Mail-order bride

            She holds his hands while he sleeps and talks of life in
Turino, Italy.

            As the airplane skimmed through fat clouds of darkening blue tinged with the melting gold light of a spent day, she orders red wine from a frosty Nordic waitress and speaks with no shyness, nor pride.

            Alyssa was born to a destitute family along the shorelines of Dumaguete. For seventeen years, she was raised as best as parents who produced in quick succession five other gaping mouths to feed could. Until she graduated from high school and met the 60-year old Italian “vacationing” in their remote fishing village, her father, an alcoholic, was never proud of her. He was the first to be thrilled when the Italian asked to take his daughter to his home in

            To take home is not the same as to marry, Alyssa was to find out. For the Italian had a wife he had yet to divorce and children he had yet to introduce her to.

            Still, she lived in a big house and watered bright flowers. She cooked pasta and became master of a particular blend of fresh tomato and basil that the Italian loved well. She wore a gold ring and during winter, wrapped herself in warm coats that she knew once belonged to an elegant woman. She watched television on a large LCD though she barely understood a thing. And always, she watched the sunset, remembering what it was like to have a family that you snuggled with in the dark.

            Alyssa wanted to study but could never leave. She was made to believe she was held captive of her own native beauty—her full lips, her healthy bosom, her bronze skin—that would surely engage someone else if allowed to wander around. She was taught that she was dangerous especially if allowed to do something else but cook and clean and bathe and smell good.

            They are on their way to the
Philippines for a visit. The Italian was craving for the sun and a splash of salt water on his pouched body. Since he hated fish and poverty and Filipino food, he had to be where there are restaurants for foreigners. They will not stay long in Alyssa’s village in Dumaguete, maybe even not at all.

            Candidly, she asks her seatmate in the airplane, someone she could have gone to school with, if her own boyfriend was Italian, French, German, or perhaps Dutch. She was instead given the shock of her life. So not all Filipinas went abroad for the same dreams. Not all Filipinas stayed home for the same reasons.

How was it possible, Alyssa thought, while the Italian beside her snorts in his sleep, untangles his fingers from hers, and turns on his broadside.

Published in: on November 5, 2006 at 6:43 am  Comments (1)  

The cool and the fury of General Esperon

It took but a quick change of clothes and refreshing face wash to clear the slime and shake off the odour of a couple of eggs, who made history as their yolks exploded with wrath over the generals’ shoulder, near where three ill-gotten stars of rank jumped with fright, and on his cheek, which has grazed the faces of more liars and murderers than politically-indignant eggs can ever dream of hurling themselves at.

Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon stepped out of the bathroom with a gentleman’s smile.

Facing cameras, the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff says with full equanimity that he has forgiven those disgraceful radicals who pelted him with eggs and mud after he spoke at a forum in the state university. In a barely disguised condescending voice and a smirk that was meant to radiate tolerance and understanding, he dismissed the slogan-bearing lot who chanted “Inutang na dugo ng pasistang militar, singilin, singilin, pagbayarin!” as “bad eggs,” normal but negligible defects in a society with imperfect decorum.

But the students have far from forgiven. In fact, they have barely begun counting the general’s sins. These fiery youths have decided, eons of political study ago, to eschew proper manners in a country where it is demanded of the jobless, the hungry, the landless by the highest officials of the land who themselves defecate all over in public. These enlightened progenitors of the First Quarter Storm had wanted to show the people that social justice should be the more pressing concern for all.

Before the powerful Commission on Appointments, Gen. Esperon faced a routinary fusillade of questions as mildly disconcerting to him as furiously thrown eggs. “Tell us, having been name-dropped in the Hello Garci tapes, what was your true involvement in the alleged cheating that took place in the 2004 elections? Was your role in the elections that reason why the President promoted you to the command?” (Your Honors, I cannot comment on the insinuations made in a taped conversation between President Arroyo and election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano whose veracity has yet to be proven.) What can you say about the military being the perpetrators of extrajudicial killing, abduction, arrest and torture of hundreds of activists, as claimed by witnesses and human rights groups? (Your Honors, said witnesses and human rights groups are all communists who are just waging black propaganda against the military.) Will the AFP at least look into the data that shows an extraordinary rise in the number of civilians killed in the province which fell under the command of one Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan? (Certainly, the military will investigate, but I think Gen. Palparan has made it clear that he has no direct hand in these killings, though he may have inspired hate and violence against communists, which in itself is not a crime.)

Complicit, half-helpless, the most responsible of them even standing up to shake his hand and grin for photographs, Gen. Esperon retreated from a “hot seat” barely warm to resume his career unruffled.

Already, sinister men were stalking those students still flushed with the ecstasy of a precious point driven home for martyrs, their names and faces entering a secret database some fresh, some already all too dangerously familiar to it.

Published in: on November 5, 2006 at 4:44 am  Comments (3)  

The last three days of Orlando Rivera

Orlando Rivera lived his last three days as a corpse.

            Thus, when armed bonnet-clad men barged into Orlando’s house on August 13, and shot him three times in the face in front of his wife Regina, they were killing a man whose heart had stopped beating exactly 72 hours ago, when these same men first crossed the rickety bamboo slats that led to the fisherman’s hut, bade the door open not with knuckles but with steel gun butts, and levelled its barrels to the trembling forehead of Orlando. Orlando had awoken from a nightmare only to be confronted by one more ghoulish for being real. These featureless intruders had laughed without mirth, and cocking their guns, whispered in decibels that froze Orlando’s blood: “Tatlong araw ka na lang.”

The watchful moon over Obando, Bulacan blinked.

            Since then, he had been unintelligible to everyone, including his wife, who had faithfully been accompanying him to the military camp every morning since Maj. Gen. Jovito Palaparan’s men decided to flush our insurgency in the province and made lists of civilian fates that range from interrogation, to torture, to liquidation. With horror, she watched her husband mutter to himself, in between spasms that shook his body, as if poisoned by indigestible agitation. She saw him eat nothing but fear—for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Orlando’s blood pressure dropped so low that the birds that flew over the hut that he didn’t leave, like a coffin, fell silent. He grew a pallor over his sunburnt face.

Worst of all, he stared at the tangle of his fish nets with an unbelieving sadness, trying to dredge up memories of the rush of blood through his veins when led his fellow fishermen in opposing a nearby dumpsite whose toxins asphyxiate fishes, his incendiary will to organize and teach them about their own livelihood outside of its relations with the weather. But all the sea yielded was the blackest mud. Fish nets never lie, and the military keeps its words of slaughter.

            Right before the trigger was pulled, Orlando felt such rage, the final burst of human emotion in a corpse already three days old.

Published in: on November 2, 2006 at 3:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Off-court issues

Joan Alvarez de Venecia, nephew of the third highest official in the land, is a firm believer that everyone is entitled to their day in court.

            It is the tenet upon which her distinction as 2005 bar topnotcher, as the country’s most promising young lawyer, rests upon.

            Contrary to what she exhorts people to think that women’s groups think, supporters of Nicole, woman who spat out the red apple four US Marines stuck in her mouth after rape in a moving van, do not idiotically question her duty to her clients once she had agreed to it.

Atty. De Venecia tests her brilliance in searching for just the right paragraph in texts of ambivalent human logic, in designing attacks and feints aimed only at legitimizing the obvious: that the Philippine courts will absolve these soldiers for their recreational crimes, for it is beyond reasonable doubt that they are superior.

In truth, women’s groups respect Atty. De Venecia’s duty to her chosen litigants. They acknowledge it just as she must their duty to throw at her dagger looks and snide remarks to enunciate that they view, with a certain disgust, a little amazement, but secretly with no surprise (never underestimate the overriding contents of a politician’s blood), the fact that she was a woman who decided to make the courts a more comfortable place for rapists, who, after all, have only 365 days of affecting innocence in a country that is their government’s little playground set.

Meanwhile, Atty. de Venecia will be haunted by “off-court” issues all her life.

Published in: on November 2, 2006 at 3:13 am  Leave a Comment  


For the hundredth time before kissing ink to paper, she reflects on the necessity of what she is about to do. Which is basically, to exercise a passion in a world where most passions are untenable luxuries or the most vilified crimes. More pressing tasks that need attending to presents itself in a frieze—the care of wilting flowers, how to affect a more sprightly step, the art of winning a political debate, data gathering, making tiny acts of justice out of resolutions. She wonders if the pen need not best retreat to a cage for the simple reason that nobody notices its’ meandering in this city populated with the lost and the wanderlust, carrying cynicism in their blood, that strain that races to outlast hope as its genetic superior. She feels that so many things have been said before and that in the end, all fruits of passion are stripped to the core. No matter how the flesh fares to each taster the seed is finally spat onto the receiving ground at the mercy of the gods of fertility, the gods of history. Yes, she decides, she assents.

“No passion is stronger in the breast of man than the desire to make others believe as he believes.”

All she wants is to wake up one day nursing a garden that has been good to her, that has been good to the people.

Published in: on November 2, 2006 at 1:13 am  Leave a Comment