July 30, 2008

Death Penalty

There are times when I wish capital punishment is back in the Philippine legal system. And not a moment too soon.

Today, our office handled a case that had all of us swearing and cursing: a three-year-old raped by her 18-year-old neighbor. Why, the girl is as old as my daughter!

I hear about stories like this every time: on TV, in print, over the radio, on the web. Hearing about these things makes me cringe, tugging at the heart of the mother in me. But they all seem too far-fetched, too unreal. I never imagined that this would happen right here, in the confines of "home."

But it did happen, and reality came with the desire to kill, to violate, to wish someone ill. Legal minds and human-rights advocates and moralists may debate all they want. I say, death, death, death!

July 28, 2008

Changing, Changing, Changed

I took the longer, more semi-urban route to the office today, and I noticed something I hadn't seen in years: the bahay na bato on the fringes of town. I went to grade school with the daughter of the house. I can picture her still: a haughty mestiza who had way too much of everything, from yayas to Sanrio to excess poundage.

Alas, the house is now dilapidated beyond repair: a crumbling heap of memories of days long gone. There is nothing about the structure that hints of grand parties, or of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The vast acreage beyond has been sold and resold, divided and subdivided. The daughter of the house has since left for cooler climes. And from the looks of it, she will not return.

I have always had affinity for old houses. My grandpa's house was right beside the municipio, where he served as judge. On the days when we visited, my cousins and I would race through the house and up and down the town hall's twin flights of stairs. Often, we would steal away to the cathedral, which was but a quick dash away.

But for the cathedral, the structures of my childhood are but shadows of their former glories. The old municipal building has long served its purpose: it is now much too small for a growing city. Lolo's house has already traded ownerships so many times I've already lost count. What was once a respectable lawyer's house-cum-office is now a bar of the seedy kind. (How it got from prime property to red-light establishment is the stuff of telenovelas--you know, the kind peopled by stepmothers, stepsons and half siblings.)

Every time I see an old building giving in to the ravages of time--or to modernization--I always feel a certain loss. Change is always good, a friend likes to say. But there is something about old houses that makes me wish change didn't have to creep in into places of memories.

July 25, 2008

Forty and Beyond

If life begins at 40, I will be a year old in a matter of minutes. I will be crossing over from borderline, not-quite-there-yet forty to the very real 'ty-one. Greetings will come pouring in, my inbox will be swamped, and I will be well on my way to nearing the "middle ages." My middle ages.

When I was a lot younger and a lot more clueless, I thought forty and beyond was old. Ancient, in fact. I thought forty is when one stops growing pimples and starts growing fangs, when one is bogged down by children, by worries, by life to have time for anything else, when one is on the verge of retirement. I thought forty forbids comebacks: that at forty one can never bounce back, or start all over again.

Well, Gabby Concepcion is back, and to some degree I am swooning. "Forty and beyond" is not quite the sorry state that I thought it to be. There is still magic in full moons and sunsets. There is still wonder in stories and in a child's gaze. There is still true joy in friendships and in getting things done. There is eternal gratitude for love, for life, for renewal.

The clock is ticking, and soon I will be forty one. I have dietary (flab, oh flab!) and dermatological (laugh lines, not wrinkles) issues. But hey, this business of growing older and (I hope) wiser, is not so bad at all.

July 23, 2008

My Other Baby

There's this little girl who always makes me laugh: my niece Samantha. My other baby, I call her, and she is one spunky, highly opinionated kid who has mastered the fine art of wheedling. She insists she loves everybody in the universe except for one: me. But when I make a show of reaching for that bag of forbidden chocolates, she turns on the charm and swears she super loves me.

If there is such a thing as a pop baby, Sam is probably it. She knows all the songs in the HSM and Hairspray soundtracks. She thinks Chad--the guy with the curly hair--is the coolest person ever. She can sit in front of the TV for hours and can easily pick up dance steps, lyrics and tunes. And in her squeaky, elfish voice, she sings "suicidal, suicidal" and "Fabulous" over and over and over again.

Because they are so so different, Sam and Gianna are best friends slash worst enemies. You can never really tell with them. One moment they are all sweetness and light: as in sticky-glue sweet. Minutes later, they are at each others' throats, glued to each other Sumo-style.

Sam is three years old today. She is all red after yet another shouting bout with Ate Gianna. She just had a High School Musical theme party and is all wound up. No, she did not wear a skirt like her girly-girl cousin. Instead, she strutted around in skinny jeans and sporty tees. And when someone sang "Happy Birthday, Sam," she blurted: "I am not Sammy. I am Chad."

Happy Birthday, funny little girl! May you always find wonder in every thing!

July 20, 2008

The Nose Knows

Somebody put a vaseful of rosal in the washroom, and before I knew it, I was brought back to those breezy, carefree flores de mayo days. Scents do that to me. I get a whiff of Coppertone, and I am transported to Boracay and lazing under the SPF 30 sun. A hint of musk, and suddenly, I am in high school all over again. The sea, when the tide is out, reminds me of elementary years in a school by the bay.

Sometimes, the memories are good:

Firewood and fiestas. Old Spice and family reunions. Cinnamon and Christmas. State of Mind and my "bestest" friends, Berna and Maricar. Noxzema and college at UST. Aceite de Manzanilla and Gianna's baby days. Brewed coffee and last full shows.

And sometimes they are not so good:

Betadine and the operating room. Herbs and Quiapo and the one time a vendor harangued me for refusing her medallion. Mud and the floodwaters of Espana. White Flower/Tiger Balm and the pre-Bonamine days, when the journey home took 14 hours, a sore butt and a losing fight with motion sickness. Sardines and EDSA. (Who would have thought that Edsa would be trivialized by subsequent "Revolutions," and that Philippine politics would forever smell fishy?)

A few years from now, my nose would probably pick out a scent and bring me back to where and what I am now. Would it be Victoria's Secret, or baby powder, or Promil Kid, perhaps? Whatever it is, I'm sure, the nose would know...

July 15, 2008

4 a.m. Thoughts

It is four in the morning. I have been drifting in and out of hazy dreams for the past two hours, and have finally given up on sleeping. But for the gentle swish of the leaves and the distant baying of a dog, everything is quiet.

I look at my daughter. At three, she still latches on to her pacifiers. Getting her to sleep without them is one constant tug-o-war, which—unfortunately for me—always goes in her favor. But in this peaceful hour, all thoughts of weaning her from her binkies, all thoughts of future appointments with the orthodontist, are immediately banished.

Two songs come to mind instead. My parental anthems, I call them: Natalie Merchant’s “How You’ve Grown” and Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” The first tells of those fleeting years, and the lyrics gets me all teary. Especially now that my daughter is discovering a world outside of mine.

The second sings of what I want her to have--and to be. She is not me, this much I know. She is, among others, a drama princess, a fiery performer, a dancer. Things that I am not. But I want her to have that eternal "sense of wonder," that passion for sunrises and sunsets, for fairy tales and magical stories. I want her to believe and behold. I want her to be what she really wants to be.

Of course that's still a long, long way off. But at 4 a.m., just as the world is struggling between sleep and wakefulness, anything goes...

July 10, 2008

Not So High-Tech

You would think, from the millions and millions the government spends on computers, that we would be one tech-savvy bureaucracy, right?

Wrong. Not in our case, at least. There are computers, alright. Internet-capable PCs, sleek laptops, high-end thingamajigs. The thing is, they are rarely ever used to make things a lot less complicated for you and me.

Following the paper trail is still an exercise in patience as one is shunted from one office to another. Almost everything is manual: you look for something and the clerk riffles through logbooks that have obviously seen better days. You follow up action on a request, and your paper is retrieved--after much finger pointing--from a pile of virtually untouched documents. You need something, and you are made to wait, wait and wait. Sometimes for nothing.

Where are the computers in the middle of all these? Busy, of course. With Text Twist and Solitaire and Friendster. The older, on-the-wings-of-retirement set are too jaded to learn something new. The younger ones are clueless on the ways of government. Those in between? As usual, we are caught in the middle.

And so, in this day and age of high-speed connectivity, the wheels of the bureaucracy turn on their own slow, agonizing pace.

July 6, 2008


I graduated from high school in 1984. This was the era of Mother Lily and her Regal Babies, Bagets and the layered look. Computers were unheard of in our little pocket of the universe. Much of our school projects, in fact, moved to the rhythm of the bulky Olympia or the more portable Underwood.

On my third and fourth years, there was one room that drew me in. Here was where my love affair with the scent of newsprint began, where I spent many, many hours trying to be a writer. The Luzon Tip Press Room drew in kindred souls as well: Eden, Mel, Marissa, Cherie. We had our own cliques, but we were drawn to each other by our love of the written word--ours and others'.

After high school, we managed to see a bit of each other every now and then. But these became farther and farther apart as careers, marriages and children came and life happened. Keeping ties was never my forte, and except for third-person updates, I lost touch with my school-paper buddies.

And then I found them. Found their blogs, actually, and I feel that I am on a journey of rediscovery. And discovery. Eden gardens--and cooks. Mel is taking the road less travelled. Cherie is learning to drive. Marissa is very much Marissa: artist, intellectual, a woman of strength. All of us are players in the game of life.

We may live in different worlds now, but I feel more connected to them than ever. This blog thing has bridged the silent, in-between years. It has reconnected me with old friends, connected me with new (online) friends and given me back the joy of writing.

July 4, 2008

Welcome to the Club

For three days this week, I brought my daughter to work. Not really a good thing, if you're cramped in a small space as I am. And definitely not a good thing if you have a snooty kid as I do.

But because papers were piling up and the to-do list just had to be dealt with, I had no choice. And so, armed with a humongous bag crammed with crayons, books and stuff supposedly meant to keep boredom at bay--and with "this, too, shall pass" as my mantra of the week--off we went to city hall.

The moment I set foot in the office, I knew that I had made the transition. Back in Eastgate and in my early days in city hall, I was the playmate: entertainer to kids whose moms had no choice but to bring them along. A marriage contract and a birth certificate later, I had joined the sisterhood of child-toting working moms whose concerns are more along the lines of caregivers, preschools and child-friendly TV.

The walk up to my corner--which, on "normal" days--takes a minute or so, stretched on and on. The moms gave me knowing, welcome-to-the-club smiles, the singles volunteered to do playmate duty. And when the referrals took a little longer to finish, there were the reassuring been-there-done-that taps on the shoulder.

And what of the little girl? She was surprisingly well behaved, with no hint of that fiery temper. She just settled into a quiet corner and finished an entire drawing book. She gave a start when a midget came in and I had to tell her to stop staring. Otherwise, things went pretty well.

Ahh, if I had known that motherhood would be a ready excuse for not clocking in on time, for not getting the job done fast and for playing on the job, I would have done it a long time ago.