Archive for April, 2008

Video: UP Ibalon Bicol Meetings

April 29, 2008

Take a sneak peek at the deliberations of the UP Ibalon Bicol steering committee. The committee met twice in the past couple of weeks. Both meetings were held at Grilling Point, Balatas Road, Naga City on April 20 and 27 2008.

All the brainstormings now lean toward an ambitious College Entrance Exam assistance project. Now in queue are at least one live review session in June and a web-based review resource center. The live lecture component, which is a test undertaking, shall be held in Naga City and aims to augment the capability of the target high school students in passing the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT). The web-based component, now in data gathering and site development-promotion stage, shall be ad-supported and shall be the orgamozation’s fund source in the long haul. The Web site shall be accessible to all.

Long term prospects are bright although in its initial salvo, UP Ibalon Bicol simply hopes to demystify college entrance examinations, which in itself could inspire every scared young high school student, who we all were long time ago.

Hippocrates, Maimonides and the Perfume Canister Incident

April 25, 2008

What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.” —Oath of Hippocrates (400 B.C)

Removal of lodged foreign objects in body orifices is expected in medical practice, but it occurs quite uncommonly. Whether it’s a little boy crying with a corn kernel trapped on his nose, or a grandmother in pain with a spiky fishbone stuck in her throat, or a homosexual humiliated with a light bulb caught in his butt, doctors and nurses always remove them. It’s their duty. Knowing their role, they defer judgment and blame. In these situations, there’s no cause to make fun of the patient.

We know there’s nothing more heart-rending than the sight of a patient in pain. We feel lucky not to be in the patient’s shoe. The doctor’s instinct is to allay suffering. They often do anything to help human beings in distress.

The nurses don’t invite on-lookers to break the dictates of hospital privacy. As a general rule, nobody is allowed to take pictures on patients having treatments. Hospital workers are expected not to gossip on patients in the corridors. They must earn trust. Patients can’t imagine a hospital where they can be put to shame.

Like the sin box of neighborhood churches where confessions are heard, our hospitals are supposed to be sacred grounds for respectful patient-doctor relationships. What goes on in the doctor’s room is protected by confidentiality and trust. Yet regrettably, at times, something goes wrong and we start asking why.

Primum non nocere. (trans. First, do not harm.)

That’s the first lofty ethical advice that doctors and nurses remember. We expect our care-givers to heed the holy caveat of comforting the sick first before they institute cure. Thy must abide with this rule similar to the pledge of the great physician Hippocrates and the prayer of the rabbinic philosopher-physician, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204 A.D.) which, in part reads:

“Grant that I may be filled with love for my art and for my fellow men. May the thirst for gain and the desire for fame be far from my heart. For these are the enemies of Pity and Ministers of Hate. Grant that I may be able to devote myself, body and soul, to the children who suffer from pain.

Preserve my strength, that I may be able to restore the strength of the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the friend and the foe. Let me see the sufferer the man alone.

When wiser men teach me, let me be humble to learn, for the mind of man is so puny and the art of healing is so vast. But when fools are ready to advise me or to find fault me, let me not listen to their folly. Let me be intent upon one thing, O Father of Mercy, to be always merciful to thy suffering children.”

The ancient aphorisms embody what ethical medicine must be for all of us today. But we couldn’t fully understand why the clear moral norms set in medicine had been violated in Cebu’s government-run Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center.

A group of doctors and nurses assisting in the removal of a perfume canister in a patient’s rectum were caught jeering in glee and making fun of the patient during the procedure. The disgraceful footage landed in cyberspace’s You Tube embarrassing the patient, the nation, and the whole world.

Although there are tenets in the Hippocratic Oath and the Maimonides Prayer which aren’t strictly followed today (partly because medical practice has evolved through the ages,) humility, respect, and mercy for patients remain integral in the great physicians’ core exhortation. For their truism, such rule of conduct has been adhered to since pagan times.

The perfume canister controversy made us reassess our moral values. The overwhelming majority who learned of the incident thought it was sickening and downright wrong. Many condemned the hospital personnel’s arrogant indiscretion and blamed them for brushing aside the golden rule:

Do unto others what you want others to do unto you.”

For the infamy we earned, the Department of Health (DOH) called for an investigation and planned for a disciplinary action. A priest-spokesman of the Archdiocese of Cebu laid blame on the victim’s behavior and opined the incident shouldn’t have occurred if he didn’t engage in bestial sex. While others recommended those involved be stripped of their licenses, the priest asked for a review of the ethics curriculum under which the hospital personnel were taught.

Swept with emotional trauma, the patient, a florist, sued the hospital, a move that could have easily assured him of hefty damages if the case happened in a different country. Friends of the erring doctors and nurses however believed those involved don’t deserve punishment for they already “suffered enough for their misdeed.”

Ladlad, an irate group of lesbians and homosexuals plus the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan disagreed and demanded full disclosure of the doctors’ and nurses’ names—something the authorities often won’t ordinarily do for reasons that weren’t justified. But they did it anyway for this case.

There were those who couldn’t forget the protests incited by ABC’s Terri Hatcher’s suggestion in a TV sitcom that our doctors aren’t competent. According to them, the incident proved that Terri was correct after all and we have little basis to whine. Some were convinced it would be hard to keep the world supporting us if there had been other evidence that cast doubt on our medical professionals’ integrity.

Yet, whatever the outcome of this case, the need to upgrade our medical ethical standards is self-evident. By any means, our mistake isn’t tenable and a re-calibration of our moral compass is required.

Hippocrates and Maimonides still speak to us on ethics and moral behavior that have applications outside the hospital setting. But the hideous perfume canister incident makes us wonder if similar incidents would happen again.=0=

Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Visit to America

April 22, 2008

He was reviled as the CEO of pedophiles. He was called outrageous names: a hypocrite, a jester, and a personification of Satan. But Pope Benedict XVI, the supreme shepherd of a billion Catholics worldwide came to USA on April 15-20, 2008 with a message of hope, love and reconciliation for all—-something we all need in a world of growing pluralism, relativism, and uncertainty.

Starting his six-day pastoral trip in Washington DC, Pres. George Bush and wife Laura warmly greeted him on his arrival. On the second day, the 265th successor of St. Peter celebrated part of his 81st birthday on the White House’s south lawn where he was feted with an understated, but beautiful piece of Americana.

As the leader of the sovereign state, the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI brought to the United Nations (with 192 member-countries) his message of goodwill and peace. Almost shy in his speech and careful not to prescribe any political agenda, he talked on the responsibility of nations to respect human rights and the need for mutual respect in matters of religious worship.

Meeting privately with a few victims of sexual abuse by clergymen, he was forthright in talking about the scandal which he rightly believed to be a shameful “betrayal of trust” whose wounds needed purgation and healing.

He offered his thoughts on diverse, but complex problems such as the attrition of church-goers, the tepid response of people towards religious vocations, and the increasing needs of the Hispanics, the fastest growing ethnic group in American Catholicism.

He met with disabled children and their caregivers. On several occasions, the pope touched on the dignity of the individual human person, the horrors of abortion and violence, and the culture of materialism which “chokes the soul.”

In Ground Zero where 3,000 innocent lives were lost in a horrific act of hatred in 9/11, the pope prayed. He spoke with the victims’ relatives, expressing his hope for healing, forgiveness, and redemption.

As an act of ecumenism, he visited a Jewish synagogue and met with leaders of various denominations. The pope repeatedly touched on themes of truth, the rejection of relativism, and the call on the faithful to live up their faith openly in society. In a church gathering at the center of the city, he said,

The spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet in the heart of this busy metropolis they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God.”

In measured words, the pope gently reached out to the hearts of millions who watched him in person and in TV, with the conciliatory “springtime of hope” message for Americans whose religious warmth today, he noted, is stronger compared to Europeans.

At Yankee’s stadium, Pope Benedict XVI said a solemn mass for a huge cheering crowd of 58,000, representing the 62 million Catholics across America (1/3 of USA’s Christians,) reiterating his core message of hope in Jesus Christ. He saw the church’s future in the thousands of visibly-joyful seminarians and young men and women who affectionately greeted him with chants, sacred music, and flags.

The visit ended on Sunday with a brief farewell in a well-secured hangar in JFK airport before boarding, Shepherd One, a chartered plane of Alitalia. In a remark which was cordial and pleasing, Vice President Dick Cheney asked the pontiff to pray for America. Isn’t this what we all need?

Thousand miles away, in the Philippines, the same message of the pope applies. Just like America, we have the same parallel problems and the same need to reconcile humbly with God. We surely need truth, hope, and justice to actualize our do-list of our faith. But truly, it remains to be seen whether the pope’s message will bring lasting effects in our spiritual lives.

Christ is our hope” is a compelling message for all, particularly in times when we find ourselves groping in the dark for truth, when we seem lost on the way, when we need light so we can come out of confusion and uncertainty which engulf us. ==0==

Magayon Festival 2008 Update

April 18, 2008

by Dan Daz

Magayon Festival is first and foremost a celebration of the people of Albay as a community. This tradition articulates and affirms our identity as Albayanos. – Albay Governor Joey Sarte Salceda during the opening of the Magayon Festival last April 1, 2008.

Banners of the Magayon Festival ’08 proudly displayed during the opening of the festival last April 1, 2008.

Float of the Municipality of Malinao passes by the Albay Provincial Capitol Building during the Karwahe nin Paglaom, Karwahe ni Magayon float competition on opening day.

Float no. 12 of the City of Legazpi won third prize in the Karwahe nin Paglaom, Karwahe ni Magayon float competition. First prize went to the Municipality of Polangui while second place went to Sto. Domingo.

Members of a rondalla group onboard the Sto. Domingo float which won second in the float competiton.

Students of Bagtang Elementary School doing their routine in the Drum and Bugle Competition and winning first place in the said competition.

Children enjoying the ringside view of the Drum and Bugle Competition held on opening day of the Magayon Festival ’08.

One of many participants of the Drum and Bugle Competition doing their number at the Penaranda Park in front of the Capitol building in Legazpi City. First place went to Bagtang Elementary School (Daraga, Albay), second place went to the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation (Legazpi City) while third place went to Tabaco North Elementary School.

As part of the celebration of the Magayon Festival ’08, on exhibit at the Albay Capitol Building lobby are various handicraft items which were made by skilled craftsmen of Albay province.

Also on display at the Albay Capitol Building lobby is the photo exhibit dubbed “War of Our Fathers” sponsored by the Philippine Veterans Bank. The exhibit shows the brave and gallant stand of the Filipino and American forces against the invading Japanese forces during world war II. The next photo shows actual vintage Thompson caliber .50 ammunitions and vintage mortars used during the second world war.

Festival Highlights:

Magayon Festival of Festivals Showdown 2008

One of the highlight activities is the “Magayon Festival of Festivals Showdown 2008”, a regionwide street dancing competition that will feature the various festivals from the region’s six provinces and six cities. The Magayon Street Dancing competition will be held on Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 3 pm at the Penaranda Park just in front of the Albay Provincial Capitol Building in Legazpi City. Big cash prizes will be awarded to the winners: First prize-P300,000, second prize- P200,000 and third prize- P100,000. In addition, there will be special awards as follows: Best in Street Dancing (moving choreographer)- P50,000; Best in Costume- P50,000; Best in Festival Legend Showdown: First Prize- P100,000, Second Prize-P75,000, Third Prize-P50,000; Best in moving choreography-P10,000, Best in Costume-P10,000. The Provincial Government has allocated P10 M for the operating fund of the festival.

Mutya ng Magayon 2008

The search committee of the Magayon Festival 2008 and the Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office have finalized the 20 official candidates for the Mutya ng Magayon. The selection of the final candidates was made by a panel of judges last March 14 at the Concourse Convention Center in Legazpi City.

The 20 official candidates came from Daraga, Albay (2); Camalig, Albay (1); Legazpi City (5); Naga City (2); Sorsogon City (1); Daet CN (2); Iriga City (1); Polangui, Albay (1); Sto. Domigo, Albay (1); Tabaco City (2); Tiwi, Albay (1); and Bulan, Sorsogon (1).

The Beauty pageant and Coronation Night will be held on Friday, April 25, 2008 starting at 7 pm at the Albay Astrodome. Admission is free. The winner of the Mutya ng Magayon will receive P100,000 cash + trophy, bouquet and sash; First Runner-up- P75,000, trophy, bouquet and sash; Second Runner-up- P50,000, trophy, bouquet and sash. Special Major Award for Magayon Festival Tourism- P30,000, trophy, bouquet and sash which is open for Albay candidates only. Minor Awards: Miss Talent- P5,000, trophy, bouquet and sash; Miss Photogenic/ Miss Congeniality/ Miss Telegenic will each receive – P3,000, trophy, bouquet and sash; Best in Production number/ Best in Swimsuit/ Best in Terno will each receive-P3,000, trophy, bouquet and sash. The best in terno designer will receive P30,000 plus trophy while the first runner-up and the second runner-up will receive P25,000 and P20,000 respectively.

I am Change, Are You?

April 17, 2008

By: Harvey S. Keh

Blog Admin note: The author is the chairperson of Team RP, an organization of youth leaders and young professionals who work together for Truth, Accountability and Reform in our country. The group appeals for support in information dissemination through our blog. Publishing this article in our blog is the least we can do in solidarity with the group The disturbing issues in this country are not hard to comprehend from our vantage point, so in fact we ought to do more. Here is the full article.

Last March, I was very fortunate enough to be invited to be the Commencement Speaker of Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in Zamboanga City , one of the biggest state universities in the Philippines . During my brief stay at WMSU, I was able to have a session with 30 of their student leaders who are leading their student council and other student organizations in their school. During this session, I started with a question, I asked them, Who among you here still believes and supports President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Around 10 of them raised their hands. Then, I asked again, Who among you here wants the President to resign and step down? Around 14 of them raised their hands. I pressed on and asked again, Who among you here is still undecided? 6 of them raised their hands. Finally, I asked again, Who among you here wants Change and Reforms in our Country and Government?

All of them raised their hands.

When I got back to Manila , I did the same activity with about 25 student leaders from Miriam College in Quezon City , one of the top schools here in Metro Manila. I got the same response from them, 7 were supporting President Arroyo, 12 wanted her to resign/step-down while 6 were undecided. When I asked them who wants change and reform in our Country and Government, all of them raised their hands as well.

What am I trying to say through these two stories and experiences with these Filipino Youth Leaders in our country?

a.) Yes, our country is divided right now in how we view President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. You have on one side, a group supporting President Arroyo despite all the anomalies, allegations of corruption and scandals that has rocked her administration. On the other side, you have groups and highly-influential leaders which have called for her immediate resignation and ouster from power. This then leaves us with a political stalemate since President Arroyo is not weak enough to fall while the Groups calling for her ouster and resignation are not strong enough to push her out.

b.) However, it seems that judging from my experiences in dealing with these student leaders, the people I talk to and the emails I get from Filipinos from here and abroad everyone wants to see Change and Reform in our Government. We are all united in wanting to see positive and lasting change and reforms in our Government.

That is why I think that if we want to be able to help in bringing our nation together towards a common vision which helps move our country forward then this unity should not be based on certain personalities like President Arroyo or our other Government Leaders. Rather, we need to join and work together towards working for concrete and lasting reforms in our Government Institutions that would eventually make it more responsive to the needs of the poor and powerless in our communities.We need to work together towards building, strengthening and transforming our democratic institutions. For example, Isn’t it sad that we now have to face a growing Food Crisis when we were once one of the world’s top Agricultural countries? This is an indirect effect of the 1 Billion Fertilizer Scam that was allegedly used to fund the election expenses of President Arroyo and her allies. If this 1 Billion Peso Fertilizer Fund together with other government funds was used properly and for the right purpose then we might not have to face this crisis now or if we do, the effect wouldn’t be as big as we are facing now.

As such, I’d like to invite every Filipino based here and abroad to join us at Team RP as we try to develop a proactive and dynamic movement that is built and organized primarily by ordinary Filipinos like you and me whose only vested interests is to be able to contribute his time, skills, talents and resources towards pushing for Truth, Accountability and Reform in our Government. How? Allow me to share with you some of our concrete action plans:

For Truth: We hope to push for the passing of a Philippine Access to Information Law (PAIL) that would give every Filipino an opportunity to access government documents especially documents that would show how our hard-earned money is being spent by our government officials. Through this law, greater transparency can be achieved thus and more importantly, we are able to make our government leaders live by the saying that Public Office is a Public Trust.

For Accountability: We plan to file proper charges on Government Officials and Private Citizens who have taken part in Graft and Corruption practices and activities that have bankrupted our government coffers. If we do not do anything to hold these people accountable for their actions and curb corruption, then the cycle will just continue with new faces and sadly, with new techniques. Corruption has to stop because the 30 Billion Pesos that is lost to it every year can amount to provision of basic services that will ultimately uplift the lives of more than 20 Million Filipinos who continue to wallow in poverty.

For Reform: We plan to work and lobby for the extension and improvement of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law which expires this year. We believe that every Filipino should be provided with equal opportunities to be able to own his or her own land. In addition to this, we plan to pursue electoral reforms as early as now by developing projects and activities that will encourage and motivate First-time voters to register so they can exercise their right to choose our next President in 2010.

These are just among our concrete plans towards institutionalizing and working for genuine Change and Reform in our country. Since we are not a personality-based movement, Team RP will continue to push for these ideals and programs regardless of who becomes President, Vice-President, Senators, Congressmen, etc. We are doing this because we believe that many of our Government Leaders have Failed us and that its time for all of us to take control of our own future and work together for that genuine and lasting Change that we all want to see in our country. Let us all stop the all our excuses, iinaction, hopelessness, despair, indifference and complaining, these will all amount to nothing if we ourselves don’t move ourselves to do anything for our country.

Change is now. Change starts with each one of us. Hope lies not in our country’s leaders and those in power but it rests in every Filipino.

I am Change, are you?

UP Ibalon Reunion in Long Island

April 13, 2008

by Totie Mesia

The bare trees lining the road have their buds ready. They’re about to display new leaves and flowers as the soft wind blows and the weather turns mild. The daffodils, dandelions, cherry blossoms, peonies, and tulips have returned aplenty to mark the season’s harvest of joy. It’s springtime!

On our way to Long Island on April 5, 2008, I was twinkle-eyed thinking I would see Bingbing and Annelee Badiola again. I felt our dinner in Flushing, Queens wasn’t enough and I lamented not having much time. We had to part with a plan of meeting again.

At #4 Monette Street, Plainview, Long Island, off exit 44S, the plan turned real. Bingbing Bretan welcomed us to their beautiful home, a comfy enclave where Brandon, their little boy, had trees dancing in the breeze, a wide lawn to run around, and a sky to watch as birds flew by.

Suffused with warmth and hospitality, the place had the pleasant smell of home-cooking. Bingbing prepared delectable sotanghon which was damn good for the palate. David had his hands busy on the red-hot barbecue grill for those juicy steaks. Dixie came up with a rendition of crispy fried chicken, far better than KFC.

Alfred and Suzanne Bretan regaled us with amazing stories and so did Rommel, Alec, Jojo, Andre, Abel and other family members whose names escaped my recall. The company was good. The troop proved to be very impressive hosts.

Narratives floated like awesome comet dusts in the air. Franz Badiola, the mom of the troop, was visibly glad about anything which crossed our minds. We weren’t finicky about leaving for Monet Septimo was there!

The ebullient Monet drove all the way from Toronto, Canada with Abel, her husband and two adorable children, Bruce and Bea. It was timely that she and my sister, her godmother, found each other after 43 years.

“Ay ninang!” she screamed and they hugged with unabashed affection!

The youngest among the pretty Septimos, Monet had the sparkling eyes of her mom and the bubbly laughter of Josephine, her eldest sister. I missed her parents Ramon and Sally Septimo who were our friends and next-door neighbors many years before.

I asked for pharmacist-sister Susan (Tootsie) Septimo who’s many miles away in beautiful sun-drenched Fort Lauderdale, Florida where the winter birds escaped the December freeze.

“Will you and Tootsie sign-up for the UP Ibalon alumni website? Everybody is looking for you,” I said.

“Yes, we will.” Monet gladly promised.

“We used to run around in that old wooden bridge in Naga… and we played school like it was the real thing. If not for your sister Marjorie, arithmetic would have been a pain!”

“How’s Butchoy? Pidong, Coco, Bong, Pipay…What’s up with our neighbors-friends?

Time flew fast to ever know the last apt words about the wonderful memories we shared. The moments were so precious to waste for the evening passed so swiftly. Friendships were reignited like newly refurbished gas burners which banished the cold. Bonds were glued strong; the memories we couldn’t paste in our hands, we kept in our hearts! ==0==

Rice shortage, chestnut mannikins, & the specter of want

April 6, 2008

by Totie Mesia

Rice shortage and famine had been worrisome issues, but they made me recall the old days when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s. Food then wasn’t much of a problem in Bikol. The back of our house in Bagumbayan Street, Naga City was a quaint oasis of fish, waterfowls, and birds—a small paradise near the fabled Quiborakland where coconut trees grew tall and rice blossomed in abundance.

Yes, it was a swampy locale not far from the old Ateneo de Naga University campus where rice and grass grew in profusion. The black snakehead (talusog) rested in the mud and their babies formed bubbly gold balls of wiggly fingerlings beneath lush green lilies in the murky marsh. The frogs grew fat and lived satisfied with a steady diet of cicadas and dragonflies.

When the monsoon rains came, the place became greener and livelier. It teemed with jumping tadpoles, miniature crabs, and emerald salamanders which were elating to watch in glass jars I placed on the window sill.

The chestnut-feathered mannikins (aka rignos, maya, munia) flocked on patches of tall cogon grass, thick shrubs and thorny bougainvilleas which flowered in the peak of summer. The birds were awesome builders of nests made of dried zakate leaves when the fields were ripe with fruiting grains. Guarding the rice fields where they raised their young, I was rapt watching the mannikins foraged on grains which were outstandingly bountiful.

The birds were naturally happy in spite of the stern scarecrow’s presence on the rice paddies. They busily plucked food from rice stalks before the onset of harvest. And they sometimes blackened the sky in their amazing group flight each time I chased them. I had the child’s warped fun of trapping a few of them which I kept in a bamboo cage.

The mannikins sounded like thunder in their flight. In huge numbers, they flocked together incessantly chirping in the breeze, reminding us of unity which bound their species through the eons. Ravenously, they fed just like hungry human beings. Whenever they left though, I waited for their return—even if the farmers’ noisy tin cans suspended on a scarecrow’s breast banged incessantly to shoo them away.

In my innocent mind, I thought the plentiful rice grains back then would never run out. I was convinced both men and birds were in no danger of ever starving or dying of hunger.

But of course I was damn wrong. It didn’t take long when hordes of people moved in to live and disrupt the balance of the marsh. The grassy swamp quickly dried up, the vegetation thinned out, and the entire place looked fallow for rice or wildlife to ever thrive.

It appeared nature met extreme “environmental stress” with the encroachment of people in the fields. The green dragonflies with large iridescent eyes vanished with the slimy catfish that I used to hook with my fishing stick. The chestnut mannikins, lesser in number, did pass by as often. The black waterfowls (tikling) which dashed and sang on the mud were gone. Only the dengue-bearing mosquitoes remained.

I lamented thinking why fertile fields could turn so barren so quickly. It could be a reason why rice, our staple food, had suddenly become scarce all over the country. As news climate changed perturbed us, the grains couldn’t be coaxed to fruit generously as before. And the greedy rice hoarders held on for those rounds of price increases which ripped our pockets.

Yet, the national statistics disclosed, among our students, farming had never been as popular a profession as nursing, hotel and restaurant administration, or criminology. Many had been conditioned to believe that if they couldn’t get white-collar jobs, it was the only time to “go home and plant camote,” giving a bad rap to the humble sweet potato that sustained our ancestors. It had been a crooked way of regarding agriculture, a noble profession.

What could all these speak about us in the midst of the specter of want? Taxes had risen and many had been out of work. I heard many planters lost heart with farming and they dreamed of changing careers. With ineffectual agrarian reform program (CARP,) there had been less land to till and agriculture had been expensive for poor farmers without government support.

The cost of food brazenly shot up and the poor folks instantly felt the drag of spending for their families. There had been scary rumors of famine in spite of the move to make rice affordable. Grumblings and spotty protests rocked the streets as many waited for what would be next.

I wondered what these meant for the birds and the men without grains for the coming seasons. With our government’s proclivity to import rice from abroad, I pondered if interventions would ever work when leaders often bickered on issues which augured badly for clear solutions.

Was it wise to rely on rice imports from Vietnam without serious effort to make us rice-sufficient? What could 43 billion pesos do to our flagging agriculture, an industry which we shamefully neglected for a long time? Was unbridled export of brawn and brains the way towards national security and survival? Could we have done too little, too late because greed and corruption robbed us of what was essential for the nation?

I wished the people of the country would live through this uncertainty with sufficient courage. I always believed we still got the will and the energy to rise above our deepest concerns and worst fears.

The memory of Joe Shanghai in Flushing, Queens, New York

April 2, 2008

It could have been a dry April fool’s day if Bingbing Badiola-Bretan did not answer my calls. New York’s sky threatened with some drizzle and I was struggling with some of the effects of a major drop in my H/H (that lab measure of the red cells in the blood.) I waited patiently. I wanted to know what we would do for the night.

Not for long, Alec, Dr. Annelee Badiola-Lojo’s brother, went to say where they had been. I presumed they couldn’t have seen all what New York’s Museum of Natural History displayed that day. But sundown was about to begin.

My energy heightened when Alec said they were about to meet me at Joe Shanghai, a perky well-lit food house with the aroma and taste of Asia right at the solar plexus of Queens! That meant the Badiolas, my cousins, the Ibalonians, accepted my invitation!

Joe Shanghai in Flushing could pass as an ordinary restaurant. But as Bingbing Badiola-Bretan explained when we met later, it was a place with an outstanding past. I had to know why.

“How could that be?” I asked. Bingbing yelled above the din of frenetic noises of hungry eaters. I could barely hear her. The fast waiters were serving us scrumptious food which easily filled the heart to the brim.

“Years ago, I first met my husband right here,” Bingbing revealed, to my surprise.

“Hmmm… Wasn’t that cute?” I said. Now I understood why the restaurant was Bingbing’s favorite haunt. That moment, I considered that place a holy ground as well. It had the feel of our tambayan of UP Diliman.

Who wouldn’t be glad to see Bingbing, Annelee, and the Badiola Family tagging along a cute little restless kid babbling with child talk on his father’s lap? Who couldn’t feel nostalgia for the years gone by when cousins Annelee and Bingbing were present, but without brother Totoy? Who wouldn’t feel elated to hear Mama Badiola talk about our families from Baao, Camarines Sur, Philippines?

I missed the Badiolas for more than 30 years. And I could only wonder, “Was the night on April 1, 2008 enough to weld our bonds of the past?”

Yah, I thought so. With laughter and lasting joy pervading on the table, UP Ibalon and kinship remained cozy in our little reunion!

I came home thinking I wanted to see them again after we said goodbye. Our stories weren’t finished yet. Hicksville in Long Island, New York seemed a good place for another meeting this Saturday.