Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

January 2, 2009

MERCEDby barbara barquez ricafrente

She was a diminutive woman who always walked barefoot. She walked so fast she was gone before you noticed it, going at a speed that could put to shame those jeepneys loaded to the brim with passengers, goods of all kinds, and even fowls that were headed for the more remote villages of Oas, my old hometown where Mayon Volcano’s peak is perpetually visible. Merced had dark red lips and reddish teeth, for she was always chewing betel nut and constantly spewing out red spittle into the ground. She kept her betel nut supply – prepared with some amount of lime wrapped in a buyo leaf – in that dent between her small breasts, and would extract it from there whenever she needed to take another bite.

She had no idea when she was born, never went to school, and knew nothing about reading and writing. On election day, she simply pressed her ink-laced thumb on the appropriate box on the ballot to indicate that she had exercised her right to suffrage.

Laughter came easy to Merced, for she had a generally cheerful disposition. Her laughter sounded like the bleating of a goat, and always caused everyone around her to laugh as well. She took no interest in gossip, and no one knows what it was that preoccupied her thoughts. She fervently believed in the power of the albularyo, as practitioners of indigenous medicine have always been known in these parts, and had an abiding fear of medical doctors. But whenever the albularyo’s prescriptions did not seem to work, she would come to our grocery store to seek my mother’s advice. My mother, who devoted all her adult life to being a teacher at a local public elementary school, gladly obliged by prescribing the usual over-the-counter drugs for fever, stomach pain, cold, or toothache. Merced would come back after a day or two, profuse with gratitude and genuflecting unabashedly before my mother, to the latter’s embarrassment. She would flash that broad smile that reduced her face to wrinkles and her eyes to a pair of slits.

One day, my mother decided to close shop because she had resolved to put a stop to any further dealings with some neighbors who had racked up a long list of debts from the store and refused to pay up. Merced was distraught. She tore at her hair and was on the verge of tears, saying she would not know what to do if she no longer had our store – ¬specifically with my mother in it – to go to for medical advice. She said, with gestures to match, that she felt like burying a dagger between her breasts. My mother told her she could always come to our house if she needed anything, but Merced could not be appeased. She went away crying.

She shared a home with Pablo, the father of her three children. Pablo, who was only slightly taller than Merced, was an even-tempered and soft-spoken man with a drinking habit. But even when he was drunk, he never caused trouble and simply went off to sleep. There was one time, though, when he had had one drink too many, and ended up rolling in the dust in his alcohol-induced stupor. A group of children went to fetch Merced, who promptly showed up at the scene. As she had never approved of Pablo’s drinking, she ordered him to get up and go home. Pablo, too drunk to be able to help himself, was smiling like a nut and told her: “Cut it out, Mama!” Merced gave him an ultimatum, telling him to do her bidding by the time she had counted to three. But the man was unresponsive and continued to mutter incoherently to himself. Doubling over with laughter, the neighbors egged him to get up, but he did not budge even as Merced finished counting to three. Without any hesitation, Merced stood directly over Pablo, lifted the hem of her house dress, and urinated on his face. Everyone was cackling and howling with so much glee that the small table where the men drank went crashing down, along with the cuatro cantos (gin in a clear four-cornered bottle) and appetizers. The infuriated woman stormed out of the scene, while Pablo spent the rest of the afternoon snoring on the ground in a pool of his wife’s urine.

Despite this, Merced and Pablo got along very well. They lived in a hut that Pablo built on a lot owned by a benevolent old woman. They planted their own vegetables, and earned their keep by working in neighbors’ farms during the seasons for rice planting and harvesting. In the lean months, they wove weed baskets for sale to a local middleman. When their eldest daughter who was her mother’s spitting image – except that she was taller and big-boned – started to grow breasts, they sent her off to the big city to work as a housemaid. Every month hence, the daughter would send them a small amount from her earnings.

The couple never stayed long in one place, for their hut was always reduced to a pile of wood. This may not make sense at first, but that is exactly how it was. It was not because their house lay in the direct path of typhoons (though everyone knows Oas is in the so-called typhoon belt), was caught by a tornado, shaken by an earthquake, or washed away by a flash flood. Rather, it was something far less cataclysmic. Merced and Pablo cooked their meals on a hearthstone, for which the fuel used was firewood. Whenever some cooking had to be done, the couple simply pulled out pieces of wood from a section of their house. They did this constantly until their hut grew smaller and leaner and there was not enough left of the beams, the walls, and the flooring – all made of bamboo – to prop up the house. At one time, Merced came up to my mother and father to ask if she and her family could put up a hut on that small island in the middle of our rice field. My parents gave their consent. But, as had happened before, the new hut grew progressively smaller until, in less than four months, only its skeleton remained. After that, Merced and her family moved elsewhere.

The last time Merced was seen, she was eating soil. Looking pale and gaunt, she had a ball of earth in her hand with which she fed herself upon the advice of an albularyo. She said she had fallen ill for having stepped on an unseen being, a to’ng lipŭd, while gathering leaves in a forested area in the locality. She was spitting out blood, but did not notice it because of the red betel juice. Not long after, it was told that she had coughed up blood and died. Since her husband Pablo was too poor to afford even a small lot in the town cemetery, he is said to have wrapped her in a mat and brought her to the graveyard for pagans – where tombs are inundated by waist-deep floodwaters in the typhoon season – on the other side of town. Until the end, even he who had spent most of his life with this woman did not know how long she had lived on this earth. It is told that Pablo simply had the gravedigger write MERCED on the cross that marked her tomb, after which he went away. Today, no one knows for certain where Merced truly rests, for nothing remains of the cross that bore only her name.

January 2, 2009

MERCEDby barbara barquez ricafrente

She was a diminutive woman who always walked barefoot. She walked so fast she was gone before you noticed it, going at a speed that could put to shame those jeepneys loaded to the brim with passengers, goods of all kinds, and even fowls that were headed for the more remote villages of Oas, my old hometown where Mayon Volcano’s peak is perpetually visible. Merced had dark red lips and reddish teeth, for she was always chewing betel nut and constantly spewing out red spittle into the ground. She kept her betel nut supply – prepared with some amount of lime wrapped in a buyo leaf – in that dent between her small breasts, and would extract it from there whenever she needed to take another bite.

She had no idea when she was born, never went to school, and knew nothing about reading and writing. On election day, she simply pressed her ink-laced thumb on the appropriate box on the ballot to indicate that she had exercised her right to suffrage.

Laughter came easy to Merced, for she had a generally cheerful disposition. Her laughter sounded like the bleating of a goat, and always caused everyone around her to laugh as well. She took no interest in gossip, and no one knows what it was that preoccupied her thoughts. She fervently believed in the power of the albularyo, as practitioners of indigenous medicine have always been known in these parts, and had an abiding fear of medical doctors. But whenever the albularyo’s prescriptions did not seem to work, she would come to our grocery store to seek my mother’s advice. My mother, who devoted all her adult life to being a teacher at a local public elementary school, gladly obliged by prescribing the usual over-the-counter drugs for fever, stomach pain, cold, or toothache. Merced would come back after a day or two, profuse with gratitude and genuflecting unabashedly before my mother, to the latter’s embarrassment. She would flash that broad smile that reduced her face to wrinkles and her eyes to a pair of slits.

One day, my mother decided to close shop because she had resolved to put a stop to any further dealings with some neighbors who had racked up a long list of debts from the store and refused to pay up. Merced was distraught. She tore at her hair and was on the verge of tears, saying she would not know what to do if she no longer had our store – ¬specifically with my mother in it – to go to for medical advice. She said, with gestures to match, that she felt like burying a dagger between her breasts. My mother told her she could always come to our house if she needed anything, but Merced could not be appeased. She went away crying.

She shared a home with Pablo, the father of her three children. Pablo, who was only slightly taller than Merced, was an even-tempered and soft-spoken man with a drinking habit. But even when he was drunk, he never caused trouble and simply went off to sleep. There was one time, though, when he had had one drink too many, and ended up rolling in the dust in his alcohol-induced stupor. A group of children went to fetch Merced, who promptly showed up at the scene. As she had never approved of Pablo’s drinking, she ordered him to get up and go home. Pablo, too drunk to be able to help himself, was smiling like a nut and told her: “Cut it out, Mama!” Merced gave him an ultimatum, telling him to do her bidding by the time she had counted to three. But the man was unresponsive and continued to mutter incoherently to himself. Doubling over with laughter, the neighbors egged him to get up, but he did not budge even as Merced finished counting to three. Without any hesitation, Merced stood directly over Pablo, lifted the hem of her house dress, and urinated on his face. Everyone was cackling and howling with so much glee that the small table where the men drank went crashing down, along with the cuatro cantos (gin in a clear four-cornered bottle) and appetizers. The infuriated woman stormed out of the scene, while Pablo spent the rest of the afternoon snoring on the ground in a pool of his wife’s urine.

Despite this, Merced and Pablo got along very well. They lived in a hut that Pablo built on a lot owned by a benevolent old woman. They planted their own vegetables, and earned their keep by working in neighbors’ farms during the seasons for rice planting and harvesting. In the lean months, they wove weed baskets for sale to a local middleman. When their eldest daughter who was her mother’s spitting image – except that she was taller and big-boned – started to grow breasts, they sent her off to the big city to work as a housemaid. Every month hence, the daughter would send them a small amount from her earnings.

The couple never stayed long in one place, for their hut was always reduced to a pile of wood. This may not make sense at first, but that is exactly how it was. It was not because their house lay in the direct path of typhoons (though everyone knows Oas is in the so-called typhoon belt), was caught by a tornado, shaken by an earthquake, or washed away by a flash flood. Rather, it was something far less cataclysmic. Merced and Pablo cooked their meals on a hearthstone, for which the fuel used was firewood. Whenever some cooking had to be done, the couple simply pulled out pieces of wood from a section of their house. They did this constantly until their hut grew smaller and leaner and there was not enough left of the beams, the walls, and the flooring – all made of bamboo – to prop up the house. At one time, Merced came up to my mother and father to ask if she and her family could put up a hut on that small island in the middle of our rice field. My parents gave their consent. But, as had happened before, the new hut grew progressively smaller until, in less than four months, only its skeleton remained. After that, Merced and her family moved elsewhere.

The last time Merced was seen, she was eating soil. Looking pale and gaunt, she had a ball of earth in her hand with which she fed herself upon the advice of an albularyo. She said she had fallen ill for having stepped on an unseen being, a to’ng lipŭd, while gathering leaves in a forested area in the locality. She was spitting out blood, but did not notice it because of the red betel juice. Not long after, it was told that she had coughed up blood and died. Since her husband Pablo was too poor to afford even a small lot in the town cemetery, he is said to have wrapped her in a mat and brought her to the graveyard for pagans – where tombs are inundated by waist-deep floodwaters in the typhoon season – on the other side of town. Until the end, even he who had spent most of his life with this woman did not know how long she had lived on this earth. It is told that Pablo simply had the gravedigger write MERCED on the cross that marked her tomb, after which he went away. Today, no one knows for certain where Merced truly rests, for nothing remains of the cross that bore only her name.

January 2, 2009

questions, after Neruda
______________________________________________________

i.

do comets wag their tails at the sight of Titan
crossing the face of Jupiter?

do constellations contemplate ever changing places,
rearranging themselves, reconfiguring their positions
for the sake of something new?

is the constellation Sirius acquainted with a smile?
and will the Red Planet, like an injured eye, ever clear up?

does the Universe have corners
like a box full of galaxies turning endlessly
like the tiny wheels in a grandfather clock?

how long did the man who stole a pig stashed in a sack
take a rest on the dark side of the moon
before he vanished with his loot?

is thunder at night the stolen pig’s cry for help
or a giant gone astray in the mountains howling for his mother?

ii.

does Yellow try to keep its teeth from clattering at the sight of Black
and scurries off with its tail between its legs?

is Black a creature with deadly hooves,
or an unsettling presence with menacing eyes?
does it delight in striking fear in leaves and rendering them yellow?
does it ever have a benign spot?

does Blue like its face long, its music dolorous?
does it seek out solitude in rat-smelling rooms?
does smiling make it sick?
does laughter give it fatal convulsions?

does Red like being chased by bulls?
is it always choleric, ready to explode?
does it scald and seethe and threaten to kill?

is White forever spotless, the rare virgin sought
for offering to the gods?

is Green forever young, amateurish, untrained, artless?
or was it born with prurience on its mind?

iii.

is Orange sweet enough for ants?
or does it need more sugar to gain their attention?

is Silver always brimming with hope?
does it tinkle like wind chimes
or sparkle like points of light in the water?

and is Gray too old to care –
its bones brittle as dry leaves,
its heart a wrinkled valve?

(2002)

barbara barquez ricafrente, tales grandmother told (unpublished)

December 22, 2008

Don’t Quit Poem by Anonymous)

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must; but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow;
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out;
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt;
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit;
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.

≈≈≈≈≈

This was the favorite poem of the late Og (Thor) Aldea of Ligao, Albay. Those who knew him well are familiar with his naughty disposition and his brand of humor, including his propensity for rearranging songs to suit his comic intentions. But whether he was in a light or somber mood, he repeatedly recited this poem – with gestures to match – until it was coming out of one’s ears. He always emphasized the last stanza, especially the last two lines.

In these tough times, this poem takes on added meaning and urgency. It is hoped that its message of courage against the odds would bring some light to those of us who are on a journey through the long, dark road of our borrowed life.

December 22, 2008

AGELESS IN THE SHADOW OF MAYON
by barbara barquez ricafrente

For those of us who grew up in a town as laid back as my own, there are plentiful anecdotes to be told and observations worth exploring.

The propensity for name-calling, for instance, may not be unique to this bucolic town in Albay province but it is a phenomenon that continues to fascinate even one who has been away from Oas for many years. About fifty percent of the families even in a small neighborhood are known not only by their actual birth names but more so by the names or bansag their neighbors or friends choose to tag them with. One’s bansag disparages one’s character in a humorous sort of way and, at the same time, indicates close familiarity with a person. For those who have lived forever in Bicol’s small rural towns, name-calling appears to have become a habit that is deeply ingrained in the local culture. It is perhaps part of a worldview that remains unarticulated, and a way of life that involves minding other people’s personal business.

Such terms as kulalapnit – the local name for the fruit bat, linog or earthquake, ragwak which is a derogatory version of the word rigwâ or vomit, bûtug which means bloated, purgas or dog fleas, bungkukan which is a root crop associated with the katngâ or gabi plant, and baktat or that low-flying black bird with a relatively wide wingspan and an ungainly gait that frequented the ricefields of Oas until the late 1970s are but a handful of these so-called bansag. The reasons for tagging people with unpalatable names can range from the truly superficial to the more meaningful. The man called Bûtug, for instance, earned his moniker from constantly engaging in self-aggrandizement. He praised himself so often and was so engrossed in announcing every one of his little accomplishments or non-accomplishments that he never even noticed when people were already making fun of him. Bûtug, in this case, referred to a bloated ego, but the man did not seem to take offense at the teasing. The one called Ragwak was said to throw up so often at drinking sessions that his drinking buddies told him to switch to carabao milk instead. Bungkukan earned his bansag simply because this gabi fruit was his favorite snack and meal. And finally, the man known as Baktat had a very dark complexion, a somewhat pointed face, and a round-eyed and bewildered look about him that reminded everyone of the general appearance of the bird which today is probably bordering on extinction; that is, if its entire species has not completely died out yet. Stuck to their original owners, these names have been passed on to their immediate families and the generations after them. If anyone of these families have been offended at all by the name-calling, none has showed it.

Oas is also known for the proliferation of family names that begin with the letter R. Although this has been diluted in recent decades by the migration of people from other places, it first came about as a result of the zoning measures enforced by the Spaniards who disembarked from their ships at the Legazpi port in Albay and proceeded to take over the rest of the Bicol region with sword and cross in the early decades of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. The invaders needed to have a mechanism for determining who lived where, perhaps as a means to keep in check the movements of the indios whom they secretly feared. After all, how could those who had no right to take over another people’s land trust that those they were trying to subjugate (who probably gave them dagger looks, maybe not right away but in subsequent decades) had no criminal intent against them? But that’s another story that probably requires diplomas in History and definitely involves endless hours in sneeze-inducing archives. At any rate, a cursory survey of the tombstones in the town’s Catholic cemetery would show all kinds of R-starters, including such rare names as Reganit, Rapirap, Raro, Riofrio, Resontoc, Restubog, and the like. In the town’s more remote upland areas, these family names are sometimes combined with such unlikely first names as Atorni and Everlasting.

Of course, the Oasnŏn language has its own share of funny terms. This includes the word ispat for flashlight, most likely derived from the bright spot of light emanating from a flashlight when it is focused on a solid area such as a wall or the trunk of a coconut tree especially on pitch-black nights in Bicol in those days when it had no access to electricity and the idea of tapping geothermal power from Mayon Volcano would have been so outlandish as to be lumped together with witchcraft and the concept of human rights. But before one digresses completely, another word is gilyit for blade, obviously taken from the Gilette brand of blades for shaving beards and boil-plagued heads as well as for cutting threads and clearing nails of nail polish when the local stores are out of acetone supply. Words such as these have generated endless bantering and laughter between Oasnŏns and the residents of other Bicol towns.

Not to be left out is the fact that almost every family or clan in Oas, especially in the last century, raised at least one son for the priesthood. Many of these priests were truly celibate, but a number of them were of the pragmatic and worldly sort, engaging in secret love affairs, fathering their own offspring, and even pursuing businesses. These practices were only whispered about and frowned upon in those days, but as the next generation of priests took over and the onset of the Internet age ushered in more new ideas and lifestyles, the line between doctrine and practice significantly blurred.

Still, the town generally continues to resist change. It seems content to trudge along, as if caught in a time warp. The third largest territory in the province of Albay, Oas is like an ageless creature whose feet are irreparably glued to the ground. It has withstood the foul moods of typhoons that have drowned its rice fields and have hurled away or messed up its rooftops, the sudden swirling floods that race from Mount Mayon and have taken lives and have deposited several feet of silt in its homes in their wake, and the unremitting onslaught of time that has left the town progressively faded and much older, reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s town of Macondo as it approached its one hundredth year of solitude. But Bûtug remains so full of himself, Ragwak has not given up his regular dose of gin-bulag despite his advancing age, and the now-hypertensive Baktat looks as bewildered as ever. In some perverse way, thus, this town probably takes pride in its obstinacy in the face of multifarious changes.

Perhaps therein lies its enduring charm.

* * *

thunder lilies

December 19, 2008

thunder lilies
______________________________________________

they grow no more
where we had scarred the trees
with knives,
our pseudonyms against the bark.
i only went there thrice.
when you had pulled me by the hand,
we were to track your dog
down in the wood.
the second time i went the longer way
and stumbled through a pepper field
a slipper stuck in mud.
they were still there
in scattered little lufts
of white.
a monday morning not too long ago
i stumbled through the pepper field again
and peeked into the wood.
they were not there,
at once the wood
seemed strange.

(1982)

barbara barquez ricafrente, monologues and other poems

Antero

December 17, 2008

ANTERO
by barbara barquez ricafrente

Even in his sixties, he was still quick with the latigo, a lead-tipped whip, with which he slew those green snakes that disguised themselves as coconut blades and inhabited the coconut trees around his house. But that was just about all he killed, for Antero was a man predisposed to giving instead of taking away. He often smiled, and told the children stories about the longest chocolate train and invisible beings that wore psychedelic coats and frowned on children who did not take a nap at siesta time.

This man, whose face was a field of countless tiny moles, liked to part his straight jet-black hair in the middle and plaster it down with pomade. His rubber slippers were the delight of his grandchildren, for these had craters that were like tiny multicolored whirlpools carved into them to accommodate the unforgiving calluses that were the plague of Antero’s soles and made walking painful. A light sleeper, he spent nights curled up on his leather cot by the kitchen, the one spot in the house that gave him the most pleasure.

Though he smoked at least two packs of unfiltered Rosalina a day, his breath was sweet as the White Rabbit candies he always kept in a jar in his cupboard. He was forever busy in the kitchen, whipping up the tastiest Chinese dishes while singing those incomprehensible tunes he had picked up from his adoptive Chinese family. At the dining table, he often successfully coaxed his grandchildren into eating more than the amount of food they were willing to take, and praised them profusely whenever they consumed everything on their plates. Some afternoons he would bring the small ones to the railway tracks, teaching them to watch for the faintest sound of an approaching train by placing an ear on the rail.
On certain Sundays he would put on his gray long-sleeved Chinese garb and, wielding a wooden cane with which to ward off hostile dogs, walked some two kilometers to the town’s only bakery for a chat with the two full-blooded Chinese brothers who owned it. He engaged them in animated Chinese conversations over steaming black coffee and those galletas that could nick the teeth, laughing without making a sound and forever gesturing with his hands.
Though a non-Chinese, Antero grew up in China. He was only about five when he migrated to that country with his stepfather, a Chinese merchant, who brought him along in place of his mother, who had refused to board the boat when it was time to leave. He had been orphaned by his Filipino father soon after his birth in January 1900 in Albay, a Philippine province famed as much for the majestic Mount Mayon as for its dishes done in generous amounts of coconut milk and the hottest of peppers – the siling labuyo.
The merchant belonged to a large trading clan that occupied a spacious wooden house outside Canton, the Flower City. While Antero lived there, bandits ransacked the house a number of times. Its tenants had to hide themselves in its built-in bunkers as soon as they heard horses’ hooves and the battering ram against the door, after which the bandits proceeded to strip the house of almost everything.
Accompanying the merchant to the burgeoning cities of Canton and Macau where they sold grains and other goods, Antero quickly learned Fookien and a smattering of Mandarin. He also tagged along with his adoptive family to Buddhist temples, where they prayed for prosperity and good fortune. He listened to their stories as he watched them cook, hummed their love songs, and grew his hair down to his thighs and braided it the way young Chinese men did in that era.
Upon his return to the Philippine islands at the age of thirty, Antero married a sixteen­-year-old lass named Remedios, who bore him five children. He opened a store that sold basic necessities, and business was brisk for some years. But this was interrupted by the Japanese invasion of the archipelago at the beginning of the Pacific war. When the imperial army began to force all adult Filipino males into hard labor, the women had to dress him up as a woman so Antero could escape with them into the mountains, where they spent the war years. Within this small community, Antero was cook, storyteller, and confidante. He also concocted balms for headaches, cuts, and insect bites, and placebos for minor health complaints. It was told later on that had Antero not fled into the mountains, his frail body would not have survived hard labor.

He never took anything too seriously and drove Remedios, a devout Catholic, truly mad whenever he teased her about her insistence on leaving the house before daybreak to get holy embers from the church some two kilometers away. In jest, he told her to simply get whatever she needed from the kitchen hearth, where embers glowed perpetually. She threw tantrums over such teasing, but always relented by joining him at breakfast and laughing at his antics when she returned from church by daylight.

He once had Brownie, a big gentle dog named for the color of its fur. He cried when it died of old age, and buried it under his favorite mango tree that bore the most luscious fruit. He told his grandchildren the mango owed its sweetness to Brownie, who slept at the foot of the tree. He himself lived much longer, though not long enough to outlast an ousted and terribly ailing dictator who once said he did not intend to die. Antero finally passed on at 87 in the cradle of that house where time passed all too quickly and memories were sweet.

* * *

Floro E. Balce: Iskolar ng Bayan (Part 2)

July 5, 2008

“Clear-cut ang plans ni Floro pagpasok niya sa UP.  Gusto niyang maging isang matagumpay na Electrical Engineer, at magpakadalubhasa sa propesyong ito,” ayon kay Jake. “He was very serious in his studies, matiyagang mag-aral, at nagsusunog talaga ng kilay.  Mas bulakbol pa nga ako sa kanya.  Sabi nga namin, mukhang seryoso ngang talagang maging president ng Pilipinas ang taong ito.  Sabagay may ‘K’ naman siyang mangarap, di lang naman siya ordinaryong UP student, NSDB scholar pa…at basically hardworking.”

Kasabay ng masikhay na pag-aaral ay todo-todo rin ang paglahok ni Floro sa mga ‘extra-curricular activities.’  Sumapi siya sa UP Student Catholic Action (UPSCA) kung saan siya ay naging ‘chairperson ng socio-cultural committee.’  Naging ‘core group member’ din siya ng Molave Kurahaw, isang organisasyon ng mga Bikolanong estudyante sa Molave Residence Hall noong 1973-75.

Noong itatag ang UP Ibalon, isang varsitarian organization ng mga Bikolanong estudyante sa UP noong Disyembre 1, 1974 ay kabilang siya sa ‘charter members’ nito.  Sa organisasyong ito inukol ni Floro ang malaking halaga ng kanyang buhay-estudyante.

Ayon kay Mar, “Floro was around the most difficult times of UP Ibalon.  He was there when the chips are down.  N’ung 1974 kasi ay nagkaroon ng problema sa UP Paglaom, ito ang pre-Martial Law organization ng mga Bikolano sa UP.  May mga pagkakaiba sa paniniwala at estilo ng pagpapatakbo ng organisasyon.  Ang differences na ito ay nauwi sa split kung saan na-polarize ang membership.  This polarization resulted to the formation of UP Ibalon by certain members na kabilang sa Floro.  Bandang huli ay nalusaw ang UP Paglaom…at mas lalong tumatag ang UP Ibalon.”

“Mga dalawang beses rin siyang nag-inactive sa UP Ibalon dahil nainis siya sa ‘leadership style’ nung president namin at that time, pero kapagka in crisis ang Ibalon ay bumabalik siya para tumulong sa pagpatch-up ng mga gusot.  Sabi niya nung bumalik sa Ibalon, “dito na ulit ako, pagod na ako sa UPSCA, 36 balloting na kami, wala pa ring nahahalal na chairman.  “At that time kasi ay may split ang socdem at natdem sa UPSCA kaya matindi ang labanan sa eleksyon.”

Pagsibol ng Bagong Pangarap

Sa gitna ng paglahok ni Floro sa iba’t ibang aktibidad ng mga organisasyong kinabibilangan niya sa UP ay unti-unting nalalantad sa kanya ang ‘reyalidad ng lipunang Pilipino.’  Nag-iwan ng sugat sa puso ni Floro ang ginawang dispersal, panggugulpi at damputan ng mga estudyante sa sinalihan niyang protest rally ng mga estudyante sa Avenida.  Ang mga exposure trips sa urban poor areas, picket lines ng mga manggagawa at pakikipagtalakayan sa mga magsasaka, ay nagdulot ng sigwa sa kanyang kalooban…nag-iba na ang pangarap ni Floro…katulad na ng pangarap ni Dr. Jose P. Rizal…

“Unti-unti nang nagtatanong si Floro,” ani Bing, pinakamatalik niyang kaibigan at dating kakolektibo.  “Ang madalas niyang itanong sa gitna ng pakikipagkuwentuhan ay: “Bakit mas maraming mahirap kaysa mayaman? Bakit may mga rebelde? Bakit may Martial Law? Ano ang pwede kong gawin? Saan ako patungo?”

“Floro was practically caught in the midst of the turbulent ’70s”, ani Ted, dating kasamahan sa Molave Kurahaw.

Patuloy ngang namumuo ang sigwa sa kalunsuran at kanayunan noong 1973, taon ng pagpasok ni Floro sa UP.  Ang sigaw ng First Quarter Storm ay nag-aalimpuyo pa rin.

Si Floro, ayon kay Ted, ay katulad rin ng maraming estudyante sa UP noong 1970’s, a regular guy, bookworm, mahilig mag-girl watching, nais maging engineer, magtrabaho at siyempre umasenso, kung pwede eh, yumaman…tumulong sa magulang…mag-asawa at magkaroon ng masayang pamilya, the usual dream eka nga.

“Kaya lang iba ang sitwasyon namin noon.  Wala ‘yang ambience ng SM City na pinag-eenjoyan ng mga Peyups ngayon.  Kadedeklara pa lang ng Martial Law, thus the climate of fear and apathy was prevalent in the campus.  Pero dulot nga ng matinding kahirapan at karahasang bunga ng Martial Law, ay nagpatuloy ang daloy ng aktibismo sa UP campus.  Tuluy-tuloy pa rin ang teach-ins, demonstrations, rallies at kilos-protesta.  Sa ganitong ‘atmosphere’ nasalang ang buhay-estudyante ni Floro at nagkaroon ng bagong hugis ang kanyang mga pangarap.”

Gayunpaman, matagal bago tuluyang pumaloob at tuluy-tuloy na lumahok sa national democratic movement si Floro.

“Floro was my most difficult recruit in the national democratic movement kahit na nga as early as 1973 ay exposed na siya sa ND elements,” paglalahad ni Bing.  “May pagka-devil’s advocate.  Puro whys…minsan nga napikon ako ng tanungin niya ako, ‘paano mo masisisguro na people’s democratic revolution (PDR) ang sagot sa feudalism, imperialism at fascism? Are you sure of your strategy and tactics? If you are sure, bakit natalo sa Isabela?”

Si Floro ay katulad din ng maraming aktibista noong panahon matapos ang FQS, o pagkatapos ideklara ang martial law–tanggap ang linyang anti-pasista, anti-pyudal at anti-imperyalista…pero ibang usapan pa ang pagyakap sa armadong pakikibaka bilang porma ng pakikibaka.

“Theoretically ay ready si Floro para sa natdem.” banggit ni Bing.  “He was anti-fascist, anti-feudal, at anti-imperialist, pero hindi pa siya kumbinsido sa armed struggle.  He needed more time to reconcile his beliefs.”

“Di naman kataka-taka na natagalan bago napaloob sa natdem organization si Floro,” ani Igme, dati rin niyang kakolektibo.  May pagka-stubborn kasi siya sa paghold ng position on issues at hand.  He has this pride and belief in himself.  He may recognize that somebody is better than him, pero sasabihin niya, give me time.  Very frank talaga siya, not one who will hold back his feelings.  Kaya nga, palagi naming pinaghahandaan ang pakikipag-usap sa kanya, otherwise lalamunin niya kami sa sunud-sunod na pagtatanong at pakikipag-debate.  Eh, noong 1973-78 ay pahirapan talaga ang ND organizing.  Kailangan ay equipped ka amply with revolutionary theories and practice.”

Sa kabila ng pagtanggi na pumaloob formally sa natdem organization ay patuloy na tumulong si Floro sa mga kaibigang natdems sa UP.   Tumulong siya sa pagsuri ng mga posibleng ‘ahente ng kaaway upang mapangalagaan ang mga ND personalities sa Molave.  Gayundin, aktibo siya sa paghahanda ng mga placards at streamers para sa mga rallies, habang masigasig pa ring nag-aaral para sa kanyang mga exams.

(end of Part 2; mga may-akda: Antonio A. Ayo, Jr. at Ma. Leny E. Felix; halaw sa “Pulang Hamtik”)

                  

 

Floro E. Balce: Iskolar ng Bayan (Part 1)

July 2, 2008

Hulyo 30, 1978

Isang 23 23 taong-gulang na binatilyong kasapi ng New People’s Army ang nasawi sa isang “military encounter” sa pagitan ng Philippine Army na pinamumunuan ni 1Lt. Malali, at yunit ng New People’s Army sa Tigaon, Camarines Sur…

Nang mabalitaan ng mga magulang at kapatid ni Floro na nabaril ito at nasawi sa isang ‘military encounter’ sa Tigaon, Camarines Sur ay tila tumigil ang pag-ikot ng mundo. Hindi sila makapaniwala na wala na ang kanilang mabait na si Poloy…ang kanilang bunso, na ayon sa kapatid nitong si Gerardo, ay nagpaalam lamang na uuwi sandali sa Bikol noong Pebrero 1978.

“Birthday ng anak ko nang siya’y mamatay. Hindi ko lubos na nauunawaan kun ano ang kanyang ipinakikipaglaban…basta’t ang alam ko lang, napakamatulungin ni Poloy kaya siguro siya nagpunta sa bundok…gusto niyang tulungan ang mga tao doon…”

Ito ang tinuran ng nanay ni Floro, si Aling Vicenta, isang biyuda na sa edad na 81 taong-gulang ay kakikitaan pa rin ng liksi at sigla. Hanggang ngayon ay yakap-yakap pa rin niya sa kanyang puso ang mga alaala ng kanyang anak…si Floro Elep Balce, ang iskolar ng bayan…

Ang Simula

Ang kasaysayan ni Floro ay nagsimula sa araw ng kanyang kapanganakan noong Hulyo 30, 1955. Siya ay tubong Camarines Norte, isang lalawigan sa Bikol na mayaman sa kuwento ng mga kabayaniha. Dito sa lalawigang ito nagmula ang mga bantog na bayaning sina Jose Ma. Panganiban at Wenceslao Q. Vinzons.

Si Floro ay isinilang sa San Gregorio Village, Daet, Camarines Norte. Bunso siya sa pitong magkakapatid na karamihan ay nakapagtapos ng pag-aaral at maayos ang pamumuhay. Ang kanyang ama ay si Monico Balce, dating docket clerk ng Court of First Instance sa Daet, at ang kanya namang ina ay si Vicenta Elep-Balce, isang butihing maybahay na piniling propesyon ang pagiging ‘full-time housewife & mother’ sa kanyang asawa at mga anak.

Ang kinalakhang pamilya ni Floro ay payak ngunit hitik sa pagmamahalan. Sabi nga ng nanay ni Floro, pinalaki ito na busog sa pagmamahal at pag-aaruga kaya’t maituturing na masaya ang kanyang ‘childhood’.

Si Floro/Poloy, ayon sa kanyang mga kapatid na sina Gerardo, Hernanco, Antonio, Victor, Corazon at Leonor, ay mabait na bata at walang ibinigay na sakit-ulo sa kanila. Maliit pa ito ay bibong-bibo na kaya’t palagi itong kalahok sa mga programa sa kanilang eskuwelahan, lalo na sa declamation at oratorical contests.

“Very simple, honest, hardworking at idealist si Floro,” ani Jake, dating kaklase na ngayon ay isa nang executive sa isang kompanya sa Makati. “Puwede mo siyang bigyan ng loyalty award bilang kaibigan. Anumang oras ay laging handang tumulong!”

Isa pang matingkad na katangian ni Floro ay ang likas nitong sense of humor. “Joker ang tawag namin sa kaibigan kong iyon,” ani Mar, ka-miyembro sa UP Ibalon. “Ang punchline nito kapagka tinatanong namin kung paano siya nakapasa sa NSDB scholarship ay ganito: ” Nagkataon kasing may leakage sa hanay ng mga apelyidong nagsisimula sa N-Z kaya disqualified sila, eh. Balce ang apelyido ko kaya pumasa ako.” Minsan naman ay tinanong ito ng roommate niya: “O, kumusta ang exam mo sa Physics? Ang sagot ni Floro ay: “Okay naman, nasa top ten ako, number 8…pero walo lang kami sa klase.” Kahit sa gitna ng kagipitan ay nakukuha pa nitong magbiro. ‘Favorite joke’ niya sa gitna ng ‘protest rallies’ ang kapatid niyang si Hernando, isang Koronel sa Philippine Air Force, na namatay sa ‘plane crash’ sa Zamboanga noong 1981. Sabi ni Floro, “habang nagra-rally ako sa kalsada, iyong kapatid ko naman ay nasa ere at nambobomba ng mga raliyista.”

(picture caption: Minsan may isang nagsabing,  “Anong malay ninyo kung maging presidente ako ng pilipinas.”

Si Floro ay itinuturing na ‘one of the brightest sons of Camarines Norte.’ Consistent honor student siya mula elementarya, hayskul at kolehiyo. Siya ang valedictorian ng klase nang magtapos ng elementarya sa Abano Pilot Elementary School sa Daet noong 1969, at salutatorian nang magtapos ng hayskul sa Camarines Norte High School noong 1973. Gayundin, isa siyang iskolar ng National Science Development Board (NSDB) nang pumasok sa University of the Philippines sa kursong Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering noong 1973.

Hindi lamang sa ‘academics’ ipinakita ni Floro ang kanyang kahusayan, kundi maging sa ‘co-curricular activities.’ Naging lider siya ng Cub Scout at Boy Scout sa kanilang paaralan  noong elementarya. Noong high school ay naging aktibo din siya sa mga grupong aktibidad. Sumali siya sa 18th Provincial Rally ng 4-H Club noong Marso 15, 1970, at sa DMST PMT & WAS Provincial Seminar ng Camarines Norte High School noong September 17-22, 1973. Bunga ng ipinakita niyang kahusayan sa ‘academics at co-curricular activities’ ay pinarangalan siya noong nasa 3rd year high school siya, taong 1972, bilang ‘model student for his exemplary character, creative abilities and special talents, scholastic standing, excellent health, and cheerful disposition” ng Children’s Museum and Library, Inc.

(end of Part 1; mga may-akda: Antonio A. Ayo, Jr. at Ma. Leny E. Felix; halaw sa “Pulang Hamtik”)

The Princess of the Stars’ Sinking

June 30, 2008


The Princess of the Stars which sank off Romblon was by no means a “floating coffin” as some quarters alleged.  It isn’t a rust bucket either.  It is in fact the flagship of Sulpicio Lines and it can easily match the amenities and comfort of any local ship.  However, Sulpicio ships never match the cleanliness of the SuperFerry ships.  It was the biggest local passenger ship ever, both in terms of Gross Registered Tonnes and in dimensions.

It is also not an old ship by local standards.  Actually it is one of the newest among the local ferries. At 24 years it is not really that old even by international standards.  Even in Europe, where standards are stringest by continental comparisons, a ship must be over 35 years old before it is refused registration.

The Bureau Veritas (BV), an international ship inspection and certification organization recognized worldwide confirmed that the ship was BV-certificated.  It was also IMO (International Maritime Organization, a UN agency)-compliant according to a report.  Most local ships are not internationally certificated.  I don’t think there’s a about the seaworthiness of the ship. 

So what went wrong?

I don’t think the fault lies in the lack of government regulations.  As it is, government rules regarding sailing of ships when there is a weather disturbance are already over-restrictive.  Small ferries can’t sail when storm signal #1 is hoisted.  One must understand that storm signal indicates not just storm strength but also distance.  The typhoon might be strong but it is still of some distance so only signal # 1 is raised.  So you always have the scenario that it is still calm and shining in Matnog, Sorsogon and Allen, Northern Samar but the ferries are already grounded and the passengers are stranded on both sides of San Bernardino Strait.

I think our local weather service, the PAGASA is already passe.  In a world where local weather conditions to the level of barangays can already be predicted (like http://www.fallingrain.com) and where predictions are changed every 3 hours or even more often PAGASA forecasts are already an anachronism.  One does not need PAGASA to track storms.  So many weather agencies, government and private do forecasts and it is available on the Net.  Even our own Mike Padua can do a better and more timely forecast than PAGASA at much, much lesser cost.  I do not know if PAGASA responds to text inquiries but Mike Padua’s service certainly does.

It is clear from 2007 government guidelines that the final responsibility in sailing under storm conditions lies with the master (or captain) of the ship.  PAGASA, JMA and JWTC has storm trackings from 3am and  every 6 hours thereafter and it is available on the Net.  aside from these satellites pictures are available almost every hour and it is also available on the Net. 

When the ship sailed out of Manila on Friday at 8pm it still had the chance to check the 9pm weather bulletin.  The ship then was still near Corregidor island.  At 3am Saturday it is still just leaving Mindoro island of the coast of the municipality of Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro. By plotting the known positions of the typhoon from the late afternoon of Friday to Friday evening and Saturday dawn, the ship’s navigators should have already sensed that the typhoon has changed course.  The ship could then have turned back and hide somewhere in Batangas and Mindoro (yes, the Princess of the Stars is faster than the eye of the typhoon because it has a speed of 20 knots or about 37 kph whereas a typhoon seldom moves faster than 20 kph) or it could have turned south towards Antique.  Many ships going to Cebu take a detour and pass around the southern tip of Panay island when there is a weather disturbance in Eastern Visayas or in Bicol.

In here one must already suspect negligence on the part of the navigation crew and on the Sulpicio port captains who also have authority to change the course of the vessel.  I do not know if there was a gung-ho attitude on the part of the ship’s navigation crew especially the captain.  They must have known that in Japan ships of that size and construction are designed to sail in near-gale conditions.  But signal #3 typhoons in the Philippines are much stronger than near-gale conditions.

I have plotted the course of the typhoon and the ship.  At 7:30am when the ship was buffeted by very strong winds and mountainous waves it was just 70kms from the eye of the typhoon and definitely within the storm radius and they were in a collision course.  Maybe the ship’s navigation crew was lulled just before that time because they were being partially sheltered by the island of Sibuyan.  They might not have known it but they were already in danger then.  At that point I am not sure if they can still safely turn back.

At 12:30pm when the ship sank the typhoon’s eye was just 35kms away from the wounded ship.  At 3pm when the ship already sank, the storm’s center passed very near the ship’s grave.

I cannot express my appallment at such kind of navigation both on the part of the captain and on the part of the port captain.  They are on the path of the typhoon and the ship and the company does not know it?  And now they have the gall to blame PAGASA? And attribute it as an “act og God”?  Who’s God, by the way?

Did the ship’s engine conk out during the storm and as such is the proximate cause of the sinking as others asked?  No, it isn’t as simple as that.

The ferry was a Ro-ro (short for roll on-roll off) vessel.  But more exactly it is a Ro-pax (roll on-passenger) vessel.  Ro-ro vessels have one critical weakness.  It has a flush cargo deck inside the ship just above the water line.  It is designed for ease in loading and unloading rolling cargoes (such as container vans mounted on truck chassis and vehicles).  It might be convenient to load a Ro-ro but its design does not permit compartmentalization of the ship.  Thus, when water enters the ship it cannot be localized and under a storm if the rolling cargoes break its lashings the cargoes will move.

When the ship was hit by monstrous waves, it tilted to one side.  Obviously the lashings broke when that happened and the cargoes moved.  That’s why the ship cannot recover from lying on its side.  When this happened it is finis to the ship no matter what the crew does.  It is just a matter of time before it sinks.

Why? 

When the ship lies on its side and cannot recover, only half of the water pumps will be effective because the other half is already out of suction with the water.  And lying on its side the ship will take in water faster because some of the openings will then be in the water.  In a short time the remaining pumps will become submerged in water conking them out.  Soon the engine room will flood and the main and auxiliary engines will fail.  All the power of the ship will then be gone and there is no way anymore to steer the ship.  Actually, having a ship lying on its side is already very difficult to steer especially if one propeller is sticking out of the water and the rudder is also partially sticking out.  Tha’s why a ship lying on its side is already a dead ship.

A Ro-pax is more top-heavy than a normal ship because of the relatively empty cargo deck below and several passenger decks have to be built above.  A Ro-ro lying on its side when it capsized has the tendency to sink upside-down if it is top-heavy.  A passenger ship that capsizes upside-down has the tendency to trap passengers inside.

Once trapped the portholes (windows) and doors are very difficult to open because it is designed to open to the outside and the weight of water is simply too heavy to push.  The passenger areas are then very dark because it is already under water and the ship’s lights are no longer working.  It is simply a matter of time before the trapped inside the ship is exhausted.

It is a grim death.