Monday, March 30, 2020


This is an old photo taken five or six years ago, when I would have used the staid and formal word, photograph, instead. But that’s here and there in this more stressful existence now.

By this time that kitten has grown up in another home, and I hope it is still playing and jumping and always filled with food. And love, lots of it.

I often wonder why we people, if we truly are endowed with higher intelligence, managed to end up like this — daily scrounging for lucre to buy food, clothing, for rent money, for the bare necessities of life. Even if we earn more to grow past the bare bones of living, the struggle does not abate. It intensifies to meet the corresponding growth: Better food and clothes, this time with accessories like an expensive watch to adorn the wrist, the latest iPhone, and a bigger house to accommodate the more strenuous life filled with invitations and events, and cars to take you to those events, and a driver to drive you to your destination, if you’re not vacationing abroad.

My mind always goes back to the kittens. I have seen them fit their little bodies in small plastic bowls or paper bags or jump into boxes of all shapes. They are jealous little creatures, I notice. Pat one and the others will flock to you to get their share. You hand a food bowl to one, and there’s a scramble for the food bowls, while a few minutes ago everyone is ignoring food and just busy tumbling books down the bookshelf. Those below take a bite on the books, testing whether a Vonnegut tastes better than a Didion. 

I mean, their mind do not extend beyond food, play, caress, sleep. No wishing to upgrade a Seiko to a Rolex Datejust, a Mercedes to a BMW to a Rolls, a Malang to a Picasso, upgrade upgrade upgrade! I’m sure no one thinks of a better mausoleum than what others have. Or are there a few out there? A few who have lost their lust for battle, who no longer care for status, tired of making money pour their way, even kicking the erstwhile routine of poring through new books or catalogs of collectibles. The colors run past the jaded eyes. The beauty of women fails to perk the heart. The world has turned stale. The universe might as well be so much ashes. Turn the light out. I’ll sleep with the cats buried under the tree in the garden. My treasure is rest.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Those Mama Sita stamps

In 2013 the Mama Sita food company signed a contract ending 2017 with Philpost for the issuance of stamps bearing the image of founder Teresita Reyes. Many collectors howled and asked why did the post office allow commercial entities to appear in our stamps. The first set appeared that year. Again, grumbling from collectors were heard about the awful design of the souvenir sheet (S/S), particularly the perforations for two "ghost" stamps that amounted to P10 each, making the S/S cost P30. "The extra P20 surtax is twice the amount of the P10 stamp in the S/S," they asked. "What for?"

2013 Mama Sita, the first set
The answer: Because the Post Office needed money, that's why it is accepting commercial products to appear in our stamps. A minimum amount of stamps that must be bought by the proponent was required and established, even before the Mama Sita stamps. More about this later.

Many people do not know that the Bureau of Posts was created in 1922, when the Philippines, under American Occupation, joined the Universal Postal Union as a "sovereign" entity. The Manila Central Post Office building in Liwasang Bonifacio was finished in 1926 and became the headquarters of the Bureau of Posts. The building was destroyed during the battle to liberate Manila from the Japanese in February 1945. It reopened on 1945 April 16, even as other parts of the building were undergoing restoration. Philately was strong in pre-war and post-war years; it did not abate during the Japanese Occupation, when the Philippines' first ever souvenir sheet was printed in 1943 to celebrate the country's "independence" from American rule.

First souvenir sheet was printed under Japanese Occupation.

Stamp shops proliferated in Manila and neighboring cities and even distant provinces. Many families became rich through the stamp trade; they bought cars and big houses, some established branches and the dealers kept churning many variations of First Day Covers (FDCs) by designing for each stamp different cachets on envelopes they embossed by silk-screen printing. Thus, 5-centavo stamps were affixed on envelopes of various designs and sold for, say, 50 centavos, a ten-fold increase of capital. Thousand were made by each dealer. And what remains to the heirs now are just cherry-on-top windfall items whose companions had already recovered the cost of production and had made huge profits all around.

Samples of embossed FDCs made for the stamp commemorating
the inauguration of the Manila Cathedral in 1958. Many variations were made,
as much as the market could bear.

In 1986 the People Power revolution ousted President Marcos and loosened the government's hold on the Post Office, albeit temporarily. "With the overhaul of the Philippine bureaucracy in 1987, the Bureau of Post was renamed the Postal Service Office (PSO) by the virtue of Executive Order No. 125 issued by then-President Corazon Aquino on April 13, 1987. It was also that order which placed PSO under the Department of Transportation and Communications(DOTC). On April 2, 1992, by virtue of the Republic Act No.7354 issued by then-President Fidel V. Ramos, PSO became a government owned and controlled corporation named as the Philippine Postal Corporation of more commonly known today as PHLPost."

Under Martial Rule -- from 1972 Sept. 21 to 1986 Feb. 25 -- the Post Office was implicitly under behest orders to sometimes print "special" issues; for example, Sept. 11 in 1981 and 1982 for Marcos's birthday. Of particular interest is the 1981 Justice Fred Ruiz Castro issue, of which 2,000,000 copies were printed. It made the Guinness Book of World Records (about unusual facts) ask why the 67th birthday of a Supreme Court justice was being made indelible on a Philippine stamp. The answer that tickled rebellious hearts was, "So that we can spit on his back." And there were bundles of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos stamps printed, before and after Martial Law was declared.

Why is he on our stamp? Because Marcos needed the SC's cooperation.

Last year, in 2017, President Duterte asked the Philpost to issue the Marcos Birthday Centenary stamp, following the request of Bongbong Marcos and family, a few months after the dictator was hurriedly buried in the Libingan ng Bayani. Public money shouldered the cost. When no Marcos stamps were sent to the northern provinces, busloads of people from Ilocos Norte and Pangasinan traveled to the Manila Central Post Office and bought sheets and sheets of the stamp. The stock of FDCs, whose production (since 2008) was limited to 400 copies, was quickly depleted. Apparently there was no special order from Malacanang to make more than the usual amount of FDCs, thus high officials' ignorance of the philatelic process somewhat saved a bit of the public fund from extending a tyrant's memoriam. Dead and still stealing!

Dead but still stealing from the public in 2017.

Except for the last thirteen or fifteen years of the last century, dealers made very decent living by buying and selling mint and used stamps and covers. The slump in stamp collecting, and therefore in the sales of stamps, started about 1997 onward. Most likely this was a result of the emergence of affordable cellphones and personal computers for the masses, who are not as disciplined and educated as those of the previous generations. One of the dealers told me about the quiet desperation of staying in her store with almost no collector coming for entire weeks.

Commemorative stamps used to be printed in the hundreds of thousands, with the definitive issues printed in several millions. Definitives are usually smaller in size and used mainly as postage). The fluctuation in printing was evident by 1998, when President Estrada was elected. A set of commemorative stamps for his inauguration was printed, at 200,000 each for each value. The set was sold on November 10.

The last of the commemoratives to be printed in the hundreds of thousands. 

The last commemorative single in high volume was the Victoriano Mapa High School stamp, sold on 1998 May 5. Records show that 205,000 were printed by Amstar, which is still printing for Philpost today. Allow 2,000 copies of that for the official FDCs. In 2001 Philpost printed only 5,000 sets of the Gloria Macapagal Inauguration stamps. Later on, another 5,000 sets were requested to be reprinted. That's still half of the Estrada sets printed.

203,000 for collectors and as postage, 2,000 for FDCs.

The next single after the Mapa High School stamps suffered an abrupt decline in volume; only 50,000 copies of the 1998 University of Baguio stamp were printed. The steep drop went unnoticed by both collectors and Post Office employees, but the impact would be felt year later, when some collectors went searching for this stamp to fill the hole in their album.

The first lowballer

The decline in demand not only forced the Post Office to reduce the number of stamps, souvenir sheets and sheetlets to be printed, this also led to the reduction of the FDCs, from a healthy 2,000 down to an erratic 400 pieces. If the stamp is thematic -- about animals, fish, ships, flowers -- all 400 were quickly snapped up; if the topic is humdrum, many are left over. To save further, the Post Office has decided that FDCs are to be made by request: The buyer who wants FDCs will have to buy the stamps and envelopes first, then go upstairs to have an employee affix the stamps and postmark the envelopes. A very tedious process that only avid cover collectors will endure.

Such was the situation that left the Post Office willing if not averse to soliciting sponsors for stamps or postal materials to be printed, anything to counteract the huge loss of revenues. When Mama Sita arrived, it was received happily, it was deemed a helping hand that produced the fund to meet the budget for stamps and envelopes scheduled to be printed, for salary of all personnel, and for all other regular expenses. 

In 2014 the second Mama Sita set came out, just a B/4, no S/S, and the corresponding FDC. 

2014 set and FDC

Those who are crying out against the commercialism of PHLpost now don't even remember that a Shell Oil Refinery B/4 set, a sheetlet, and FDCs with two different cancels were also sold the same year. The B/4 set costs a steep P100, at a time when collecting stamp is still declining. The Postmaster General then was the former governor of Bulacan, Josie de la Cruz, who knew nothing about stamps, nothing about making profit, and had even made deals which caused losses to the Post Office. But the PHLpost, a government-owned and -controlled corporation is full of corrupt employees and consultants; the stamps, however, are legitimate. What happened to the money earned by philately remains vague. Let's not even talk about the huge but unremitted earnings from metered mail.

2014 Shell sheetlet and FDC with Makati postmark

Then followed the 2015 Mama Sita strip-of-3 set, but arranged in three different formats. So if a collector wants all variants he must buy all three strips, one sheetlet, and three different FDCs. At a time when the number of collectors of Philippine stamps was dwindling and shifting to the much cheaper and at least as beautiful Thailand stamps.

2016 produced a respite in expense for Mama Sita stamps -- just a single plus its FDC. 2017 followed suit, but the design of the single is light-years better than the 2013 S/S. A top employee at the Post Office said the 2017 single is the last Mama Sita stamp to be printed, as provided by contract. But I'm sure in the Philippines, everything is negotiable -- a tyrant who plundered the coffers and caused many Filipinos to disappear can be buried in cemeteries reserved for heroes or decent presidents. Same tyrant has a new stamp and FDC too. 

2016 single and FDC

2017single and FDC

How many collectors know that around 2002 Philpost and Hallmark teamed up to make two postal cards printed for the 2002 Meetings of Families set?

Philpost and Hallmark postal cards front and back
And a bit later four postal cards were printed by Philpost for Manila Bulletin. The postcards were awarded by the newspaper to participants of an event sponsored by the Bulletin. Although some were left at the Post Office ten years later, they were not advertised or sold. For avid postal collectors, anything issued by the Post Office for public use is eminently collectible, but many up to now are not aware that this set is missing from their collection. I printed photos of the postal cards (front and back), each paired with a 2000 Manila Bulletin Centenary stamp.

Not counting UST, the earliest stamp with commercial leaning in the Republic era is the Philippine National Bank set; it was followed by a centenary set in 2016. 1969, 1972 and 2008 saw sets Development Bank of the Philippines commemoratives, in 1971 a First National City Bank set. A Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation single was released in 1975. A set of Asian Development Bank came out in 1977, followed in 1988 by a Land Bank set and a PCI Bank set, Equitable PCI Bank single in 2000, a Bank of the Philippine Islands single and a postal card in 2001, a Metrobank B/4 set and a Security Bank se-tenant set in 2010.

1966 PNB set, the first enterprising Republic stamp?
Philippine Airlines came out four times: sets of 2 in 1976 and 1991, a se-tenant with two B/4s in 1986, and a single in 2017. A Pan American Airlines single was issued in 1977, and in 1979 an Air France set of 2 made its contribution to the aviation topicals.
Drinkers got their share of stamps in the San Miguel Beer Centenary set in 1990, and another set in 2015 for the beer's 125th anniversary. Hard drinkers will get by with the Tanduay Rhum single of 2004. In 2016 Philpost approached Coca-Cola and asked if the corporation would like to have its 125th anniversary in the Philippines celebrated in stamps. The firm declined, explaining that it was still recovering from the loss of its bottling plant in Tacloban after Yolanda devastated the area.

2015 San Miguel Beer FDC set, Mandaluyong cancel
We saw a 1995 Mercury Drugs single in 1995, and a Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in 2004. The UST Hospital single was released in 1996, the Baguio General Hospital in 2002, and a St. Luke's single and a maxicard in 2004.

PLDT came out with a se-tenant in 1978 and a single and a sheetlet 10 years later. In 1988 the Bataan Oil Refinery set was sold. The Meralco Electric Company single and a big sheetlet were issued in 2003. In 1970 Iligan Integrated Steel Mills company was represented by a set of 3 stamps. 

The 1978 Benguet Consolidated Mining single was followed by a Benguet Mining Corporation single in 2003 for its 100th year anniversary. A se-tenant Lepanto Mining set came out in 2012.

2003 Benguet Mining and 2012 Lepanto Mining set
In 1995 the SGV & Co. Accounting firm celebrated with a stamp in 1995. So did the Sycip, Salazar, Hernandez & Gatmaitan Law Firm in 2010.

Insurance firms are well-represented, starting with the 1996 Sun Life Assurance Company set of 2, followed by 1997 Philamlife Insurance Co. single, the 2004 Grepalife Life Insurance Co. single, the 2007 Manulife Insurance single and mini sheetlet, and then the now-infamous Yuchengco Group of Companies single (2011).

A set of 2 of ABS CBN TV Network stamps showcased in 1996, and the GMA-7 TV Network entertained us with a single. In 1987 and 2012 the Manila Hotel celebrated with four stamps, while the less elegant Apo View Hotel made do with a single stamp. 

1996 ABS CBN Sarimanok set
Oh yes, the Boysen Paint pre-stamped envelope set were escorted in by a renowned catalog maker in 2010. And reappeared again in 2013, this time with a B/4 and a paint-can-shaped S/S. It can be a colorful world if you have plenty of stamps, for they are worth a lot of money. Even our stamps, it turns out, are very enterprising.

Uncancelled Boysen Paint pre-stamped set (Front and Back)

Cancelled set, one for regular rate, the other for Air Mail.

2013 set, a delight for collectors of unusual stamps

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mga salot ng bayan

Bagong uring nilalang itong si Duterte: Sariling utang na loob sa mga Marcos, bayan ang pinagbabayad. Eto, lumabas na ang selyo para sa ika-100 birthday ng diktador at world-class kurakot. Request ni Bongbong yan, pati na yung gawan nang official proclamation ng Malacanang na gawing holiday ang 9/11 sa Ilocos Norte. Binaboy na yung Libingan ng mga Bayani (at ni Marcos), sinabuyan pa ng putik ang sagisag ng pangulo ng Pilipinas.

Ang daming nauto ni Duterte nung campaign period, dahil di niya binanggit na alipin siya ng mga Marcos, na kunsintidor siya sa mga Chinese na sumasakop sa teritoryo natin at, bilang tenk yu, ay nagpapadala ng sangkatutak ng shabu. Ba't di nagmumura itong buang sa mga tiga-Customs saka NBI na tumibag sa ebidensiya sa P6.4 billion drugs na nahuli? Ba't di niya ipa-salvage ang mga kasabwat ng mga Chinese dealers? Ang pinapatay na drug dealers ay karibal lang ba sa operations ni Paolo? "Pesteng yawa yang mga blahblahblah na iyan... Buang! (Tapos dirty finger)." Walang ganito? Tumulong ba ang China sa election mo? Ikaw ba ang Donald Trump ng Pilipinas at China ang Russia ng Asia?

Anyway, noong Martial Law ay nagtanim si Marcos ng mga crony sa iba't ibang position sa pamahalaan, lalo na sa Supreme Court. At namumunga na ngayon ang itinanim niya -- nakapuwesto na yung mga anak, apo, at kaibigan ng unang binhi. Natatandaan pa natin si Chief Justice Fernando, na pinapayungan pa ang First Lady noon sa Luneta Park -- symbolic protection ng SC sa Conjugal Dictatorship. Lumabas pa sa selyo yung si Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro noong 1981 -- pampasaya sa mama dahil ok namang ibenta niya ang lahat ng SC decisions in favor of Marcos family, friends, and cronies.

Isa sa itinanim ni Marcos noon sa Office of the Solicitor General ay ang magiting na si Estelito Mendoza, na ngayon ay uugud-ugod na pero may asim pa rin ang superpower para "ayusin" ang mga kaso sa SC. Noong 2000 ay nagdesisyon ang SC na guilty beyong reasonable doubt sina Hubert Webb at barkada sa pagpaslang kay Ginang Vizconde (49 years old, 13 stab wounds), anak na si Carmela (19, stabbed 17 times and raped), at ang busong si Jennifer, 6, 13 stab wounds. Nakulong naman ang mga anak-mayayaman (puwera yung dalawang nakapuga abroad), pero 15 years later nabalitaan ng biyudong si Lauro Vizconde na may nag-aareglo sa kaso. Di kalaunan nga bumaligtad ang SC at pinalaya ang mga salarin. Puwede palang mag-loop-the-loop ang "final" decision ng SC. At lumabas sa balita na nagpadala pala ng sulat si Mendoza sa SC at kinausap yung ibang justices. Sabi ni Lauro Vizconde: "Is there still anyone among you who doubts that there is rampant corruption in our government? Remember when I made the disclosure that someone is pressuring the justices to vote for a reversal? I did that hoping to make them have second thoughts about doing so. There is no justice in the Philippines. All of us who have cases in court, don’t we realize that if your opponent has money, brace yourself. Anyone can be paid!"

Alam ng lahat sa itaas (hindi sa langit; sa barandilyas ng mga may poder) na magmamarakulyo ang mga militante, maglalabas ng "We object in the strongest term possible" ang mga gustong sumakay sa issue, at pagkatapos ay... wala. Parang yung pag may namatay na superstar, dagsaan ang pagbigkas ng suporta, puro "I love you forever" sa harap ng CNN camera. Ang forever ay halos dalawang linggo ang haba, or less.

At nandiyan yung kasabihan "Sed lex, puta lex" na ang ibig sabihin ata eh "Tarantado ang batas, kung hindi ay hindi ito puwedeng bilhin" or something like that. Kung anak-pawis ka lang, huwag ka nang umangal.

Isa pa ring oldies ay si Atty. Oliver Lozano, na naunang nagpa-approve ng impeachment complaint laban kay VP Leny Robredo, na siyang balakid sa tambalang Duterte-Marcos. Si Lozano ay medyo tumanda na rin, pero sa hawi ng buhok at hilatsa ng mukha ay parang kambal siya ni lakay Ferdinand. Tulad ni Duterte at yumaong Duterte Sr., ultra Loyalist si Lozano. At baka PBB ni Bongbong?

At ang baligtaring si Rigoberto Tiglao, dating activist nung Martial Law, naging kakampi ni Gloria sa panahon ng biyaya, at ngayon ay masugid na tagapagtanggol ni Duterte. Di raw totoong may palit-ulo sa mga pamilya ng drug suspects. Parang wala ring EJKs, sabi ni VACC chief Dante Jimenez. Ibig sabihin ng VACC ay Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption. Dati ay galit si Jimenez sa mga kumakatay sa mga Vizconde at iba pang sangkot mararahas na krimen. Dati ay galit din siya sa mga kurakot at kotong (at mandaraya sa larong dyolens). Parang iba na ang ihip ng hangin ngayon. Nakakainggit ba ang mga suweldo at posisyon nina Mocha, Arnel Ignacio, Andanar at iba pang alipores? At ang dami pang binabayarang mga Marcos loyalists na nagtratrabaho para tumalsik si Robredo, Comelec chairman Andy Bautista, at SC Justice Sereno. Lahat ng sipag nina Alvarez at Koko Pimentel ay para maibalik sa puwesto ang bunga ni Marcos, si Bongbong na itinutulak sa lalamunan ng masa na bayani ang kurakot na ama.

Kahit anong denial ni Duterte, nakaamba na ang mga impeachment complaints kina Robredo, Bautista, Sereno, at kung puwede isali na rin si Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. Galing, ano? Indirect Martial Law. Tibag na ang Congress, nakopo na ang Senate, Supreme Court na lang at wala nang kokontra.

Ano ang magagawa ng taumbayan kung ayaw mangyari ito? Kung ok pa rin si Duterte sa kanila, eh di panalo na naman ang kabuktutan ng mga loyalists. Matigok man si Duterte mas mahaba naman ang buhay ni Bongbong. At pag naupo si Bongbong, ang magiging vice president ay ang Senate president. Ayan, Koko, puwede na namang ipakulong ang tatay mo, tulad ng ginawa ni lakay Marcos sa kanya noong 1972. Pero tingnan mo sino ang nasa likod mo, next in line sa iyo pag nawala ka -- walang iba kundi si Pantalon Alvarez. Away kayo, sige!

So, anti-corruption daw si Duterte, pero ayan ang Marcos stamp. Nakangiti pa. Isosoli na raw yung ninakaw ng mga Marcos sa bayan? Kasama ba yung gadambuhalang interest na kinita ng $10 billion, o bayaan na yan tutal blah blah blah bleh ..." Galit daw sa illegal drugs, pero kahit isang piyok walang marinig laban sa mga Chinese drug syndicates na ginagawang expressway ang Custom. Pero kung ang majority ng Pilipino ay nauuto mo pa rin, at kahit bastos, walang modo (familiar itong katangiang ito), at mamamatay-tao ang ilan, well, let's go to hell. I'm sure di ito ang lahi ng Pilipinong nasa isip ni Quezon nang sabihin niyang "I would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by the Americans, because however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it." (And I thank you.) Hindi niya kasi alam na iuutot ng kalikasan ang isang Marcos, at lalabas sa biyak ng kawayan ang makamaharlikang Duterte.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Without me

What you see is a comic book published and sold in 1950, and this surprises me and a lot of baby boomers that are still functional this side of the grass. This issue qualifies as part of the Golden Age of comic publishing, sold at 10c, containing 52 pages, and sort of expensive now. But that is not the reason for our griping -- it is that the world had already been functioning even without waiting for us to be born into it. We missed two World Wars and their heroes and villains, like Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler. At least we got involved in the Cold War, though not actively; the 1969 moon landing, the Hubble telescope which expanded out view of the universe.

This universe has been going on for at least 15 billion years, and the Hubble reveals very distant galaxies that range from a close seven million light-years, practically a cosmic neighbor, to the distant cluster of more than 10 billion light-years. Of course the images that reach us are very, very old, so old that those galaxies, nebulae and whatelse do not look like that now. And they keep changing at distances that even light, with its tantalizing speed of 186,000 miles per second, cannot hope to update us. Many images are older than the Earth, which is estimated to be a toddler 4.5 billion years old. So, in a cosmic scale, our planet, like its baby boomers, had been left out of the preliminary game.

All these data hinge on the fact that we Earthlings believe that the half-life of Carbon 14 is accurate enough to determine the age of things that existed before this planet was borne out of cosmic dusts. We also place our faith that photons, light particles, live forever and can travel through the vast spaces and time to reach our eyes. There's a caveat though: we can look into the distant past, but not into our immediate past. So we cannot see how Jesus looked like about 2017 years ago; whether he looked like a blunt faced, shaggy haired, slightly crossed-eyed Arab, like most people in the Middle East looked at that time and locale, or is he the brown-haired, bearded, handsome idol that was painted by an European much later. We will not know who instigated Oswald to shoot Kennedy, if Marilyn Monroe really died of overdose, where the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were located, if it's true that Russian soldiers found the Fuehrer's corpse and Stalin had it shipped to him. A consolation is that we will not see people having fun even if we were not here yet. What is offered is the events that occurred before the whole planet joined the galaxy. The Milky Way did not wait for the birth of the Earth; in turn, this blue globe is not waiting for anyone. A cosmic tit-for-tat.

I have framed some magazines having Einstein in the covers. He died months before I was born, and I'm sure many people, born weeks or months after he died, had entertained the notion that the genius' soul had reincarnated in them. That notion died in me years later, after I got my report card and saw Math and Physics gasping for breath, just hanging on by a thread to keep from failing the grade and making the teachers smug with their "I though so!" smirk. And I realized I was not alone in thinking myself particularly special, destined for great achievements and honors. A fad appeared, when seers and psychics made a bundle by claiming to see people's past lives. Many Hollywood stars declared that they had been Cleopatra or at least a high personage in her court, or they were Mary Magdalene gasping as Jesus' face materialized in the handkerchief she had wiped his face with, or Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Czar Nicholas, Genghis Khan, Shakespeare. Not one is a stinking peasant of the Middle Ages, gap-toothed, lice-infested, ignorant and superstitious. 

And so I awoke from my delusion: this Earth can do well without me, and I don't want to be a part of its hoary past, when cavemen hunted not only bisons but those of other tribes -- for food. Europe in the past was a mud-hole where citizens spat on the squalid alleys and in their hovels, where water was not sanitary and more likely a source of typhus, pigs and dogs and horses defecated in dirty streets, where night soil of citizens were thrown into the mix. The past offered only a filthy, stinking, disease-ridden existence. Even in the royal courts, lice crawled all over the queen with her hair piled in a high bun sandwiched with honey and attendant insects. Princesses, princes and other members of the nobility believed that taking a bath is detrimental to one's health, and they kept bottles of scented water to ward off their grimy smell. It's not Games of Throne, where every character is fashionably coutured, hair groomed with fragrant shampoo, where women appear ravishing to gallant, full-toothed dukes or earls. Hygiene in medieval time is TV fiction. Truth shows many pigsty palaces and germfilled homes.

I'm only consoling myself, I know, from an imaginary and indulgent slight. Now I think of the million sperm cells I bested decades ago: they lagged behind, then swam in confusion, then died off, never seen nor heard nor thought about. And I, survivor of the race for life, grew up, fooled around, wasted 25% of my lifetime in enforced slumber and, now, at old age, grumbling about how this cosmos did not make me its fair-haired boy, had not led me to the Yellow Brick Road, or bestowed me with the facility of a bard. Anyway, I will settle to be a petkeeper, with an occasional kitten to keep me company. I never heard a kitten whine like me. Kittens are better than humans.

Diffident but lovely Tintin

P20k per Filipino soul

The Senate has approved a big increase in the President's discretionary fund, money meant for national contingencies like earthquakes and typhoons, outbreak of diseases hitting fowls, livestock and humans, and, now, to pay for each soul killed by police during legal and extra-judicial operations.

The cops who salvaged 17-year-old Kian are waiting to be exonerated by the Internal Affair Service, which has become notorious for letting rogue cops loose to commit havoc on the criminal justice system again, and again, and again. Not that Justice secretary Aguirre or Duterte care, as long as the cops are not made to pay for attack on a government facility like a prison compound, murder, planting of evidence, and perjury -- like what Supt. Marcos and his cohorts did in their operation to erase Albuera Mayor Espinosa. They had even applied for a search warrant to serve Espinosa, a prisoner already secured and under control in prison! How else could these rogue cops gain access to Espinosa, except by pointing their guns on the prison guards, and to hide their criminal acts by stealing the prison's CCTV? The Senate panel eventually concluded that the Marcos operation was no less than a heinous murder. But Duterte declared that he believed the rogue cops' moronic version of what had transpired. 

It's a given that Espinosa had controlled the illegal drug trade in his territory, had destroyed many lives, had presumably ordered some rivals intimidated or killed. To eliminate him, the president allowed, and still allows and encourages, cops to become wayward and commit several other crimes to get the big drug lords -- unless they are Chinese. Early in his term Duterte has declared he will give P20,000 for each drug pusher killed. A reward bigger than an average cop's salary is a powerful incentive for good cops to turn sour, and many are tempted. And the budget for public schools is about to be sacrificed so that Duterte's criminal decree can be maintained. 

When Duterte ordered Supt. Marcos to be reassigned to his former post, despite ongoing investigation, Senators Gordon and Lacson protested, pointing out that their hearing had produced definite proof that murder had been committed. Then silence. What else can be expected of a legislative body, headed by Koko Pimentel, to be coopted by the executive branch? So the country's system of checks and balances is now tottering on a crippled Judiciary's leg. The mining conglomerate in Congress has succeeded in ousting Gina Lopez out of the DENR. The depredation of natural habitats continue, the price Duterte paid for his insane programs. Taguiwalo followed, and somehow we are beginning to suspect that this president is not fighting for the good of the citizens but for the benefit of his cronies. What a group surrounds this Duterte! -- The entire Marcos family with their puppy Erap Estrada, now crunching Manila's coffer (father, like son Jinggoy, has not learned during their first incarceration); Gloria Arroyo and her dubious allies in the fake minority in Congress; Tessie Aquino has been resurrected; of course Tito Sotto and Manong Johnny Enrile are in attendance, Bible quoting Pacquiao apparently replacing the dead Maceda burning in hell, to name a few. 

But are these criminals to blame at all? We ignore the fact that the people of Ilocandia gave us Ferdinand Sr. And Jr., Imelda, Imee, Fariñas, and others who have robbed the entire land. Pampanga nurtured Gloria and her thieving family, and Davao spawned the evil loyalist Duterte. Who protested when Recto filed his law introducing VAT in our economy? As if the crocodiles in Congress have not grown fat with the bounty from our sweat that more are extracted, excise and confiscatory; we financed their stately homes and townhouses, and the apartelles where they keep their mistresses in style. We are feeding Pacquiao's idiot brother in Congress too. We are breaking our back to get food to our table, yet the government is taking 32.5% of what we earn to pay the very large (to us) salaries of poopymouth Mocha Uson and airhead Matin Andanar at the Presidential Communications Office. We are also paying other hoary Abella and weirdo Panelo to lie to us from time to time. Now Duterte is surrendering territories to China in our behalf, even making threats for China gratuitously. Are missiles really pointed at the Philippines? We are surrendering too? Even rats fight for survival when cornered, but this Duterte is a whining dog with his tail between his legs. Like any coward he strikes only at foes that are helpless behind bars, or let rogue cops kill, at his instigation, under-age citizens whose alleged crime is not as heinous as the president's setting the price of a Filipino soul at P20,000. We do not forget the death of a seven-year-old girl: she was eliminated by cops who gunned down her grandfather while they were taking a stroll. Yet other Filipinos who are supposed to be decent, educated, professional, religious and adherent to God's admonition against taking a man's life, are openly declaring support for state-sponsored murder. Where is the bottom to this hypocrisy?

What is clear is that the citizens have surrendered their rights and patrimony long ago -- first to the Spaniards, then to the Americans, now to Filipinos who control every aspect of our lives -- to the Ayala family and Pangilinan, who control the flow of water and overpriced electricity to our homes; and to their Singaporean and Malaysian partners, who decide how much the citizens can endure the slow broadband signals in their desktops and gadgets. Investors may be inveigled to roost in the Philippines, but it does not take long before they eventually flee to Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, where electricity is cheaper and more dependable, where wifi thrives on 4G, where electric wires are buried underground and not shamelessly littering the skylines like thick and dirty cobwebs. ASEAN's 75th anniversary was celebrated here, but the world leaders were gathered at Pasay's PICC, far enough from the sight of the squatter shanties hugging Manila's Pasig River. At least there is subtlety now in hiding our shame. In Marcos' time, in 1981, the sides of the roads, from the airport to Malacañang, were fenced with whitewashed galvanized sheets, to hide the unsightly home of the poor from the eyes of the visiting Pope John Paul II. The Pope found the Coconut Palace, constructed for his stay, too lavish and he decided to stay elsewhere. Pope John Paul II held dear in his heart the impoverished Pinoys. He saw that the people's material impoverishment does not reach the core of their happy acceptance of what life offers them, even if the offering is often meager. 

Maybe by this attitude we can understand a piece of the puzzle here, why Filipinos allow themselves to be abused so much. The Filipinos, even after a fire that razed their community, after a typhoon or raging volcano devastated their homes, can still afford to smile in the face of adversities. We let the crooked politician, businessmen and government officials take our money, with the corresponding headaches, backstabbing, envy and intrigues, and we let events slide, as long as our children, unshod, wearing uncoordinated garments, eating cheap noodles and headless sardines, still manage to laugh at play and once in a while remember to toss a kiss our way, then we are alright. The thieves may be buried under ornate tombs, but the undiscriminating worms devour their earthly presence and burp off their atrocious schemes. In the end, what counts is how much fun we did have in the Philippines.

Omanignatup, Duterte!

Sunday, August 20, 2017


As I type this on my desktop computer, part of the wifi signal is not working properly -- no YouTube now; but at least this is better than not having anything online. I call customer service and I'm required to press many options on the phone before I get to talk -- after a long wait -- to a human service personnel. This time I get a sympathetic one, an old hand who knows all the kinks of the system. But the new system, since Bayantel has been absorbed by Ayala's Globe, has slower signals, longer schedules before their technicians can check and correct the trouble: No more "A technician will be there today or  tomorrow, at least within 24 hours." Now Customer Service checks when a technician will be available -- last time one was scheduled for one week after my call; this time it took only three days before they "fixed" the problem. But the signals are still either misaligned or incomplete. Still, I'm grateful that some windows enable me to work on, even though a message has appeared right now on this site. It says, "An error occurred while trying to save or publish your post. Please try again. Dismiss." I click "Dismiss" but the message reappears, like the wifi problems now, which seem to have no end. 

World without end, with an infinity of high-tech problems that did not exist before 2005. I used to think that the future generation is luckier -- to see travels to Mars; 3D printing as part of everyday leisure, hobby and lifestyle; highly efficient ultrasound to dissolve blood clots or defective genes, with no more expensive and invasive surgery. But I realize that with new technologies, new problems will crop up, like evolved virus meeting the challenges posed by new cures. A never-ending battle so that the human species will survive and grow while other species are decimated to make space for the billions more that are coming.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


“That is the eternal folly of man. To be chasing after the sweet flesh, without realizing that it is simply a pretty cover for the bones. Worm food. At night, you’re rubbing yourself against worm food." -- Excerpt from American Gods by Neil Gaiman. 

1899 photo of unidentified young woman
One morning Paul rolled out of bed with a tune in his head. If he was not still sleepy he would have thought it remarkable that he had dreamed an entire song, and it was still playing in his mind, sort of jazzy, the sort of music his dad used to play. He went to the piano by the bed and found the chords -- "Sort of G, F#m7, some B in it ..." he would recount later. "It could not have been mine because it was a fine little tune and I just dreamed it."

He went the rounds asking his friends if they knew such a song, humming a bar or two, or, if a guitar was available, he played it for them, improvising the lyrics, because he was not familiar with soft jazzy songs at all. He gave the  tune a provisional title, "Scrambled Eggs." It was probably what he had for breakfast that morning.

Scrambled eggs
Oh my baby how I love your legs,
But not as much as I like scrambled eggs.
Oh, we should eat some scrambled eggs.

Paul's dream became the first solo act by a Beatle, because the song cannot be accompanied by Ringo's drum or another guitar by John or George. He sang it in a concert, with just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment, the guitar and its strings upside down because he was left handed. John, George, Ringo stayed behind the curtains. Yesterday became the most covered song in the world, about 3,200 versions at last count. Another of the many record-breaking firsts, literally and figuratively, the Beatles had given the music world. Paul's version of the song's story also metamorphosed as it traveled from one artist to another. Eventually Paul wrote down a neat copy of the Yesterday lyrics. That piece of paper should cost a lot today. John Lennon's A Day in the Life lyrics, penciled in Lennon's handwriting on a piece of paper, some phrases crossed out and corrected, sold for $1.20 million at a Sotheby auction in New York in 2010 June 18.

Lyrics in Paul's handwriting
It's a coincidence that the Sotheby auction happened on June 18, Paul's birthday. In 1965, when Paul wrote and sang Yesterday, he was 23, young, handsome, famous and wealthy. This year he will be 75, with the sort of memories that afflict people who have had a very good life. Age tends to take away the good looks, the smooth and supple skin, leaving painful memories as you see in the mirror the turkey neck of today. Surely Paul had thought of the dozens of sexual fans who are grandmas now; some had gone to the ground and been burped up by worms to be finally melded with the earth. His wife, Linda, had succumbed to cancer complications in 1997 at their farm in Tucson, Arizona (Y'know, Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona, and bought some California grass. Get back ...) and her ashes were scattered at another McCartney farm, in Surrey, England. American particles in English soil.

"Two of us" was about Paul and Linda (written during their trip to still another farm, in Scotland). The song had nothing to do with John, who was gunned down in December 1980, ten years after the Beatles went their separate ways. His ashes became part of Central Park in New York, where now stands the 2.5-acre Strawberry Fields Memorial. Dead also was George Harrison, of cancer of the lungs which had spread to his brains. In 2001 he was, like Linda McCartney and John Lennon, cremated. His ashes now flow in two rivers in Varanasi, India. John and George had escaped the worms, and their music lives on, and each earn, every year, millions of dollars from the royalties their old music bring. They had worked when flesh had adhered to their bones, now they are dead but still earn huge amount of money which the average, untalented and living working-stiff cannot hope to see in a lifetime.

A day after Paul's birthday, on June 19, we commemorate Jose Rizal's birth anniversary. Except for a few government officials who will lay wreaths on his monuments nationwide, and Rizal cults who upgraded him to god status, other Filipinos will not remember: classes and work will go on as usual (unless the day falls on a Saturday or Sunday), his day not a holiday at all: What did he achieve as a newborn baby? However, the day he was killed is a convenient holiday, December 30 being between Christmas and New Year. That day in 1896 his corpse was not given to his family, as Rizal had assumed. His corpse was secretly buried at the Paco Park. On 1898 August 17, just a few months after the Spanish were driven out of the Philippines by the Americans, his skeleton was exhumed. The flesh, along with his last message to his family (hidden in his shoes), had long been consumed by the earth. His bones were interred finally on 30 December 1913 at the site of the Rizal Monument at the Luneta Park. Haunting is an eerie photograph of old Doña Teodora holding her son's skull at their home in Binondo. The skull of an ex-filibustero, poet, ophthalmologist, a tragic genius.
Mother and son in Binondo
The unidentified young woman in the portrait far above, taken in 1899, crossed Rizal's timeline: Was she one of those who went to see his execution in 1896? Except for the fact that she was pretty, nothing else is known about her, not even her name, age, or location. That she wore a ring might have indicated that she was engaged or married. The bulge in her tummy meant she was in the family way or just had a big lunch. The big volumes of books in the background could only be found in the residences of the educated classes of her time, a time when men debated whether women had souls, too. All the same, she had been thrown into a different era, under different colonizers who brought along with their technologies their rifles with which to exterminate the rebellious faction of the islanders. After a few years Manila glowed in electric lights, far north a delighful summerplace was constructed up through the excavated zigzag road in Baguio, movie theaters introduced the little brown brothers to Hollywood, while American politicians exchanged the corrupt Spanish ways with the thieving American ways. In 1906 the first Rizal postage stamp appeared, commemorating the memory of a hero who espoused assimilation with the colonizers and discouraged violence and dissension. Our hero, for better or worse, parted by death.

Another genius, more prominent because of his achievement, was Albert Einstein. Did any of the thousands of books written about him mention that his birthday was pi day, March 14? π is approximately 3.14, the ratio between the circumference and diameter of a circle. Anyway, Einstein showed that light can be bent by massive gravitational pull; that matter disintegrates into light, and light condenses to matter, and a small amount of mass contains a huge amount of energy; that space and time are not constant, as Newton and all other humans had thought 300 years ago; and it's okay to marry your double cousin. He was born in 1879, eighteen years after Rizal, and died in 1955, ten years after Hitler, who hated Jews and exterminated millions of them, shot himself. Einstein, who died of abdominal aneurysm in the United States, far from Hitler's reach, was cremated and his ash placed/scattered in an undisclosed place. Hitler and his wife, after committing suicide, were burned, according to his will. Thus in different ways do mortals -- the famous and the infamous, the pretty and ugly, the rich and the poor, the beloved and the scorned -- return to Mother Earth, after their brief work of the flesh is done.

Einstein's birthday is March 14 or 3.14