26 February 2007

early boyhood friends

my early boyhood friends were either neighbors in sampaloc or classmates from santo tomas.

tito tony and tita josie briola alejo, friends of my father at the old civil service commission, rented an apartment unit owned by members of my grandfather’s first family. the unit was located right behind our house. the alejos had several children but i was particularly close to ronnie, the alejos’ third child, because he was about my age. ronnie was particularly remarkable because he played all kinds of sports and he was some kind of a bully in the neighborhood. he also won fistfights with children from the other city streets. it didn’t matter whether i was studying in a private school and he was studying in a public school (p. gomez or juan luna, i think). he became one of my early boyhood friends because he was my exact opposite. ronnie introduced me to kids from don quijote, maria cristina, m. de la fuente, dapitan, dos castillas, miguelin, constancia, algeciras, antipolo and pi y margal streets. my parents had no idea that daily, during siesta time, ronnie would drag me to play “tumbang preso,” “patintero,”” siyato,”“jolens,” “teks,” and “tanzan” with children from the other sampaloc streets. my father was working in his ermita office and my mother was usually asleep after lunch. quite often, i managed to sneak out of the house without leaving a trace. this was all happening between 1972 and 1977.

but i stopped playing with ronnie and when i began serving mass as an acolyte of u.s.t.’s santissimo rosario parish. ronnie and i saw each other even less frequently after his mother passed away. after tito tony remarried, ronnie and his siblings left their apartment unit and transferred to another house along don quijote near espana and ramon magsaysay high school. when tito tony died, his second wife sold their house and ronnie was forced to live with relatives elsewhere. i do not know where he is today.

other than ronnie, i also had other playmates. quite remarkably, i still remember their names: chippy and jonathan calata; chito soller; jouel and lynette marasigan lava (originally from isabela); vicky and raymund burgos; winnie madarang (originally from cagayan); alvin and albert realuyo (originally from oas, albay); sergio lazatin (originally from pampanga); catherine de leon and her friend mary jane cruz (she became jamie rivera, one-time miss saigon in london’s west end and contemporary philippine popular music’s “inspirational diva”); ramil perez (originally from batangas); nonoy singson (originally from cagayan), eric tierro (originally from olongapo; his sister corazon became bb. pilipinas runner-up to 1984 bb. pilipinas universe and miss universe runner-up desiree verdadero); joel and ana lopez uy (originally from aklan); and irene, iris and richie valdez (originally from zamboanga city). one particular friend, rodel pelobello, passed away when i was eleven or twelve. i also remember having friends whose family names i do not remember: rizza (who was run over by a truck) and another ronnie (who migrated to america with his family during the late 1970s). between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. we all played soccer baseball across our house. other times, we played hide-and-seek, “piko” and “step-no.” during each game, decorative plants, trees, cars, windshields, glass windows and people who pass through were attacked severely. quite often, we were scolded by our parents and the rest of the neighborhood. but we simply did not care. as kids, we took each verbal lashing in stride. we just reminded ourselves that nobody can stop us from playing street games anytime. and play, we always did.

in early primary school, i had three close friends: angelica ilagan, nicolas acal and rodolfo vilan jr. i do not know exactly how the three became close to me. but i faintly remember that angelica, nicky and rodolfo were my classmates since prep or grade one. we ate merienda together during recess time and talked over the telephone before bedtime. but one day, angelica drowned in a beach when we were eight. nicolas went to maryland with his family when we were nine. rodolfo migrated to ontario, canada when we were ten. suddenly, all three friends were gone. i was severely traumatized and i did not quite recover.

my early boyhood friends are no longer in sampaloc. these days, many of them are living probably in north america or clustered in affluent metro manila villages. meanwhile, i choose to remain in sampaloc because i want to remember. i yearn to see my friends playing in the city streets again from time to time.

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Call for Submissions to the 46th Dumaguete National Writers Workshop

National Artist for Literature Edith L. Tiempo has announced a March 31 deadline for applications for fellowships to the 46th National Writers Workshop to be held in Dumaguete City from May 7 to 25.

Panelists this year are Gemino Abad, Alfred Yuson, Susan Lara, Anthony Tan, DM Reyes, Marjorie Evasco, and others. They will compose the revolving panel of writers together with National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo, and resident panelists C�sar Ru�z Aquino, Bobby Flores Villasis, and Ernesto Superal Yee.

Fifteen (15) fellowships are open for young writers all over the country.

The first screening panel, composed of the workshop's resident writers, selects the writing fellows for the summer based on the manuscripts submitted by the applicants. These selected manuscripts are forwarded to the Director of the Workshop, who does the final screening and formally approves the final lineup of writing fellows.

The writing fellowship covers lodging for the full 22 days of the duration of the entire workshop, a modest stipend, one-way fare reimbursement, and workshop manuscripts and reading materials.

The applicant must submit original manuscripts consisting of at least three to five short (3-5) stories, or three to five (3-5) essays/creative non-fiction, or two (2) one-act plays, or seven to ten (7-10) poems. Stories, poems, plays, and essays in English are preferred. Only unpublished manuscripts are accepted. Works which have previously won in literary contests will not be accepted.

Other requirements include an application letter addressed to Workshop Director Dr. Edith Tiempo; a diskette or CD containing the various submitted literary works encoded in Microsoft Word; a recommendation letter from a renowned writer or literature teacher; two 2x2 pictures; and a brief biodata or r�sum�.

These must be sent before the 31 March 2007 deadline to Dr. Edith Lopez Tiempo, National Writers Workshop Director, c/o College Assurance Plan, 2nd Floor, CAP Building, Rizal Boulevard, 6200 Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, Philippines.

Accepted fellows are usually notified by postal mail, or email, or by phone call, although the announcement is usually published by major Philippine dailies.

Interested parties may also apply for sit-in or auditing privileges.

The National Writers Workshop was established by Edith and Edilberto Tiempo in 1962, making it the longest-running creative writing workshop in Asia. The 2007 edition is sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Silliman University, and College Assurance Plan, in coordination with the Creative Writing Foundation Inc. and the Dumaguete Literary Arts Service Group, Inc. Donors to the fellowship program include Senators Edgardo J. Angara and Mar Roxas as well as former NCCA Chairman Jaime Laya and Ms. Erlinda Panlilio.

17 February 2007

high school teachers

to use marginality as a starting point rather than an ending point is also to cross beyond it towards other affirmations and negations.

- trinh t. minh-ha, in cotton and iron

at u.s.t. high school, my teachers were also very encouraging. class advisers like mrs. leticia pacheco, mrs. milagros ocampo and mrs. zenaida buquid-manego pushed my classmates to make me class president or officer. because class advisers were so influential, my classmates gave in. class positions led to schoolwide positions. eventually, i got exposed to different levels of power relations: teachers against students, students against administrators, students against other students. luckily, my class advisers reminded me often to seek the middle ground. “you can more effective by transforming the lives of others”, they always said. in high school, that meant covering up for my classmates' misdemeanors.

english, speech and literature teachers like mrs. lourdes salcedo, mrs. teresa taas, mrs. leilani austria and mrs. norma collantes insisted that i have writing skills. every year, they urged me to take the annual editorial exams for the aquinian, the high school paper. during those days, the aquinian was an enclave for students belonging to the top sections. the paper’s alumni roster included jollibee and greenwich pizza top official gina bautista navarette, abs cbn vice presidents joaquin enrico santos and roldeo theodore endrinal, madrid-based corporate property consultant joseph estrellado, pediatrician and businessman noel martin syquia bautista, new york-based prizewinning writers eric gamalinda and bino realuyo, journalist ramil gulle, poet and critic j. neil garcia, singer janet basco, playwright and screenwriter jun lana, and rehabilitation medicine expert jose fernando syquia. initially, i could not get in, not even for positions like “contributor” or “correspondent”. i was just an average student. i didn’t belong to section one or two. after flunking the editorial exams twice, i stopped writing. still, during my senior year, my english, speech and literature teachers pushed me again to take the annual editorial exams for the last time. after so much anxiety and tension, i took the competitive tests without expecting anything.

days after the exams, i was shocked to find out that i finally passed. even more incredibly, i was going to be a part of the editorial board. the other members of the editorial board were really bright students: erie alcantara (currently, creative director for a top advertising firm), hannelore grace paat (a u.s.-based physiotherapist), linette linsangan (one of our two class valedictorians, she made it to u.p.’s very competitive integrated liberal arts and medicine [intarmed] program; she practices pediatric infectious disease medicine and pediatrics in texas, u.s.a.), francis raymond carandang (finished chemical engineering at u.c. berkeley; he is now a medical officer and pediatrician for the united states air force), and bino realuyo (the prizewinning manhattan-based filipino american poet and novelist).

meanwhile, during my senior year, mrs. collantes made me write a play (“how often is once?”), a thinly-discussed narrative about puppy love and infidelity. staged twice at the high school auditorium between february and march 1983, the writing and direction (credits: all mine) of the play were so-so. but mrs. collantes could not contain herself from proclaiming the play as my “world premiere”. i will always thank her for pushing me to experiment with drama and for spending her own money to help produce the play.

on the other hand, teachers like ms. marissa casas and ms. agripina manapat taught me the value of honesty and integrity. during religion and economics classes, they often drew their lessons from relevant local, national and international events. years later, i realized that i was not obsessive over fortune or fame because ms. casas and ms. manapat insisted that i should limit my choices to the few things that really make me happy.

before finishing high school, i was initially declared as the recipient of the fr. silvestre sancho leadership award, a highly-coveted prize for students during my time. because i did not come from the honor sections (i was from section four), two infuential teachers opposed my proclamation. miss casas and miss manapat fought for me, along with my other teachers and organization advisers. soon, the controversy became a battle between teachers. most teachers voted for me. but the very few teachers who were against me were backed up by powerful people. the award was eventually given to a friend who also deserved to receive the prize. on graduation day, my high school teachers cried as they hugged me. “remember everything we taught you”, they said. “and prove THEM wrong”. i didn’t fare too well in high school, but teachers were always there to be on my side.

long before triumphs anywhere, there was u.s.t. high. i was able to cross many borders after high school because i had teachers who taught me how to create spaces where i can heal and fly.

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university of santo tomas high school

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university of santo tomas main building
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university of santo tomas grandstand and soccer field
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facade of the u.s.t. chapel
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behind the main building, what used to be known as colayco park
across the high school building

10 February 2007

floods in sampaloc

sampaloc is usually infested with floods from june to october. one often speculates how it has ever become a thriving neighborhood.

i take pleasure residing in sampaloc because i have many family members, friends and acquaintances living all over the place. i grew up there. but there are instances when floods can be very annoying.

in grade three, i once attempted to go to school alone, despite the heavy rains. there were no announcements from radio and t.v. , but i didn’t want to miss school. i had wanted so badly to get a star for perfect attendance by the end of the school year. out of greed, i slipped out of the house and waded through the waters.

upon reaching the corner of carola and dapitan streets, near what used to be the house of aling nita (co-owner of josephine’s, the seafood restaurant), i tripped into a manhole, got siphoned into its hollow, then mustered enough adrenalin to pull myself out of danger. back home, i ran to the bathroom, had a quick cold shower, then poured family rubbing alcohol all over my body. i sneaked back to my room where i vowed not to aim for that perfect attendance star ever again.

during the wet weather season, it also became habitual for obedient students from u.s.t., ramon magsaysay, st. jude’s, perpetual help, holy trinity and esteban abada high schools to appear in school wearing very unfashionably gigantic, knee-high black rubber boots. i was a geek so i wore these too. but horror stories about the monsoon rains in sampaloc became even more dreadful by the time i started teaching in u.p..

usually, the family chauffer takes me to diliman everyday. but there are days when my parents need the family van and i am forced to take a cab. i have no big problems about commuting (i often made “sabit” riding jeepneys during my younger days) but cabs do resist taking passengers from sampaloc to diliman every time it rains. not even a monumental “i am going to teach! i have a class!” argument can make cab drivers mend their dizzyingly divaesque ways. it really takes more than an hour for anyone to hail a cab in rainy sampaloc.

returning to sampaloc from diliman is easier. but when the rising waters of espa┼ła threaten the lives of cabs and their engines, i usually ask cabs to take me from u.p. to the point where the floods begin. customarily, i walk from mayon near welcome (now inappropriately renamed mabuhay) rotunda to m. cuenco, towards pi y margal corner antonio maceda. several blocks past the imeldifically-imposing bliss housing units on antipolo and algeciras streets, i finally get home and quickly bathe my legs and feet with lukewarm water. immediately after, i put to rest weird imaginings coming out of every downpour: images of dead plants and animals, old slippers, rubber shoes, party cups, paper plates, candy wrappers, market bags and anything plastic floating on the murky waters.

my most traumatic flood story happened just a few years year ago. coming out of tanya mendoza’s salon (the favorite stylist of journalists, pr/advertising practitioners and creative writers like jun lana, ramil gulle, neil garcia, ronald baytan, ralph galan, christian esguerra, nonon carandang, henry barrameda, chris cahilig and many others when they were high school or college students-the shop is located along asturias, near u.s.t.’s dapitan gate; tanya has gone for the big time-he is now one of the resident stylists of t.v.'s eat bulaga and daisy siete) after a haircut, i was devastated to discover that the entire sampaloc area was at least two to three feet underwater in less than an hour. fortunately, an old school mate lived near the area so i dragged him and other friends close by to keep me company eating burgers at a nearby jollibee outlet. i was ever so hopeful that the floodwaters will finally recede.

after two hours, the rains didn’t stop. it only got worse. so i said goodbye to my friends and crossed the murky waters along dapitan’s entire stretch. the street remained impassable to vehicles until the wee hours.

every time i brave sampaloc’s floodwaters, icky things continue to float all over. but sampaloc is home. i overcome grief and exasperation by making plans for the dry season.

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espana during the rainy season
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joven cagande's rendition of a vendor selling flowers on valentine's day eve along dos castillas street in sampaloc, manila (cagande's photograph taken from philippine star)

03 February 2007

first teachers

my mother was my first teacher. when i was three, she made me recite the ABCs then count from one to one hundred before our guests. at age five, i loved rummaging through maps and illustrations of h.g. wells’ outline of history. upon learning about this particular fascination, my mother persuaded my father to purchase the reader’s digest great world atlas. the book enthused me to fluently memorize names of countries, capital cities, highest mountains, and other geographical facts.

at u.s.t. elementary school, my first teachers sustained my interest in learning more about the world beyond the familiar city streets. miss mila (milagros) bautista was my very first teacher in prep and grade one. she made me a group leader, often asking me to monitor the cleanliness of our classroom and to keep my classmates’ mouths shut whenever she took a break. once, i was stricken with flu, she personally brought me to the university health center and patiently waited for my mother to arrive before returning to my classmates who were all distracted with coloring book exercises. when ms. bautista became mrs. villarama, i was very sad because i thought she would be resigning from her job. when she returned after giving birth to her first child, my grade one class deliriously threw a modest party for her. the class brought loaves of bread, slices of kraft cheddar cheese, hotdogs, marshmallows and bottles of sarsi cola and sunta orange to celebrate her coming back. i would not forget mrs. mila bautista-villarama because she saved me from embarrassment many times whenever i couldn’t understand texts the class orally read in unison. she knew there was something wrong with my comprehension skills. but unlike some teachers and students, she refused to call me dumb. after each class, she would make me read texts again and again until i finally understood the gist of things. almost thirty years later, i was stunned to discover that i have always been afflicted with attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder. mrs. villarama’s creative impulse in sorting out my deficiencies turned out to be what became familiar to us many years later as special education.

in grade one, i also met two other interesting teachers: mrs. sylvia fernandez, who taught me speech communication; and miss aida jurilla, who taught me music.

mrs. fernandez was fully aware of my lapses in speaking and writing. but whenever we had school presentations, she persistently plucked my name either as a lead performer or as part of a chorus. my first public performance was staged at the u.s.t. education auditorium before a thousand or so people. as her pilot grade one students, we were trained to recite “a little boy’s prayer”, an anti-vietnam war poem. some four hundred grade one students competed for forty speaking parts. though i forgot my speaking lines many times, i remained part of the ensemble mrs. fernandez had selected to perform onstage. i was among the first ten performers arising on top of a platform to directly face the audience. we were all dolled up in colorful jacket tops and trousers. but minutes before our number, mrs. fernandez realized that i was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, cracking up and shivering in fright. mrs. fernandez momentarily pulled me out of the backstage so i can drink a glass of water. afterwards, she motivated me to close my eyes, pray, and offer my performance to the ones i deeply care for. and she also insisted that throughout the performance, i should imagine that only my family and friends are in the auditorium.

i still got frightened the very first time i emerged onstage. but mrs. fernandez hid behind the curtains to keep me cool, calm, and collected. i kept on whispering to myself “for grandpa” and “for mom and dad” as i uttered the first lines: ‘now, as i lay me down to sleep, i pray the lord my soul to keep. if i should die before i wake, i pray the lord my soul to take. god bless mommy, little sue, baby John, and most especially, my daddy . . .’

after five minutes, we ended our performance with a bow. and the crowd cheered us on. mrs. fernandez embraced each one of us. then she gave us balloons before we went home.

when i graduated from grade six, mrs. fernandez emceed the proceedings held at the u.s.t. gymnasium. although it was not on the script, mrs. fernandez added the words “consistent honor student” as she called my name. looking back, i always remember mrs. fernandez because she made me realize that one speaks in public to communicate an important thought and certainly not to glorify one’s self.

miss aida jurilla, on the other hand, was my music teacher from grade one to grade six. she made quite an impression on me because she looked glamorous without really trying. most of my classmates were initially scared of her because she was very strict. but i was not. i thought she nearly resembled the aura of hollywood stars like lana turner and elizabeth taylor. she had presence. as she entered each class, she always looked regal with pieces of beads, pearls, and other trinkets adorning her neck. miss jurilla taught me how to sing, play the piano, and be aware of rhythm and its nuances. she also introduced hollywood and broadway tunes like “my favorite things” (from the sound of music) and “sunrise, sunset” (from fiddler on the roof), popular American songs like “on top of old smokey”(with cheeky lines that go this way: “…all covered with snow, i lost my true lover, he courted too slow…”), and “the way we were” as well as filipino tunes such as “lulay,” “pilipinas kong mahal,” and “dahil sa ’yo.” she also taught me how to sing the school anthem in english and filipino.

every time i try to write poetry, i often remember ms. jurilla telling my grade one class that music is poetry and poetry is music. ms. jurilla has taught me to prioritize the lyric in my writings. i always recognize ms. jurilla’s influence in the development of my poetic ear.

my mother, mrs. villarama, mrs. fernandez, and ms. jurilla were my first teachers. their collective patience, creative energy, and encouragement pushed me to speak, read, and write coherently.

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u.s.t. elementary school

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view of u.s.t. education building (where u.s.t. elementary school is) from p. florentino street (towards governor forbes, now arsenio lacson street)

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u.s.t. gymnasium