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Thursday, April 25, 2013

My May 13 Problem

Thanks to my friend who insists on being called "Rose," I was able to get some R&R in the lovely city of Davao. We were waiting for our (late) flight back to Manila, when there was a slight commotion in the check-in area, and "Rose" nudged me and said, "Look, it's Jack Enrile."

He walked quite briskly, I didn't even get to see a whiff of what he was wearing, though "Rose" described him as "di maputi, siguro dahil sa pangangampanya" (not fair, maybe because of the campaigning), though his party - quite a good number - had that light blue color on their vests that we see on Enrile's posters, and were walking/strutting around more casually than their boss, trying to catch everyone's eye.

And I thought I could use these last minutes at the Davao airport to rest before being bombarded with political news again.

The truth is, I'm not looking forward to the May 13 elections.

Will mine be empty come May 13?
(Courtesy of

And the main reason is, if I want to write down a single name on that ballot when the day comes around, I will have to make concessions and compromises - in short, I will have to think like a politician. (I was once offered by my dad to run in his place. I quickly - and decisively - told him I was not in the least bit interested.)

My criteria, as of last year, are the following.

I will only consider candidates who supported the Reproductive Health Bill-now-Law, and it has become even more imperative a criterion, now that the Supreme Court has applied the brakes on its' implementation. I cannot possibly write down a name that has openly suggested that supporting the RH measure is equivalent to endorsing abortion, a statement that can come from a brain of only the highest idiocy.

I cannot support a candidate who cannot see the hypocrisy of supporting "natural family planning" (NFP) but shunning modern methods, all because his faith dictated to him that one is a more "moral" choice. That would be akin to saying that murder by strangulation is more "moral" than murder by shooting: both the NFP and modern methods prevent conception - they are both contraception. The how does NOT negate the what.

I will only consider candidates who do not insult the intelligence of voters, by engaging in a song-and-dance number, who refuse to debate and would rather much dance (the Gangnam or anything else). Enough. Our politicians constantly treat voters as infants, as if the mere appearance of a popular dance step or the rendition of a local love song is enough to make people write their names on that blank space, come May 13. That we should view voting as a sacred duty, one of the burdens we carry for having a democracy, is being desecrated by how these candidates continue mocking us with their latest pakulo in campaigning.

I will only consider candidates who know how vital it is to keep the wall of separation between the state, this secular democracy, and the many faiths that thrive - and even amass wealth - by virtue of this very separation. If there is freedom of religion in a democracy, then a government that allows it should be free FROM religion in its business, laws and its everyday life. No one religion should be "exalted", or, in less esoteric terms, be given preferential treatment.

How this concept eludes those who wish to be responsible for the crafting of our SECULAR laws is a complete mystery to me - the Comelec (Commission on Elections) should use this as a litmus test in screening candidates. Once a wannabe declares that "I want to be a senator so that all Filipinos will become (insert religion here) and I will make laws to compel them to bow before my deity" they should be immediately discarded as nuisances of the highest order. If a person cannot grasp this basic tenet of secular democracy, GTFO.

I will only consider candidates who are not related to anyone else sitting in government. Yes, we know the drill, we know the "defense" of these political dynasties - "There's no enabling law that stops political dynasties!" - and, logically, how can such a law pass, when all our legislators are someone else's spouse, child, uncle, grandmother, even third-degree relative you don't like but share the same surname with. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a house pet would be asked to run, we've seen convicts in jail win elective offices in this country.

If these candidates cannot honor the Constitution's spirit, they have no business changing its' letter to suit their own interests. The fact that you think of these posts as a family enterprise shows us that public welfare is clearly not in your agenda. Period.

So, you see: I now have no one to write on those 12 spaces, if I followed these to a tee. Everyone of these candidates has violated at least one of these items (and I didn't list all of the criteria yet), and while some people advise us to compromise in order to move forward, I find it to be a highly discordant term when applied to voting.

I may have no choice but to be political (often thought of as "the art of compromise") in writing down a name or two.

Now, can anyone recommend an industrial strength cleaner that can wash away the vestiges of my flawed decision making after May 13?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Virgin In Davao

No, it's not some svelte, statuesque swimsuit model who can make Heidi Klum weep. It's just old, not-so-little me.

I was more than a little giddy that this was going to be my first time to visit the third most populous city in the country. The farthest I have ever gone - south - was Cebu. Or Samar. (Which one is farther down? Must research.) So this marks my first time to also set foot in Mindanao. The butterflies always crowd in my tummy - there is a lot of space for that - whenever I think of heading to a place I've never been to before.

My friend Tess and I headed down south quite early, and we arrived at a little past 8AM. Since we practically just had coffee before boarding the plane, we were off to find some sustenance as soon as we got to our hotel.

Tess went around and found these goodies from a little canteen she passed by. The kakanin (rice-based snack) was okay, but the siopao (meat bun) was quite different: instead of a meaty center enveloped by a sticky white bun, the meat was dispersed throughout. It was a new experience, and a welcome one.

Because we had such an early flight, our room at The Royal Mandaya Hotel wasn't ready yet (standard check-in time of 2PM). What I found quite refreshing was that the front desk personnel approached me and informed me, "Sir, while you're waiting, we have a different room for you to stay in, so you can freshen up. Once we have your assigned room ready, we will call and transfer you then." This kind of treatment was something I would have expected from a top-tier, five star hotel, to clients who have been fiercely loyal, so I was very pleased with this development.

I'm sure we have different preferences when it comes to hotel accommodations, but personally, I am not that picky: as long as the beds are comfortable, the room is generally clean, and the cooling unit functions properly, it's generally more than okay with me. The room was quaint and had a charm of its own, though I would understand if some people won't like it at first glance.

Surprisingly, less than an hour had passed and we were informed that we could go to the "original" room we were billeted in. So, after a few minutes, we both decided to have lunch at one of the malls that wasn't available in Manila, Gaisano Mall, more known as G Mall locally. At first glance, it looked like a rundown shopping place (it still is for the most part), but we came upon a "new" area, as evidenced by the lack of people trekking here.

I was rather taken with the open space that "The Peak" had, which reminded me of similar areas in Trinoma Mall and Robinson's Magnolia, back in Manila. (Though not as big size-wise) We had an unremarkable lunch at Ineng's (and Tess didn't like her laing) after which we headed back to the hotel to catch up on much-needed sleep. (I like how easily accessible cabs are in this metro.)

Waking up refreshed, Tess found a message waiting for her, a Davao-based friend she hadn't seen in years. We met up with her (and her beautiful daughter), and she brought us to Jack's Ridge, a point in Davao which overlooked the entire city. (I was rather disappointed that there wasn't a corresponding drop in the temperature.)

We dined at a place called Taklobo's, which served pretty standard pulutan fare, though the kilawin (raw fish marinated in vinegar) tasted fresher than what I'm used to in Manila. The highlight of the meal - ironically for some, or probably most people - was the dessert we had that honored this city's most famous/notorious fruit, the can't-be-neutral-about-it King of Fruits, the durian.

For those of us who unabashedly claim affection for it, this dessert is a must-try: the custard and sauce were thoroughly infused with the durian's sensibility without any cloying after-effect that durian haters might expect. The dish gets a few points deducted for maybe being a little too sweet, and it wasn't helped by the story of Tess's friend, who recounted how her neighbor died after ingesting durian.

All in all, a fitting end to a day that marked the first time my feet touched this part of the country. Tomorrow, we proceed with finding the actual fruit that has spawned facial contortions of unimaginable horror.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Enthralled By Lili

Having seen numerous articles and posts about Lili, the in-house Chinese restaurant of Hyatt Hotel Manila, I was more than nominally aware of its' reputation. But somehow, Art and I never found the opportunity to visit it, despite it getting much acclaim.

Until today.

Lili begins her welcome by charming you with her sleek, stately Oriental-themed interiors, one that isn't over the top. (I'd like to think of it as the Goldilocks in local Chinese restaurant interiors: just right.) One thing that instantly delighted me was how spacious it was, something I cherish because I think I have a teeny case of claustrophobia.

The next thing I notice is the welcome of the staff: never forced, always welcoming. I've been to some hotels where the staff act imperiously, a surefire way to get off on the wrong foot. Lili hits all the marks as far as customer rapport is concerned.

But, of course, the star of the restaurant is its' culinary offerings, and they have recently added seafood dishes to their (rightly) famous dimsum buffet. The day before we were set to dine at Lili, I saw an article that alerted me to this addition (which is held from Monday to Saturday, from 12 noon to 3 PM), which even heightened my anticipation just a little bit more.

We started off with Congee with Sliced Fish, and were unanimous in praising its' tastiness. For too long, whenever we have congee from other establishments, it feels like eating baby food, blah and rather tasteless. Lili's version is the grownup, respectable relative, which was a pleasant surprise, because it looked exactly like its' other counterparts.

A must-try is their Baked Barbecued Pastry Puff, with a pleasantly aromatic meat filling, encased in a crunchy exterior. Do not leave without letting this touch your lips. Okay: less talk, more puffs.

One of our Main Dishes was Honey Roasted Barbecue Pork, which instantly transported me to a trip I took as a child to Hong Kong. The aroma and texture were spot on, and I have never been able to taste this authentic version anywhere else here.

Delectable both by sight and taste, Steamed Fresh Scallops Dumplings are characterized by their freshness, and if you love seafood as much as we do, you have to dive right in.

Lili's Har Gao (steamed shrimp dumpling with bamboo pith) easily ranks as one of the city's best versions of this popular dimsum staple, and just like the scallops, the shrimps tasted clean, fresh and had a tinge of sweetness.

Our menu card had an entry named Stir-fried Vegetables in Garlic, and we were thrilled to see that they served us broccoli that afternoon. One of our favorite vegetables, this one had just a little bit too much oil, but the garlic perfectly complimented the greens, and was quite aromatic.

Another must-have in their lineup: Steamed Crab Meat Dumpling, Black Mushroom. (It was topped with what seemed to me as pork floss.) If only we weren't too stuffed, we would have gotten another serving of this. The crab flavor permeates through the entire almost-translucent bag, and lovers of the crustacean should get this first.

One dimsum that catches your eye (and the first time I've seen one presented this way) is Steamed Dumpling with Bamboo Pith, Carrot and Celery. It reminds me of Japanese Siomai from another establishment, so the charm of this dish was really more of the presentation. Its' mildness can be seen as a minus, but I prefer to think of it as a contrast from the other, stronger flavors.

Speaking of stronger flavors, Deep-fried Norweigan Salmon and Turnip Pockets easily fits the bill. Salmon covered in a deep-fried cover and glazed in a wasabi-based cream dressing, this delivers a slight kick. Don't worry, spicy food-haters, you won't need to shy away from this one.

If you're looking for fish, Steamed Fish Shape Dumplings with Cod Fish, Parsley will do in a pinch, and it almost looks too cute to eat.  A work of art - in and out.

Chicken being one of my "regulars," I couldn't let our Lili experience go by without me trying their Soya Sauce Chicken: succulent and flavorful, it made this chicken-lover a happy camper.

There were three desserts included in the menu, and Chilled Mango Sago with Pomelo puts a spin on an old favorite, as the almost bitter pomelo strips contrasts with the creamy sweetness of the yellow base, and when I say creamy, I mean almost ice cream-level creamy.

Known as buchi locally, Lili redesigns this staple as Sesame Balls with White Chocolate. Yes, that's white chocolate in a fried sesame ball. I ask you: how can it go wrong?

I was informed by our server that they actually have two menus, differentiated by their Main Dishes. (The "other menu" had Barbecued Pork Belly and Simmered Chicken in Salt "Donjiang" Style) So it might be a good idea to ask whether they are serving Menu A or B on the day you intend to go to Lili. (The recent news article I saw featured the Pork Belly, which I was frantically looking for in the menu card. Click here to view the full write-up.)

Lili deserves all the praise it has gotten, and if you haven't tried them yet, now would be a good time to do so, since they have expanded their menu to include a separate Seafood section. The price comes to 888 (Philippine) Pesos net, so if you're hankering for excellent dimsum in elegant surroundings, you would do well to contact this well-established Chinese restaurant for your next reservation.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Why Janine Struck A Nerve

As a self-avowed liberal, I am often met with the preconceived notion that what liberals want is "to do anything, with anyone, at any place, and at any time." (Let me nip this is the bud by saying that it is a patently untrue statement.) So when current Ms. Universe 1st Runner-Up Janine Tugonon announced that she had broken up with her partner Jaypee Santos on Kris Aquino's show KrisTV, on account of the lead singer for the band The Script, someone sent me a message about it.

(Courtesy of

"So, I'm assuming you agree with her, right? I mean, you support divorce, and if Janine doesn't "feel" the guy she is with, she should be allowed to change her mind, right? She has the inherent right to get out of a relationship and pursue another one."

This post is meant both as a reply to it, as well as tell the sender why that is the incorrect application of liberalism.

On the surface, I agree that no one should be forced to do anything. So, in that respect - and only in that respect, a question of free will - no one should be forced to act, as they say in legal circles, under duress, or with virtually a gun pointed at you. This does not mean I agree or condone what Janine has publicized on national TV, and with her now-ex Jaypee standing beside her yet.

Just because I support divorce does not mean I support breaking up a relationship because the option to legally do so is there. This is where the concept of free will intertwines with the law - a legal way for a person to get out of a legal contract when the marriage becomes forced. In that respect, my partner and I - who will be celebrating our 16th year together next week, and legally barred from the joys of marriage - have come to the conclusion that we may have the better arrangement in substance.

We are together because we want to, and not because a piece of paper says we have to be in a union until death.

You may argue that Janine was in a similar boat, a relationship that was not legally binding, and was thus free to leave it when one feels "it isn't working." Listening to Jaypee in that interview, however, gives a clearer picture of what transpired, and why it struck a nerve.

As both of them recounted it, it was Janine who requested to meet with The Script, and owing to her beauty title, she knew the people behind the concert of the band and used it to wangle a face-to-face. The lead singer asked her point blank if she had a boyfriend, to which she answered in the positive. He then asked her to "follow" her at Twitter and he would reciprocate. It then evolved to private messages, which Jaypee expressed apprehension over and asked her to desist. (Obviously she didn't.)

(Courtesy of

Janine defended herself by saying that it was the singer who first sent her a message, but Jaypee countered it with a statement (in the vernacular) that even Kris Aquino had no choice but to agree with: if you weren't interested in the first place, no matter how many messages he sent, you would not entertain them.

This is the dicey situation: Janine and Jaypee were together long before she won the beauty pageant. Had she not entered it and won, it's doubtful that she would have access to a backstage meeting with a band or lead singer just because she is a fan. I can't help but feel that her success as a beauty titlist has gone to her head: is this a case of "lumevel up" ( to use a colloquial expression), and thinking that she deserves someone "at par" with her?

This has nothing to do with what Janine's defenders are now saying: that the men can't take it when it is the woman doing the dumping, that the reactions to her are because she is a woman, and that this is a misogynistic attack. (If you want to talk about what's misogynist, look no further than the contest that gave Janine her title, one that equates a woman's worth with how she looks in a bikini and gown, and is given a numerical score for it.)

Far from it.

We aren't in relationships to wait it out until someone "better" comes along. It is never decent nor affirming when all it takes is a wink from the hottest guy/girl for us to tell our current partners "it isn't working." When parties get into a relationship, there is a corresponding emotional investment. Do we not get it? Feelings, emotions, time - these are not trifle concepts to be made light of, the way Britney Spears did with her now infamous 55-hour marriage. Or the way Kim Kardashian  made a reality show about her marriage, only to end in divorce a few weeks later.

They involve real people, with real emotions. The way that Jaypee was so easily discarded was quite unbecoming of someone who makes a living out of being called a "queen". Which brings me to my last point: you have to strip everything that reeks of artifice - the beauty title, the fame, the money, the connections - and ask yourself, "Without all these, is this person someone I want to be with?"

When we treat other people with decency and respect, only then can we be deemed regal.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I've Never Held 50 Million Pesos

I don't know what that amount looks like. As a fan of positive thinking to make changes in one's life, I won't say "I'll never see that much money until I die!" but, if I left things to chance, I won't. In almost four decades of existence, I have not spent that much - not even a tenth - in my lifetime, much less earned it.

And Kris Aquino, sister of the Philippine President, is merely filing it as the tax she owes the government.

Even her tax return gets media attention.
(Courtesy of

Of course, Kris was recently in the limelight. Maybe I should rephrase that: Kris is not Kris if she's not telling everyone - even those who are trying their best to look away - every minute detail of her life. After appearing on national television (along with her other sisters) to announce her "resignation" from show business as well as letting everyone know how she, then-husband James Yap and baby Bimby are doing, she then went on a well-documented trip to Europe, and I suppose she can call the trip a "success" because she was able to secure a face-to-face with the new Pope.

And this bit of holy "news" promptly got reported in the evening newscast.

Today, the story that features her leaves me in a conundrum: Kris is this country's top taxpayer. (See for more details.)

See, on one hand, it's great that she doesn't renege on her duties as a citizen of this country. Akin to J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books) who lost her status as a billionaire for paying the UK what she owes them in taxes, Kris can be called a lot of things, but a tax evader she is not.

Here's the kicker: Henry Sy, the retail industry's Midas of this archipelago, only ranks number 16 in terms of how much he adds to the government coffers.

SM's head honcho is dwarfed by you-know-who.
(Courtesy of the Official Facebook Fan Page of Kris Aquino)

No wonder so many aspiring wannabes are falling all over themselves to be the next media darling, instead of engaging in businesses. With this payoff, it becomes less of a mystery.

And even less of a puzzle is why, despite many critics highlighting her inability to follow through on her own pronouncement of "going away for good" - 2013 marks the nth time she has "threatened" to give it all up - she stays on. If this amount is what she gives back, imagine what she gets in return for all the spectacles she's put up and we've had to witness.

And the conundrum? This probably means she will be on our television screens, billboards, newspaper columns, airwaves, online portals, clothing lines, perfumes, magazine covers...pretty much until we draw our last breath in this mortal life.

As they say, you have to take the good with the...other option.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Importance Of Being Nancy

When I first heard that the Vice President defended his daughter's entry into the senate lineup of the United Nationalists Alliance (UNA), verbalizing her advantage into three simple words ("She's my daughter"), I thought it was a joke. Little did I know that there were actual news reports that highlighted this now-famous statement. (See

(Courtesy of

I have personally nothing against Nancy Binay. She satisfies all the requirements for running as a senator of this country, she is a graduate of the University of the Philippines (BS Tourism), and has been the personal aide of both her parents, both politicians. All these considered, she is a far cry from what I consider more wail-worthy, people who are current or has-been artistas (celebrities), parlaying their (shining or decaying) fame into another facet of public life, whose only credentials are that people know of them.

When people made fun of her for being "merely" a personal assistant to her parents, I didn't join in the fray. I know that behind famous/powerful people are the unknowns, the ones who do the nitty-gritty so that those who face the public can appear freshly scrubbed, ready to flash their pearly whites. It's also a backhanded insult to personal assistants everywhere, because, let's face it, they are the gatekeepers to those in power, aside from being privy to many sensitive matters.

Her lineage is what's making her flash warning signs all over. This is, quite simply, a political dynasty in the making. No longer content with their local fiefdom known as Makati City - the country's financial heart - that the patriarch has anchored his kingdom on, it looks like the Vice President is setting his sights on a broader scale. Both father and daughter (Nancy) have been interviewed about this particular subject, and - surprise, surprise - none of them object to political dynasties. (That would be akin to asking gun owners how they feel about making guns easier to purchase.) 

(See for the "dynasty of service".)

Whenever the Constitutional provision prohibiting political dynasties is brought up, the knee-jerk defense of these politicians has always been "but there's no enabling law!" It reminds me of a relative who once followed the nothing-after-6PM diet: by 5PM, a veritable feast of seafood, fried pork and other roasted delicacies would be served, and this relative would spend the entire hour finishing everything in sight, and drop it all once 6PM struck. 

Habang wala pang 6, sige lang ng sige. (It's not yet 6PM, I'll eat everything in sight.)

How can an enabling law about it pass, when the very legislative body that is tasked to do it is chock-filled with the spouses, children and assorted relatives of current politicians, who are enjoying their positions by the  veritable absence of such a law? (Our own President cannot claim moral ascendancy on this, as two of his relatives are running for the Senate, as well.)

But even this, I can (maddeningly) overlook, seeing as there is no legal way (as of yet) to compel all political relatives to desist from running for pubic office. (Obviously, delicadeza, parining and patama are not that persuasive. Neither is doing the right thing.)

My reading of her was reinforced by a recent incident, brought about by a meme that compared her with another candidate, Risa Hontiveros. Aside from the fact that Hontiveros had a glaring ace in her corner -  she has no relatives in office, compared to Binay's number of 3 - their qualifications and experiences made Hontiveros stand out, miles ahead. (A former legislator, leader of an advocacy group, known supporter of the RH Bill, and women's rights)

So when Hontiveros asked Binay to go into a public debate with each other, to better inform the public about what it is they stood for, I welcomed the idea, as a way to form a more objective assessment of Binay. I resolved to keep an open mind, with the intention of getting more information and qualifying my choices.

Alas, we were all denied.

Binay has resoundingly rejected the offer to debate, saying that she will only do that, if she wins her run for the Senate. If her performance in the surveys is any indication, she has the seat in the bag by a comfortable margin. (She is usually ranked 4 to 6 in a race for 12 slots.) For now, she intends to concentrate on the campaign.

Incidentally, a new meme has come out, in response to Binay's refusal to debate.

The top part shows her with the words wala akong panahon para mag debate. The bottom half shows her in what appears to be a shot of her campaigning, dressed in her party's colors, doing that (in)famous dance by Korean star Psy, the Gangnam. And, in between, the hashtag #BinayPriorities.

When people are given the benefit of the doubt, it is usually prudent to make the most of it and erase these doubts. If I was a candidate that was feeling hurt from all the negative press I was receiving, I would welcome the chance to showcase my advocacy and intelligence in as public a manner as possible.

But then again, I could just choose to dance on stage.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sacrificing Friendship For Faith

I was hit by deja vu the other day, and not in a good way.

I've been here before.
(Courtesy of

We have been told by various etiquette "experts" that there are two topics you must absolutely stay away from whenever you are introduced to a stranger for the first time, or when you are on a first date (or even the next ten dates): politics and religion.

And it is the latter that has evoked that sense of "where did I experience this before?"

My previous blog post was what I reflected on during the past Holy Week, with the question, "how many of us would choose the religion that we now identify with, if we were not taught it since we were young, and had to make that decision only as an adult?" being thrown out there.

I also commented that with the way we have been exposed to religion - specifically the religion of our parents - it may become a blurred line whether we really choose our religion, or we subscribe to it because it's what we've known and have been exposed to, all our lives.

Little did I know that it would mean the end of a friendship that had gone past the decade mark.

Someone who I called a friend immediately responded as soon as she read my post, and construed it as an attack of her (Catholic) faith, which I patently was not doing. My question was applicable to anyone who subscribed to any faith, a call to examine whether it was freely chosen, or, was it possibly, to put it in the vernacular, nakasanayan na kasi. (That's what we're used to) 

Why she chose to see it that way will always puzzle me, because I have always found her to be intelligent, and we share many of the same views in political matters, sexuality and civil rights. Maybe there is something to be said for the advice of these "experts" - religion is a time-bomb, and if any one had the temerity to even ask a question about it, it can explode and splat all over one's face.

She sent me a private message, and mentioned in passing that if I was to continue this train of thought (as well as have friends who see things the same way I did with this particular subject), she may have to reconsider the label "friend".

By the end of the day, I had been blocked on her Facebook account.

This is not the first time that someone had traded our friendship for what they deemed to be a tenet of their faith that was impossible to give up.

Growing up, I had two people I considered my best friends. It was with them that I dreaded coming out to: I knew, from being a voracious reader early on, that when a gay person undergoes this (gut-wrenching) process, one must be prepared for the worst: rejection, hatred, gossip fodder, these are all too common reactions and results for anyone with the courage to do it, so my anxiety level was at an all-time high.

I decided to do it individually, because to have two people I cared for immensely reject me at the same time might have been too much to bear for a teenager who, like any other one, was filled with insecurities and questions.

The sh*t hit the fan, alright.

The first person I came out to - and yes, you correctly guessed that she is no longer someone I consider a friend - was aghast: "No, no,'s a sin! It says in Leviticus, chapter..."

"Wait. I came out to you, not to be judged or be made to feel like the worst person alive. I came out to you because I consider you my friend, one of my best friends."

"But you are going against the Word of God!!! Oh, my...I don't know what to do..."

"You could say that you are still my friend. We're still friends, aren't we?"

She became eerily silent (we were in a car, so that silence was magnified) and after some time spent with her eyes closed, she turned to me and said, "I'm sorry. No. Unless you change, change your evil ways, I cannot accept you as a friend."

This was one of the few times in my life that my jaw literally dropped. I could not believe what I was hearing: this person, who at that point I had considered as having a more important opinion than my own parents, was rejecting me, full frontal.

As the tears started running down my face, and the realization had begun to sink in, that this was the end of a friendship that I had cherished so much that I risked being nakedly honest, she attempted to deflect it and turn my pain into a prayer meeting: "Here's what we'll do - let's pray." And without waiting for me, she went ahead, closed her eyes, clasped her hands over mine, and said "Lord, hear us, hear our prayer. Cleanse him from his unrighteousness, rid him of his unholiness, make him right, Father. Make him right again, in Your eyes. We believe in Your power, You can do all things. Cleanse him, Father. Cleanse him. Amen!"

Even with the benefit of the rear view of a deja vu, I don't think I will ever be able to readily get over someone who gave up on our friendship, for the sake of a personal belief. This is exactly why I have always championed faith as something personal, because if you signed up for it, then only you are bound by its rules.

I've always dreamed of a time when one's faith was not a hindrance to finding someone who connects with you on such deep levels that you have come to see them as family, not "just" friends. There aren't many, but the ones who have stayed around, despite all of us having various religious persuasions, they're the keepers.

And the kind of memories we have are the ones I want to relive, over and over.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Post-Holy Week Question

At 3 PM of 2013's Good Friday, I find myself with my partner and friends in a lovely (if old) church, located in the charming town of Pila. It's a sleepy town that has postcard-picture-perfect written all over it, almost defiantly going against modernity, but doing so with a smile.

A sleepy town, a big question.
(Courtesy of

As expected, the town's Catholics have converged in this church, to do their annual ritual: the Stations of the Cross, and the bisita iglesia. As a non-Catholic, I have always viewed these activities as quaint, having never been raised as one. I scanned the entire church, and saw what I see every year: people of this country's predominant faith, holding rosaries, earnestly praying, and if you ever had any doubt of this country's religiosity, a visit to any Catholic church during this four day retreat will lay to waste any such meanderings of thought.

Surveying my surroundings, I was surprised to see twelve men materialize out of nowhere, where the large church entrance was, in what looked like garbs from an Old Testament movie set, followed by two priests (highlighted by their regal colors). A man who acted like a floor director was giving instructions to the 12 men (I'm guessing they're supposed to represent the 12 apostles): "maglakad kayo ng mabagal" and they followed the instructions to a tee. The priests followed and when they all made their way to the front, the 14 men proceeded to lay, face down, flat on the floor (albeit on the rugs).

An audible gasp could be heard, and people at the back (like me) were straining to see what was happening. I was glad that I wasn't the only one who didn't know why they were practically kissing the floor, so I turned to the person next to me, definitely a Catholic from the respectful demeanor exuded and the rosary beads carried, and asked: "bakit ho sila nakadapa?" (why are they all facing down on the floor)

The response: "Ewan." (I don't know.)

In an instant, it ignited a burning question I have long had, which I tucked away in some corner of my consciousness: if you were never raised in any particular faith since childhood, would you have chosen the faith you now claim to be yours, if you had to make this decision only when you are considered an adult?

I ask this to everyone who claims they were born (insert religion here).

And I ask this because the meta-question I have is, do people know what they are saying yes to when they claim to be of this or that faith?

I realize the Catch-22-ness of the question I posed in bold: it's virtually impossible for people who have been brought up as (insert religion here) since the time they could think and talk, to distance themselves from their faith. The way we all were brought up (I'd say statistically an overwhelming majority) is such that what our parents hold as their faith has been instilled, pushed, hammered into us, pervading practically every facet of our lives - at home, in school, on Sundays. If you were part of a faith that required you to pray at certain times of the day, then this influence was not only on a daily basis, but many times over the course of a single day.

I am not saying this as judgment, of whether the practice is "good" or "bad". I ask these things because, frankly, by the time a child reaches the age of majority, the question of "choosing your own faith" and "freedom of religion" becomes almost superfluous, since every child would have been - for lack of a more succinct term - indoctrinated, over an 18 year head start, at least. The numbers don't lie: if your parents are (this particular faith), the chances are very high that you would also be of the same faith.

What I'm saying is, the choice has already been taken from every adult who has been raised a particular way. Even it is a fact that no one is born (insert faith here), how one was raised and in what tradition of faith makes it practically impossible to divorce it from a person's world view. (Pun intended, as most religions frown on divorce, some under pain of death.)

You don't need to "warn" me, about how my track of thought can be "offensive" to some people "of faith" - although I wonder how strong that faith is if a single question can cause so much unease that those offended would brand me as disrespectful or even worse. The truth is, I have been called worse, even back when I was in school, for needing to ask questions where faith was concerned.

That has been my lifelong observation: most of the big faiths, the one that claim the most adherents, do not inspire one to question, to ask, to wonder. Instead, they incite fear, guilt, and shame, for anyone daring to "question" authority. Followers are expected to nod their heads, be docile, follow the ancient order of things.

Rocking the boat has never been the favorite activity of religious leaders. If anything, they depend on their followers not doing so.

And, as a self-confessed "rocker," and an adult capable of choosing what suits my life best in a democratic country that allows me to do so, there are certain things I cannot abide by, as far as some religions are concerned.

I cannot fathom any religion that would, without question, relegate women to being inferior to men, in any way.

I cannot accept any faith that says while baby boys are the "highest blessing" they become almost deathly silent when a girl comes into a family.

I cannot stand idly by when any religion claims that those of other faiths are destined to a fiery pit, devoid of mutual respect for another person's right to choose their own faith.

I cannot sit still as any religious tradition would claim gay people to be abominations - as abominable as feasting on lobster night or getting the latest haircut ala your favorite K-Pop star - worthy of death just be being.

All along, I thought that faiths, at their best, were supposed to be sources of hope, of positive feelings, of trying to be better than you were. That when it is put into practice, it would result in more peace, more love, more understanding, and more compassion, to each other, and yes, to ourselves.

I do not see that, after almost four decades of existence.

I see wars that are fought as holy, claimed to be the a deity's decision. I see rapes, beatings and murders as justified, simply because it is "allowed" in one's religion. I see children, who are supposed to be the elixir of innocence, robbed of this precious commodity, by those who are supposed to be the caretakers of their flock's spiritual well-being.

I see hope torn asunder, life frittered away, dreams turned to embers.

I offer no answers, because each of us has to answer those questions ourselves.

When we say we are (insert faith here), do we know what it truly means?