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Of Jelly Treats and Inflation

At the supermarket yesterday, a kid was trying to get her mom to buy a pack of jelly treats. They’re the inexpensive kind: the kind that you would expect most moms to put in the shopping cart without a second thought. Most of us don’t buy jelly treats, but to that kid it seemed like everything: the most colorful expression of happiness that every kid is entitled to. The mom, though, didn’t have the same idea. Her shopping basket was already half-full of the essential groceries a household of five would need: rice, toiletries, baon, instant noodles, a bunch of wilted-looking sitaw, among other things. With a stern look in her eye, she looked at her kid and said: “Ibalik mo yan.” The little girl won’t have it, and kept trying to put the treats in the shopping basket. It was only in a heartbreaking moment that most of us tend to see all the time—but often take for granted—that the little girl put the jelly treats back into the shelf: “Ibalik mo yan, nakakahiya. Kulang pera ni Mama.” I’m pretty sure the mom would have wanted the treats for her kid. I’m sure she did well enough in school to get jelly treats. I’m sure she’s a well-behaved kid most of the time. I’m sure that if she got a less-expensive brand of hotdogs or chose core-less toilet paper she would have had the money for those treats. But that didn’t happen that day.   ***

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The Box That Bears Her Ashes

“Unpack” is a word used a lot over the past few days to describe reactions to “My Family’s Slave;” it is a verb that captures the Filipino-ness of it all. How we unpack balikbayan boxes, how we unpack things when we move homes, how we unpack things when we settle into a place like America. And like many things in boxes, unpacking is a thing that must be done delicately and carefully. Some things can get lost, forgotten, or destroyed in the act of unpacking a box. And for all this talk of Westjacking the narrative and the nuances of Filipino culture, something I haven’t really done in the wake of the Alex Tizon maelstrom was to train the spotlight on the story itself. For all its brilliance, for all its technical mastery, it’s still one of the most harrowing stories I’ve ever read.

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Some Notes on Westjacking

May 20, 2017: Postscript here. Alex Tizon’s heartbreaking personal essay on his complicated relationship with his family’s katulong, Lola Eudocia Pulido, is making waves for all the right reasons. It is a brilliant piece of journalism. It is a wonderful breath of fresh air from the repetitive aspects of the 24-hour news cycle. It is a brilliant piece that serves us up the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Filipino experience in succinct, crisp slices of life all too familiar to anyone who grew up with a yaya. And that’s not just her: that story brings to light the plight of 40,000 Filipinos in forced labor abroad. The buzz, of course, inevitably gives way to noise. The nuances of the katulong should not be difficult to understand for Filipinos. It is, after all, the last holdout to the old ways. As a matter of critique, though, “katulong” does not lend too well to the word “slave.” The nuances of “katulong” are so varied. The word itself, translated, means “to help.” It can also be “kasambahay”—badly put, someone who lives in your house. To my mind, Lola Eudocia’s worst experiences put her squarely in the category of “alilang kanin:” roughly translated, a servant paid in cooked rice. Heck, even marketing-speak now goes for “household managers,” and the occasional notes on how to “market” to them. Sometimes they are poorer relations taken in by wealthier kin, with the promise of giving them “a taste of the city” in return for the upkeep of…

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“I Am Become Death”

“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form, and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” — J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1965 On February 25, 2017, before a throng of supporters in Luneta, Sandra Cam stood before a throng of avid Duterte supporters to proclaim: “Masarap ang pumatay at mamatay para sa bayan.” Sourced from Rappler It was a statement that, considering many things about the news, has died a speedy, natural death: not with political maneuvering in the Senate and our dalliances with “leaks.” At least in this country, to write the news is to record hurried moments in the present and to forget them the next day: after all, bigger and more important things happen tomorrow. Less than a year into his presidency, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has probably talked about “death” and its synonyms more than all past Presidents combined. Duterte, as it seems, taps into the primal: in a world where the wheels of justice turn ever so painfully slowly, the President provides haste and promises urgency. And if it means to kill, so be it. It’s a certain single-mindedness that emboldens the likes of Cam to make remarks…

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Master Strokes

There are a lot of things the Duterte administration gets right about their “war on drugs.” True: like many social ills, many things about drugs can be traced to the upper echelons of society. True: many anti-drug government programs in previous administrations did not go far enough to have lasting effects. True: drugs are a big problem in society, and cannot be ignored in a conversation about peace and order. Needless to say, this government is enthusiastic about the drug program. Thousands of addicts have already surrendered, with no other reason than fear of the President. But it does get a lot of things wrong. And one blog entry wouldn’t suffice for that. So at the risk of sounding nitpicky about the Duterte drug war, let’s head on over to that one thing that they really bungled. On August 7, in the wee hours of the morning, President Duterte took to Camp Panacan to deliver one of his trademark soliloquies, and read aloud a list of over 150 government and police officers allegedly involved in the drug trade. The key word: “allegedly.” Needless to say, Duterte’s one for command responsibility: he took it upon himself to take responsibility for mistakes and errors that the list may have. Because my God, he hates drugs. Now there will always be denial, but Duterte kind of missed out on a few things. For all the hectoring claims about the list being “verified,” the list missed out on a judge who died in 2008,…

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Mapulang Bahid

Note: So apparently, my last blog entry, The Crimson Stain, went “viral.” Now that idea, if you know me well enough, is sort of ironic (given how much I don’t like the word, and I’m really timid IRL). But it kinda warms the cold, cold heart to know that a lively discussion was fostered, and for the most part the discussion was quite civil. And quite a lot of you agreed with me. And quite a lot of you requested for the thing to be translated (or written) in Filipino. Now I’m not a particularly good translator (unless you talk about lyrics, although if you follow me on Instagram you probably have an idea how I prefer to translate things), and my command of Filipino is quite wonky at best, but I’ll try to take a crack at translating the blog entry myself. And thanks so much, everyone. Many thanks, in particular, to Raissa Robles for pointing a lot of important details out to me (details that, regrettably, I missed out on. My apologies.). Here it is. Pardon the imperfections.

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A Failure of Persuasion

And the music came back with the carnival, the music you’ve heard as far back as you can remember, ever since you were little, that’s always playing somewhere, in some corner of the city, in little country towns… the carnival meant to delude the weekend crowd. – Louis Ferdinand Céline, “Journey to the End of the Night” Above is an audio clip of Felix Manalo: the founder and first Executive Minister of Iglesia ni Cristo. For over a hundred years, the Church he founded has become an important symbol of Filipino faith, and has become (rightly or wrongly) an important voice in a country largely governed and influenced by God’s Word. Manalo and the INC may have their critics (and the events over the past few days may have added to that), but it’s hard to deny Manalo’s understanding and grasp of rhetoric. To his followers, Manalo was the last messenger of God in these last days. Manalo told stories to his flock, and reminded them of the Word. More importantly, Manalo was used to the crucible of debate: in fact, he thrived in it. In a country with so many religions that claim to preach the true Word of God, it is a testament to the INC’s talent for persuasion that today, it’s the third-largest religious denomination in the Philippines. Fast forward to a couple of days ago: for reasons that still aren’t clear to people like myself, members of the Iglesia ni Cristo blocked off an entire section…

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Weirder Affectations

Editorials are more than an expression of a publication’s opinion. The editorial is a demonstration of journalistic acumen, writing skill, and the sharpness of analysis. Editorials, therefore, require solid factual bases, an excellent command of language, and the kind of precise, incisive analysis that sets a newspaper’s opinion apart from those of common people. “Weird affectations,” to use the phrase used by the August 1, 2015 editorial of The Manila Times, happen when factual bases are not established, when the use of language fails, and when the chosen point for analysis is how President Aquino uses Filipino in his past SONAs. The problem with the editorial is that it isn’t an editorial. When we frame that piece against the three things I mentioned above—factual bases, language and structure, and analytical rigor—we should be able to see it for what it is.

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Poisons

What happens when your daily bread becomes poison? You’d probably go to a different bakery, or buy a different name-brand loaf, or rant about it on a Facebook post, but that’s something that the lot of us Internet-folk have the privilege of doing. A lot of people who face these daily poisons don’t have that privilege. Maybe it’s the only bakery in town. Maybe it’s the only thing that they can afford. Maybe they can rant about it while writhing in the public wards of government hospitals. Maybe get a mention of it in media, alongside a Mayor with a giant bedroom in his office or the next celebrity engagement. ABS-CBNNews.com reported six cases of food poisoning in the Philippines this week. Combined, the poisoning cases affected 2,028 people, mostly children. The food was not anything exotic or fancy, but typical things we would snack on: cakes, buns, candies. All this following the national scandal on synthetic rice; needless to say, “fake food” has once again stepped into the limelight. The news shows us that poisoning from adulterated food almost always happens to the vulnerable segments of our population: the poor, the young, and those from far-flung areas who don’t have easy access to healthcare. Adulteration itself is a very long and odious tale of greed, chemistry, political difficulties, and the old truth from countless cautionary tales: the way to move the heart of the people is through their stomachs.