. I couldn't find a clearer picture of the real state of the Philippines today.


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