BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


There is a line from the award-winning 1997 play Closer that I truly like:

"There's a moment!" Alice Ayres, a 20-year old American stripper, shouts angrily at her unfaithful boyfriend Dan, a British writer. Dan had just confessed about his affair with another woman. It just happened, he says.

It was a dark, piercing scene. I totally agree with Alice. Nothing just happens.

In anything we do in life, I truly believe that there's a brief moment that allows us to decide if we're going to turn around or go for it anyway.

Love affairs happen because we deliberately ignore these moments. We let those little warnings inside our heads fall on deaf ears. We erase the images of our loving families waiting for us back home. We let ourselves be swept away by the unknown. We play with fire and play it wild.

Before we know it, we find ourselves trapped in a situation we could not get out of. We're caught in a web of complicated relationships, hurting our paramour, our life partner and children, if we have any, and ourselves.

It takes a whole lot of energy, strength, wisdom and pain to stay in such entanglements. We take each day as it comes, trying to avoid having to choose just one among many relationships. We live in lies and deceit because we are selfish and insensitive.

Oh, but as Alice says, "there's a moment!"

If only we can find the strength to use that moment to think and stop ourselves and to just go back and just remain faithful to that one relationship we want to keep, live and grow old in, the world would be a better place.

As noted author Leo Buscaglia said “What love we’ve given, we’ll have forever. What love we fail to give, will be lost for all eternity.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

International Human Rights Day

On the eve of the observance of the 60th Year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...

(Below is a statement from Karapatan)

Karapatan reports on state of Philippine human rights, emphasizes Arroyo accountability

The biggest human rights network in the Philippines today released its annual report on the human rights situation under the watch of the Arroyo administration.

Karapatan presented to the public its 2008 Human Rights Report in a media briefing at Max's Quezon Avenue in Quezon City on the commemoration of the 10th Year of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the eve of the observance of the 60th Year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The report principally features cases of violation of human rights, as recorded by the Alliance, from January to October 2008. It also includes a review of escalating attacks against human rights defenders since 2001 and the current experience with the Supreme Court-issued remedy of the writ of amparo.

"Amidst our celebration of the global triumphs of our advocacy for human rights that is embodied in the 60 year-old UDHR, struggling peoples the world over and in the Philippines have yet to achieve social justice," said Karapatan Secretary General Marie Hilao-Enriquez.

In its 32-page report, Karapatan said that "the Arroyo government has not lived up to the promise of respecting the dignity and fulfilling the human rights of Filipinos, as we have not been any better over the last eight years despite repeated claims to eradicating poverty and improving democracy," and that "the government has instead unleashed the brutality of its armed forces against the very people whose lives it has sworn to protect."

The first seven years of the Arroyo regime brought, not only increased economic inequality and hunger, but death to many of the critics.

One month shy of her eighth year in office, Mrs. Arroyo is showing no sign of rescinding Oplan Bantay Laya, the counter-insurgency program identified by UN Special Rapporteur Prof. Philip Alston to be critically responsible for the continuation of the killings.

The killing spree in Southern Mindanao Region, victimizing 7 in the past 10 months indicate that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is catching up on its "quota" under the Target Research Concept of Oplan Bantay Laya.

This year, with the second phase of Oplan Bantay Laya still in effect, extrajudicial killings and other forms of human rights violations continue to be committed with utter impunity. From January to October 2008, extra-judicial killings have already claimed the lives of 50 victims while seven persons have been involuntarily disappeared. In seven years and 10 months, 977 victims of extrajudicial killings and 201 victims of enforced disappearance have been documented.

"That the acts of violence persist indicate no significant shift in the internal security policy of government and that the perpetrators, and their masterminds are still at large," Karapatan said.

The report reveals that torture and illegal arrests are on the rise and any indication on a drop in the number of killings is a "tactical ploy to appease global public outrage and never the result of any measure taken by government to arrest, prosecute, and convict those allegedly responsible for the atrocities." In the past 10 months, 53 victims of torture and 128 victims of illegal arrest were documented, bringing the total number of victims in eight years to 1,010 and 1,464 respectively.

Karapatan said, "The Arroyo government's continued persecution of political activists clearly shows that it is more interested in coddling and covering up for the criminals responsible for the killings rather than in unmasking their identities."

The report decried the continuous move by the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) to paralyze cause-oriented organizations by slapping fabricated charges against their leaders; this is seen in charges and warrants issued against 72 persons in the Southern Tagalog Region, 6 of whom are now jailed on the basis of such trumped-up charges and warrants.

The report cited the people's determination to assert and fight for their rights. It said that gains obtained by the movement to expose the killings and other human rights violations in the country here and abroad as well as the determination of survivor-witnesses like Raymond Manalo and the recent UN Human Rights Committee ruling on the Marcellana-Gumanoy case bring hope and "light during these dark times."

Karapatan members enjoined the public to maintain vigilance to defend and assert their rights by recalling that "through perseverance, determination and strong organization can we be able to assert our rights effectively." In a photo op session, they likened their move to a broom which when bound strongly can effectively remove the dirt that is the Arroyo administration who continuously dampens the lives of the Filipinos by its deplorable human rights record.

Monday, December 1, 2008


The eyes warn the brain that something is about to happen. In a split second, the brain tries to signal the hand to move. Oh, but there's just not enough time. The brain concedes. So it imagines, in the fraction of a second that follows, what will happen after. A piercing cry. A huge bump. A swollen forehead. Or a wound.

"Not the eyes please!"

"Hope it's just a soft blow!"

"Hope it doesn't hurt that much!"

"Let's get some ice."

"No bleeding please!"

Voices rattle in the head. If only one can freeze the time. Oh, what difference it could make.

The little one would still be laughing endlessly instead of wailing her heart out over the pain of hitting her head.

But nana and tata are helpless. The hands of the handmade, stone-adorned clock on the wall just keep on ticking.

Tick. Tick. Tick...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

handog ng Sinagbayan

How do lovers of the martyred turn their grief to songs for justice? Where do parents of the disappeared find strength as everyday they painstakingly wait and search? What hope can people hold as they are bombarded by a seemingly structural crisis after crisis? And where are the youth who will vibrantly stand and optimistically rock our world?

Ang Mga Lorena is a story of revelation, a journey of unconditional sacrifice yet worth the dawning of a culture that unites the aggrieved and powerless. It is a Documentary Play based on testimonies of families, friends, lovers, journalists and the common tao as among those who came to know them, Lorenas of our time.

As SINAGBAYAN's contribution to the UP Centennial Foundation commemoration and the 60th Anniversary of the International Declaration to the Respect to Human Rights, it is a tribute to women leaders of the premier university such as Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño and poet-beloved martyr Ma. Lorena Barros.

Lorena Barros is an AB Anthropology Magna Cum Laude UP student and instructor who stepped up in the 70s and became one of leading icons for women empowerment, people's poetry and collective action for development. Sherlyn Cadapan is a tri-athlete and sprint champion who also served as College Representative of the College of Human Kinetics. Karen Empeño on the other hand is a musician and was working on her thesis for her Sociology course, a research on the songs of the peasantry which led her to Central Luzon being the rice basket of the country and home of many originally composed songs of the peasantry. Barros died in 1976 while fighting for the people's cause. Cadapan and Empeño were reported missing since 2006.

The Lorenas share their simple lives, laughter and tears through songs, poems, dances and monologues from secret detention cells, burning chambers and monumental graves where they were last found. In the tradition of dramatists/writers Bertolt Brech and Agusto Boal, the play then brings the challenge to the audience to fulfill the call of the Universityâs Oblation, a symbol of freedom and relentless service to the people, where Rizal's message can also be found: Nasaan ang mga kabataang mag-aalay ng kanilang kasibulang buhay, ng kanilang adhikain at sagisag sa kabutihan ng bansa?

* Ang mga Lorena will be staged on December 9 (10am) and December 11(2pm and 7pm) at the UP Film Institute

For ticket reservations contacts:
0906.5895381 and 0920.7216759

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Little Red Heart project

My cousin Aaliyeh Afshar, along with other teenage photographers, started this interesting project which is all about writing something to someone you may not know.

I invite you to check it out at

Saturday, November 15, 2008

An appeal from the Asian Human Rights Commission

PHILIPPINES: Two political activists and a farmer killed in separate

ISSUES: Extrajudicial killings


Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) deeply regrets to inform you of the killing of three persons, including two political activists, in separate incidents recently. The AHRC is gravely concerned by these renewed, if not continuing targeted attacks, which exposed the realities that unless the perpetrators of the killings there are
prosecuted, activists have had to face the risk of being murdered for doing their work.

CASE DETAILS: (According to information from the Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples' Rights (KARAPATAN) and other sources)

On November 10 at 6pm, Rolando Antolihao was in his house in Kapalong, Davao del Norte when an unidentified person, who claimed to be his neighbour, come knocking on their door. Before Rolando allowed the person in, he heard him from inside to have introduced himself by a name known to him.

However, soon after Rolando opened the door, the person shot him dead with a .45 caliber pistol. He suffered several gunshot wounds to his body. His wife, Elvira, claimed that her husband was a rebel returnee; and was also the head of the village watchman at the time of his death.

Rolando was a village coordinator for a political party, Bayan Muna (People First). Bayan Muna is the same political party whose members and leaders have been targeted for extrajudicial killings in recent years.

Also, four days before Rolando's murder, another leader in a nearby province, Danilo Qualbar, had also been murdered.

Forty-eight-year-old Danilo was on his way home at around 5:30pm in Compostela, Compostela Valley when he was shot dead by unidentified armed men. The gunmen, onboard a red XRM motorcycle, shot him in Crossing Osmeña in Baranggay (village) Osmeña, about four kilometres from the poblacion where he had come from.

It is reported that an eyewitness had informed residents there that before Danilo was shot dead he was seen being stopped by armed men. They also saw them talking to him before shooting him dead. He suffered four gunshot wounds.

Earlier that day, Danilo told his wife Aurelia that he would go to the poblacion (town) to purchase goods for their household. Their house in Sitio Nursery is about 30 minutes away from poblacion and about 300 meters away from where the detachment of the 72nd Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, is stationed, which raised allegations
that the security forces could have been involved.

Danilo was Bayan Muna's cluster coordinator and also the Public Information Officer of the Compostela Valley Farmers Association at the time of his death.

In another incident, a farmer had also been murdered in front of his son in Sitio Pasalilo, Barangay Mabini, Mulanay, Quezon.

On 13 October 2008 at 6am, Alejo De Luna was together with his eight-year-old son Mark Angelo, tending their farm located close to their house. Alejo's wife, Angeline, had gone out of the house after preparing coffee where she saw nine fully uniformed and armed soldiers surrounding her husband and son.

It is alleged that the soldiers were attached to the Bravo Coy of the 74th Infantry Battalion (IB), Philippine Army.

At the time, Angeline she saw for herself that one of the soldiers was pointing his gun at her husband and had him overheard to have said: "Wag kang tatakbo!" ("Dont run!"). The soldiers allegedly shot Alejo and his son when the latter ran because of fear. His father was supposed to catch up on him but the soldiers shot him instead. Mark Angelo survived from the incident.

After the shooting, the soldiers entered into the De Lunas house. They allegedly ransacked the place and conducted searches into the family's belongings. They, too, threatened Angeline that they would bring her to the army camp but they did not. The soldiers left from the place at 11am of the same day.

Only after the soldiers left was Angeline able to seek help from a village council member, Tess Badillos. Later she learned that her husband, Alejo, had died from two gunshot wounds.


Please write letters to the concerned authorities requesting them to ensure that these cases are thoroughly investigated.

The AHRC has also written letters to the Special Rapporteurs on Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions calling for intervention in this case.

To support this appeal, please click

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"J-A-S-M-S Oh yes! The school we love the best."

SOMEWHERE between my heart and Quezon City, lies the haven of my childhood, a place which is largely the reason why I am in the mold that I am now.

JASMS School, the grade school department of the Philippine Women’s University, was the school of my youth. To this day, I still feel thankful to my parents for putting me there.

Last week, I was together with fellow JASMS students after a long time. How happy we were to see each other again.

It has been so many years ago since we stepped out of our playground to live the rest of our lives.

Today, we are proud and happy pursuing our interests in life. That is, after all, what JASMS gave us. It did not raise us to become nerds or academic slaves but more importantly, JASMS taught us to do what we want. It helped us find our place under the sun.

Today, some of us are already fathers and mothers to amazing little boys and girls. We all have our own lives now but wherever we go, we always bring with us everything and even more than what we got from our school.

JASMS began in 1933, under the leadership of President Francisca Tirona Benitez. She sponsored a novel experiment in childhood education which is “child-centered” and totally different from the educational approach of the time, according to an article posted at

"In essence, JASMS is an educational environment where children and parents feel and see for themselves the warmth and friendliness of relationship, the absence of rigid pressure to conform to set standards and where learning is enjoyment. How the young develop in attitude, behavior and relationship as they grow into personhood, the kind of motivation and depth of wisdom as they grow into maturity-is the mission of the school," it said.

Some parents may not totally agree with the JASMS way. The students enjoyed too much, some have said.

But we disagree. We will always be happy with what we experienced. Nobody knows how it was except us. We know the real deal.

There, it was possible to climb "mountains," to soak oneself in mud and enjoy it, to travel to different corners of the world without mom and dad, to learn while playing and to enjoy every minute of one's youth. It was almost okay to be afraid, to express your angst, to rebel and to learn from it in the process.

JASMS allowed us to be children. It also gave us enough time to grow.

JASMS is that one place we will always call home. It is somewhere between Peter Pan's Neverland and Holden Caulfield's universe.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Quiapo and Makati: A Tale of Two Shopping Districts

(From the Ateneo de Manila website)

Iris Gonzales takes a close look into the shopping rituals in two districts both famous for shopping. In the process she finds shopping has everything to do with one's economic standing. Read the story here

Monday, October 20, 2008

the budget gap swells

Budget deficit widens in September
By Iris C. Gonzales
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The government’s budget deficit swelled to P21.6 billion in September, a 48.9 percent increase from the P14.5-billion shortfall recorded a year ago due mainly to higher than expected spending and lower than programmed revenues, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves reported yesterday.

The September deficit brought the January to September budget gap to P53.4 billion or P18.2 billion more than the programmed ceiling of P35.1 billion.

“This was due to higher than expected spending and lower than programmed revenues,” Teves said.

Revenue collections in September reached P89.6 billion while total expenditures reached P111.3 billion. Of the P89.6 billion, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) collected P55.8 billion, or 14 percent higher than the P48.9 billion collected in the same month last year.

The Bureau of Customs collected P25.8 billion during the month, 35.1 percent higher than the P19.1 billion collected in the same period last year.

Total collections of the Bureau of the Treasury amounted to P2.2 billion in September, down 74.3 percent compared to last year’s level mainly due to lower income from investments. Collections from other offices amounted to P5.9 billion or an increase of 34.1 percent from a year ago.

“The bigger contributor to the deficit was the increase in spending for social services and infrastructure,” Teves said.

Total expenditures in September increased by 16.6 percent to P111.3 billion compared to the P95.4 billion disbursed in the same period last year. Of the total expenditures, actual disbursements for projects and operations increased by 25.8 percent to P82.1 billion while interest payments declined by 3.3 percent to P29.2 billion.

Total revenues for the nine-month period reached P879.9 billion, P14.1 billion lower than the collection goal for the period of P894 billion.

Of the total revenues, the BIR collected P587.9 billion, P18.9 billion lower than the program while the BOC generated P193.2 billion in revenues during the nine-month period. This is P7.3 billion more than its target due mainly to higher rice imports by the National Food Authority (NFA).

BIR Deputy Commissioner Nelson Aspe attributed the revenue shortfall to additional tax exemptions from the minimum wage law implemented starting last July.

“The biggest contributors to the shortfall was the effect of the additional exemptions to the income tax collections,” Aspe said.

The Bureau of the Treasury reached its collection target of P47.8 billion while total revenues from other offices, including proceeds from privatization reached P51.1 billion or lower by P2.5 billion against programmed targets.

Expenditures, on the other hand, reached P933.3 billion, amid increased spending for infrastructure and social services.

Teves expressed optimism that the government would still be able to keep the budget deficit at P75 billion. “We will not exceed the P75 billion,” he said.

He said the government expects to generate P25 billion from the sale of its remaining stake in Petron Corp. which has already been put on the auction block.

The government expects to book the proceeds of Petron before the end of the year.

“For the remainder of the year, we will continue to work harder to ensure that the National Government has the resources to support the needs of its people during these challenging times,” Teves said.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Today is World Foodless Day!

Millions of People observe October 16 as World Foodless Day

A Global Day of Simultaneous Actions that resist forces maintaining the Financial and Food Crises

Today, 16 October, 2008, millions of farmers, agricultural workers, fisherfolks, pastoralists and herders, indigenous peoples, women, migrants, consumers, youth and urban poor are in unison in resisting neoliberal policies that created and maintain the food security crisis and the financial meltdown.

The financial crisis and food crisis make the basic right to food elusive. They both share the same recipe deriving from failures of free market fundamentals that feed on each other.

“The continued implementation of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation policies only support the giant agribusiness corporations who are definitely going to scramble to accumulate more profits.” says Danilo Ramos, secretary general of Asian Peasants Coalition (APC). He adds, “The twofold and intertwined crises in the world’s food and financial systems are doomed to be a never-ending cycle until free market trade fundamentals are destroyed, genuine solutions to stabilise food and financial markets are implemented and people are the basis for steering the change.”

“Small food producers or peasant farmers have inherent knowledge and experiences to address the food crisis but we are treated as mere recipients of policies that do not benefit us.” says Fathima Burnad of Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED) of India. She adds, “We commit World Foodless Day as a day to send a strong message for genuine interventions that include us in addressing the root causes of the crises.”

“The immediate effects of the crises which include spiraling food prices gave a crushing blow to the working class including women, peasants, agricultural workers and landless farmers. World Food Day is a mockery and is much better named World Foodless Day.” says Azra Sayeed of Roots for Equity in Pakistan. She adds, “We observe World Foodless Day to assert our food sovereignty and women’s participation, to demand control over our natural resources including land, seed, and water and to reject trade liberalization which has forced millions of farmers to poverty.”

According to Chennaiah Poguri of Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU) in India, “Our strength is made visible in the number of people who are joining us in the struggle against the crises. We are expecting 25,000 individuals from Andhra Pradesh alone and we are estimating about 574,000 people observing World Foodless Day around the country as we are able to organise with other groups.“

Erpan Faryadi of Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA) of Indonesia said,“We are mobilising 4,000 people in protest rallies where we will highlight the problems and agricultural conflicts that are affecting the peasants in Indonesia as well as call for implementation of a genuine agrarian reform. We resist International Financial Institutions for creating global issues that trickle down and make us suffer.

“For migrants, the plunder that neoliberal agenda in agriculture impacts them two-fold - migrant workers come from countries where rural people are displaced by massive land concentration, extreme feudal exploitation, and land redevelopment; globalization policies in food production make it difficult to cope with increasing prices of basic commodities that leave compatriots in the home countries hungry.” says Hong Kong based Ramon Bultron of Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants. He adds, “Now with the current global financial meltdown, more people will surely go hungry or be forced to eke out a living by being modern day slaves. We migrants support the grassroots peasants and advocates for food sovereignty.”

Ninety one national and international NGOs and People’s Organisations from 23 countries have called on the United Nations (UN) Task Force on Global Food Security Crisis and Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general and Task Force head, to draw comprehensive measures to resolve the global food security crisis. In the letter, handed over to the UN on 14 October 2008 as the FAO Committee on World Food Security met in Rome to discuss the global food crisis, the organisations expressed their concerns on the Comprehensive Framework of Action (CFA) that was drawn. The CFA has prescribed the same policies that created the crisis and are seen to strengthen power structures, approaches and practices. In the same letter, the organisations stipulated people’s recommendations in addressing the food crisis to the UN Task Force. Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) continue to enjoin organisations in this signature campaign.

World Foodless Day is a day of global action on the crises that beleaguer the people. The objectives are as follows: create public awareness and media attention on the root causes of the food crisis; provide policy recommendations and organize meetings with government officials, opinion makers and leaders; organise activities to raise our voices against neoliberal policies and their impact; and highlight people’s recommendations to respond to the world food crisis.

It is organized by (PAN AP) and People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty together with 22 NGOs and People’s Organisations from 16 countries. For more details, please visit

Monday, September 29, 2008

a child of the world

We met him last weekend.

He is such a cute, adorable and amazing baby boy. He visited our little home last Sunday with his new parents.

Baby boy N finally met his foster parents, a multicultural couple a few weeks ago. The whole adoption process took two years. What a lovely family! They're binded not by blood but pure love.

I am happy for them. Although I will never understand why a mother would give up her child for adoption, I wouldn't really mind adopting a baby if the circumstances call for it. What a gorgeous baby he is!

I wish Baby boy N and his new found parents a happy family life.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

off to Kuwait

Not me but the nanny.

Just when I thought I got the best nanny for my daughter, I suddenly receive the bad news.

She's off to Kuwait in search of greener pastures. She will be working as a domestic helper for P8,000 a month. Needless to say, I could not make a counter offer. I would have to go overseas myself to be able to match the salary she'll be getting.

It's the sad reality I have to grapple with. Like the millions of Filipinos working abroad, Ms. L wants to have a better life, too for herself and for her aging parents. She will sign up for a two-year contract and hopes to be able to save the money so she wouldn't have to work abroad for a long time.

It's the same old story. There are hundreds of Filipinos leaving everyday in search for a better life for themselves and their family. Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Quatar, Jordan, Canada, Australia. etc. etc.

Almost everyone is packing their bags for a better life elsewhere. The government has no qualms about it. Hefty dollar remittances, officials say, keep the Philippine economy afloat.

But how about the true costs of migration? Will somebody please do the counting.

Monday, September 15, 2008

pabili ng bigas

taken at the National Food Authority warehouse, Visayas Avenue, Quezon City.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cambodia: A postscript

Light seeped through the temples of Angkor Wat that early morning I stepped inside Cambodia’s famous site, a historic landmark that has drawn travelers from all over the world.

Anyone with a passion for travel will enjoy the experience. There are no special skills needed or rugged outdoor equipment required for the temples of Angkor.

One just needs to have a strong sense of adventure to see what lies out there, to have the courage to knock oneself out of the daily routine, to want to learn and unlearn different things and to be interested in everything new and foreign.

Armed with this strong sense to try something new, I, along with three fellow journalists, embarked on an adventure to the provincial town of Siem Reap in the Kingdom of Cambodia.


Siem Reap town, nestled between rice paddies and muddy roads, serves as the gateway to the age-old temple ruins of the Khmer Rouge Empire. The temples were built between the 9th and 12th centuries. The whole park lies about five to ten kilometers north of the province and encompasses dozens of temple ruins which are more than enough to feast one’s eyes and soul.

Although there are other things to see in Siem Reap, it is best to first visit the temples of Angkor.

That’s what I and my friends did on our first morning in the province. We woke up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, the first in our itinerary and the beginning of an adventure-filled journey throughout the dozens of temple ruins we would be visiting.

Angkor Wat is a majestic complex filled with darkened doorways, stone carvings of gods and demons and Buddhist shrines illuminated only by the flicker of a candle. The smell of incense wafted in the air.

The largest and best-preserved site among the temples of Angkor, it was built for Cambodia’s King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. According to the guide books, Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu, one of the three Gods of Hindu. The two others are Shiva and Krishna. Hinduism was the religion in Cambodia at the time the Angkor was constructed in the early 12th century.

Indian traders came to this part of Southeast Asia as early as the 1st century, bringing with them their culture, law, politics, arts and their religion –Hinduism and Buddhism.

At the turn of the 14th century, Buddhism became the dominant religion in Cambodia which explains the many stone-carved images of Buddha in the different temple ruins.

Two days are enough to visit all the major temples and a few of the minor ones. It really depends on one’s time and energy. As for me and my travel buddies, we opted for a day pass which was enough for our resources.

Riding a four person tuk-tuk or motorcycle trailers which are similar to the tricycles in the Philippines, is a fun way to go around the park. These tuk-tuks, driven by locals, most of whom speak conversational English, may be rented the whole day or for a package of three days. Depending on one’s ability to haggle, the average price of a tuk-tuk for a day’s rent is $10 to $13. Tuk-tuks are all over the city but one can have an arrangement made through the hotels or guesthouses.

One can enjoy the temples of Angkor just by exploring the complex inside and out. Of the dozens of temple ruins, my favorite is Angkor Wat which on my first glimpse, appeared as a giant breathtaking postcard against the sky.

It is both visually and artistically awe-inspiring, with its massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers and the finest examples of Khmer art.

I stayed there for almost two hours, admiring its grandeur and magnificence. Inside, in the labyrinthine walkways, I almost heard the gods and demons on the stone-carved walls call each other. It is an experience more profound than I had expected.


Aside from the temples of Angkor, there are other things to enjoy in Siem Reap. A visit to the Old French Quarter for drinks and a glimpse of the vibrant night life in the province should be in one’s itinerary.

Siem Reap’s nightlife stretches to near dawn. Backpackers and locals alike fill the bars that are scattered around town.

The pulse of the city at night is felt along Pub Street in the Old Market area. Dozens of bars and restaurants line the street. Those who want to experience the night life can drop by Angkor What? and Temple Club along Pub Street.

Drinkers will enjoy cold Angkor beer which is similar to San Miguel Beer but a little more invigorating.

Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese style architecture in the Old French Quarter.

In some restaurants in the Old French Quarter, one can also enjoy Cambodia’s traditional dance, referred to as an Apsara dance performance.

An Apsara is a character in Hindu mythology referring to a celestial dancer that comes out of the froth as the gods churn the oceans. The dance has a subtle yet ethereal appearance. Dancers are dressed in ornate costumes, usually in gold, silver and red colors.

The Old French Quarter and the Old Market are in the main part of town, in the Psar Chas area.

Cambodian food, meanwhile, will without doubt awaken one’s gastronomic interest. Traditional spicy food and noodles are for the taking as well as a host of salads and many coconut-based dishes. My favorite dishes are red and yellow chicken curry, mixed vegetables and Tom Yam soup.

After a long day of exploring the temples of Angkor, travelers can enjoy a relaxing traditional Cambodian massage. There are spas and massage parlors around town especially near the Old Market.

Let me warn, however, that in our case, we found the massage in the Philippines far better than what we had in Siem Reap. For one, the spas in Manila usually have the better ambience – scented candles, aroma-filled rooms and relaxing music playing in the background.

More importantly, the masseurs massage the whole body with the pressure of your preference. In Siem Reap, the massage that we experienced was limited to the face, arms, feet and a bit of the back.

Siem Reap is also a shopper’s paradise. It is an excellent place to buy Cambodian souvenirs, dolls, handicrafts, bags and original artistic creations. I bought the ubiquitous checkered scarves as pasalubongs to photojournalists back home who find such scarves useful when they are out on assignments.

The Old Market is one of Siem Reap’s traditional covered markets and the most famous shopping mecca. Guides say it offers the widest variety of handicrafts and curios. There are also individual little boutiques scattered around town for souvenirs.

As for me, the experience itself is enough to remember Siem Reap.

I only have to close my eyes and see in my inner mind’s eye the breathtaking view of Angkor Wat set against the crimson painted sky. Ah, nothing could be more pleasurable than to just stand in full view of this man-made marvel, at least when one is in this corner of the world.

Where’s my next stop?

My mother has something in common with taipan John Gokongwei. No, she’s not a consumer goods magnate nor does she own a commercial airline company.

But she, like the Filipino-Chinese businessman encouraged her children to see the world, to travel to different places, to reach as many corners of the universe as one can do in one’s lifetime and to meet all sorts of people.

“Save so you can travel,” that’s what my mom used to tell us when we were younger. She said that money is hard to earn and thus should be spent only on worthy things. Traveling, she used to say, is one of those things worth spending on.

Lance Gokongwei, I read once, said that his father encouraged them to spend on two things: traveling and books.

My mom skipped the books part but she certainly influenced me to go out and discover the world.

And so, despite my meager pay as a newspaper reporter, I struggled to see the foreign and the unknown. Every visit, I have to say, was worth every hard earned centavo spent.

My most recent journey was to the heart of Malaysia. I was in Kuala Lumpur for a lightning visit last year. It was my first time to explore the capital of the Southeast Asian country. For three days, I surrendered myself to the foreign and the unknown, took buses and trains, ate street food and got rained on to.

I had a glass of good beer in a high-end tourist area (it was all I could afford in that part of the city), enjoyed the breathtaking view of Petronas Towers, savored Auntie Anne’s pretzel, Malaysian version and I also bought a precious toy at the busy district of Bhukit Bintan.

Each trip, as my favorite travel writer Pico Iyer, said is about surrendering oneself to experience. It’s about being reborn and being knocked off one’s comfort zone. Indeed, nothing compares.

Reading Iyer encouraged me to see more places as one can see in this lifetime. Paulo Coehlo inspired me to travel alone. A friend encouraged me to blog while a travel mate from Slovakia taught me to eat the best cheeses and drink the best beer. A classmate abroad taught me to read maps. From a friend from Brazil, I learned how it is best to laugh when you get lost while on a trip.

Each experience is unique.

In Isabela, Basilan, for instance, I learned that life is what one makes of it whether you’re in a war-torn country or in a peace zone. With the Badjaos, I learned that the best freedom one can experience is the freedom from material things.

In Kazakhstan, I learned that time stops. On the bus from Paris to Rome (it was a bus trip second to none), I almost touched the horizon. The Eiffel Tower is magnificent but the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop is more amazing.

In Batanes, in an abandoned house, I realized that the best moments in life are free. Smoking pot in Amsterdam is legal. The Niagara Falls in Canada attracts hordes of tourists for obvious reasons.

There are no Vienna sausages in Vienna and that the beauty of Prague pales in comparison with that of Cesky Krumlov.

Bratislava is one of Eastern Europe’s best kept secret. Salzburg is more than just a backdrop of the classic Sound of Music.

London is gray and cloudy but its pubs are always alive. Scotland is worth the six-hour train ride from London.

India is noisy but mystical. Pier 18 in Tondo, Manila is very humanizing.

The universe is vast and there’s so much more to see in this lifetime. I wonder where my next stop will be.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

that little face

(Pardon me. This entry is all about motherhood and if you don't like listening to mothers rave or rant about motherhood, just skip this entry)

How do I leave that little face crying every morning as I step out the door? It's heartwrenching, oh yes. But I have to. Lately, I've been feeling I'm not strong enough to be a mom. How could my own mother be so patient with all five of us? How could she have the strength to walk out on us every morning to earn a living, despite our crying faces?

Tell me, my fellow mothers, just how do you cope? How does one become a mom? How does one get the strength to leave that little crying face in the morning? I'm not sure.

All I know is that I only have one shot with this role. If I fail, I would have terribly failed to make an individual grow to the best of her abilities. I would have terribly failed to raise an individual who will never stop to struggle for what's best for her and society. I would have terribly failed to be a mom.

I don't have the answers. And sometimes, I don't have the strength. I think of my own mother, who despite her growing number of white hair and wrinkles on her stunning beauty, gave us all she could. I remember her with a big embrace when I went home that fateful early morning, many years ago with my heart ripped apart into pieces by a man I truly loved.

The embrace of a mother still is the safest place in this crazy world. I hope my own daughter feels the same way, too everytime I embrace her with my thin arms.

The truth about motherhood is that it hurts a lot. It hurts to see that little face crying every morning everytime I head out the door to search for the day's news. I can only hope that someday, she will understand. I hope, I do, too.

I only have one shot. This isn't like a career where you can get second and third chances. This one's crucial and I hope I muster enough energy to become the mother that I should be.

How? How? How? How do I leave that little crying face? Please somebody tell me how.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ang paglaya ng Tagaytay 5

Huling Lagapak ng Kandado
ni Alex Pinpin, Tagaytay 5

Kumupas at kumupis ang kalendaryo
Kumalampag at ipininid ang kandado
Kumupad at bumilis ang oras
Nagasgas at numipis ang rehas
Dumatal at umalis ang lamig
Sumagad at umibis ang init
Nangutya at tiniis ang inip
Nanuya at nanikis ang inis

Walong daaan at limampu’t siyam na araw
Paulit-ulit, paikid-ikid lamang na galaw

Dalawang taon at apat na buwan
Pabalik-balik, paikit-ikit lamang na kawalan

Ninakaw, inagaw ang kalayaang inakalang
Maitatangkal sa kalaliman ng kadiliman
ng libingan ng mga buhay at matatabunan
Ng tambak ng batas na butas
Na nauna pang maagnas at ipag-aguniyas
Ang kamatayan ng sirkerong testigo na di-bihasa
Sa kinabisang panulayan at panimbangan.
Ay! Nagkandudulas sa lubid ng kasinungalingang
Ibinuhol ng buhong na piskal, nagkandabulol
At nagkandahulog ang katwiran
na nagiging mahika-blanka
Sa tuwing kabulaanan ang bumubulagang
Sorpresa sa kahon ng ebidensya at hindi
Kunehong puti na sana’y mabilis at malinis
Na lilinlang sa namanghang mga
Mamamayang bantay sa katarungan
sa sala ng Hukom na nagmistulang karnabal.

Walong daaan at limampu’t siyam na araw
Paulit-ulit, paikid-ikid lamang na galaw

Dalawang taon at apat na buwan
Pabalik-balik, paikit-ikit lamang na kawalan

At sa isang iglap, walang nakakurap,
Tapos na ang palabas!

29 August 29, 2008/0358hr
Unang labanan ng rebolusyong 1896 sa San Juan
At unang araw sa labas ng bilangguan ng Tagaytay 5

Friday, August 1, 2008

charcoal portraits

PIER 18, TONDO, Manila - A thick blanket of smoke fills the air. Beneath the haze, men, women and children work endlessly to survive daily life. This muddy patch of land is what outsiders call ulingan, a make-shift charcoal factory.

Those not used to the smoke can only spend a few minutes before their lungs and throat hurt but the people here endure the suffocating carbon emitted in the tedious process of turning wood into charcoal.

(The make-shift charcoal factory is set against a backdrop of thatched houses and heaps of garbage. For the residents of Tondo, this is home.)

(Lina doesn't mind the dirt. She fills the sack of charcoal which she will sell for P280.)

(Joel and his wife Marisa are preparing the wood for the overnight process of heating it into coal.)

(Women and children help in the production of charcoal. They sift through the patches of land to look for bits and pieces of wood that could still be sold

(The sacks of charcoal will be sold to individual buyers who will then repackage the charcoal and sell it for P6 per pack. One sack can make 36 packs.)

(A man counts his earnings today. He has sold six sacks of charcoal for a total of P1,680.00.)

(A woman prepares to repackage the sack of charcoal.)

(Most children in Tondo are not in school. They help their parents in the ulingan.)

(They help in transporting the sacks of charcoal to the market.)

(This is Baby Jane, four years old. The ulingan is her playground.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

struck by lightning or probably something like it

It did feel like a blast of thunder, jolting me out of my self. It happened so fast and before I knew it, I saw, in a flash, how vulnerable and helpless I can be against a force so much greater than the tiny speck that I am.

I'm home after spending half an hour at the emergency room of the Capitol Medical Center. I had the left part of my body checked by a doctor because earlier today, a zooming Mitsubishi Lancer appeared from nowhere and hit my 5-month old sedan. It's an outside force I have never experienced before. And it was a scary one. Suddenly, I realize life can disappear in an instant. That I can be swallowed by the earth unexpectedly. We mortals are nothing compared to the great big universe embracing us. It's like there's a Gulliver walking carelessly around the globe and you never know when it's going to step on you. I am nothing but a tiny speck in this earthly plane.

The lesson I learned: Life is indeed, short, perhaps as short as a few steps as I were to the parking space when the lady driver hit me. But no hard feelings. The important thing is I'm home safe, albeit slightly wounded and traumatized, in my parallel universe where the Sun shines endlessly.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Marie's story and the rice crisis in the Philippines

Marie Katoliko steps out of the family’s rented shanty to check if the truck has arrived. It is Wednesday, the time of the week when the NFA truck visits Marie’s barangay on a narrow, uphill road along Old Balara in Quezon City. The narrow road opens to a maze-like slum area which outsiders call the interior. It is home to tricycle drivers, carpenters, vendors, laborers and street kids.

The National Food Authority truck usually comes in the morning and distributes sacks of rice to an accredited store in the area. The truck’s roaring engine is Marie’s signal and her neighbors’ to filter out from their homes and queue for cheaper subsidized rice at P18.50 per kilo. That’s nearly half the commercial price in the market.

The truck soon arrives. Marie, with P100, lines up to buy five kilos of rice. This will be good for seven to nine days for her children, Andoy, 16; Marissa, 11; and her husband, Max.

Max, who works as a family driver, brings home P2,000 every Friday, which Marie budgets for food, electricity, water, a monthly rental of P2,500 for their place and to pay debts to a nearby sari-sari variety store.

Home for the family is a dimly lit single-door shanty with an electric fan, a small television set and a makeshift wooden table. Today, there is bowl of boiled potatoes that Marie has cooked for lunch.

Her neighbors also rush to line up for cheaper rice, unmindful of the heat and the long queue. Today, as usual, more than 30 are in queue. In the past, Marie would buy rice in the nearby talipapa or the nearby wet market.
“Pero hindi na kakasya ang kita ng mister ko pag sa talipapa padin ako bibili ng bigas. (But I can no longer stretch my husband’s earnings if I continue buying rice from the market),” she says.

Marie says that two years ago, the price of commercial rice ranged from P17 to P20 per kilo. Last year, the price ranged from P22 to P25 per kilo. These days, the cheapest commercial rice is at least P37 per kilo.

“Ngayon sa P37 per kilo, kailangan ko ng P185 para sa limang kilo pero sa NFA rice, may sukli pa na otso peso ang isang daan ko. (Now, at P37 per kilo, I would need P185to buy five kilos. With NFA rice, I only need P100 for five kilos and I would still have change of P8 pesos),” Marie explains.

She has no complaints with the quality of NFA rice. “Hindi naman sya mabaho katulad ng sinasabi ng iba. Masarap din naman. (The rice from NFA does not smell, contrary to what others have said. It is of good quality),” she said.

Marie decided to buy rice from NFA stores early this year, taking after her neighbors.

Fely Santos, a 52-year old domestic helper, also buys rice from NFA to cope with the rising cost of living. She takes home P1,000 every Friday which she spends for food, rice and utilities. Her household, comprising her husband and nine extended family members, consumes 12 kilos of rice per week. At P18.50 per kilo, she spends P222 for P12 kilos.

“Halos kalahati ng sweldo ko sa isang linggo ang mauubos pag bumili ako ng bigas na P37 ang kilo. (If I buy rice at P37 per kilo, almost half of my weekly salary will be wiped out,” Fely said.

Fely heaves a sigh of frustration over the high prices of rice.
“Grabe na talaga. Tinatago kasi ng mga negosyante kaya tumataas ang presyo. (The situation is really terrible. Prices have gone up because of the hoarders,” she believes.

Joy de Guzman, a government employee, says her daily budget for food has been affected because rice at the office canteen now costs P10 per cup as against P5 per cup last year.

The long queues at NFA outlets reflect the hard times. Tamar Hizon, a security guard at the NFA warehouse along Visayas Avenue, says the lines never seem to end. The warehouse opens from Mondays to Fridays and people line up as early as 6 a.m. “Pag dumating ka sa umaga, talagang napakahaba ng pila. Iisipin mong mauubusan ng bigas kinabukasan. (If you come in the morning, you will see the long queues. If you see the number of people lining up, you would think there’ll be no more rice available the next day),” says Hizon.

Despite the high prices of rice in the country, the Department of Agriculture said last month that prices here are still cheaper compared to other countries in the region.

NFA administrator Jessup P. Navarro said in May the domestic selling price of rice in Vietnam and Thailand, two of the Philippine's major rice suppliers, was at P59.01 per kilogram and P 45.11 per kg, respectively.
“For the same month, the average domestic price of rice in the

Philippines particularly the commercial varieties was P33.26 per kilo,” Navarro said in a statement issued by the NFA.

The rice problem in the Philippines is part of a larger global rice crisis caused by a number of factors such as rising cost of oil and fertilizer.
The problem is aggravated by insufficient supply and growing demand.

People like Marie can only hope that cheaper rice will continuously be available whenever they fall in line at NFA stores.

“Sana tumigil na ang pagtaas ng presyo kasi grabe talaga. Lahat ng bilihin ngayon mataas na. (I fervently hope that price increases will stop because the prices of almost everything now is going up),” says Marie, clutching a huge bag of rice she has just bought for her family. ###

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The oil problem

The poor take desperate steps to cope with rising fuel costs
By Nguon Serath, Iris Cecilia Gonzales, and Sengthong Phavasath

She used to take her daughter out on weekends or have dinner at a restaurant. But no longer. Prices for most goods and services have gone up. Which has led to street protests in Cambodia and the Philippines.

Sophat Neariroth is among 560 million people in the ASEAN region hurt by high inflation spurred by rising fuel prices - US$1.4 per liter in Cambodia. Sophat says she used to buy a kilo of pork at 8000 riel (US$2) but now she spends more than 20000riel (US$5) for a kilo of pork.

“The price of goods has drastically increased in 2008 and it is affecting my living because my salary does not increase,” says Sophat, who works for the Ministry of Agriculture.

“I have no choice but to reduce my daily expenses including travel and other unnecessary spending. Otherwise, my family cannot survive,” she adds.

We hear the same stories of hardship in Laos and the Philippines.

“The prices of goods in the markets are terribly high as last year I spent around 100,000 to 150,000 kip a day but now I spend around 200,000 to 300,000 kip daily,” complains Bouangchan Linphinith from Ventiane.

And in Manila, jeepney and tricyle drivers are compelled to extend their work hours to cope with the fuel costs, which have risen by about half since last year. Nino Baos, a 30-year old tricycle driver, now wakes up earlier than the roosters do. He now starts works two hours earlier - from five in the morning to eight in the evening just to make enough money for his wife and one-year-old son. Baos says that’s the only way he can cope with skyrocketing fuel prices.

He says that last year, he earned P300 or roughly USD7 every night. Today, he can only take home P200 or roughly USD5 despite the longer hours.

“In the past, I am able to buy more food and we would be able to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, we sometimes have to skip breakfast,” he says.

These days, Baos spends P200 for diesel per day. Diesel is among the cheaper fuel than gasoline. Prices of diesel, however, have also gone up. In the past, he would spend only P100 for diesel.

Mando Santos, a jeepney driver in Manila, faces the same problem. Last year, he needed only P800 (US$18) for gasoline for a whole day’s work. Today, he needs P1,500(US$34) for the whole day. In his 15 years of driving jeepnesy, he says today’s fuel price is the highest he has seen.

Mando takes home only P400 a day to his wife compared to P700 just last year, despite the extra hours. “Times are really tough these days,” he lamented, knowing that the situation would only get worst before it gets better.

“The problem will only make people like me poorer. I fear for the future. I hope the situation will get better next year,” he says.

Fuel prices in the Philippines last year ranged from P37 to P40 per liter . This year, the price has gone up to P59 to P62 per liter.

Kong Chandararoth, a Cambodian economist, says that ASEAN countries, except Brunei, an oil-producing country, are all affected by high oil prices. The Cambodian agriculture sector, which relies on farm machineries and fuel to operate, is badly affected as the country depends on imported oil.

Most of the goods in the markets are imported from abroad because Cambodia cannot produce such goods. The increase in oil price means higher cost for the transportation of imported products. As a result, the prices of imported goods are also severely hit by the oil crisis.

“The poor people are the most affected as they have small income which cannot cope with the higher expense in their daily life,” Chandararoth said.
He explained that it would cost more to import and export goods. The imported products and goods at the Cambodian market have increased. He said the inflation is “very high” even though there is no official figure released by the National Institute of Statistics.

He said that the government should lower the import tax and the consumption of oil in order to prevent the crisis from further hurting the people.

He also said that the government should be more open to importing the machines for the development of agriculture to lower the cost.

The oil crisis has pushed inflation up by and led to street protests in Cambodia as the country approaches its July 27 national election.

Skyrocketing Oil Price and High Inflation: Biggest Issue in Cambodian Elections

“It can be an opportunity if the people think that election can be a way to have the oil price and the goods prices reduced,” Chandararoth said.

The increases in oil prices and goods in the market have become the biggest issues in the election campaign. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party have attacked the ruling Cambodian People’s Party for its failure to address the oil crisis and high inflation.

On the first day of the campaign on June 26, opposition leader Sam Rainsy stood on a roaming truck condemning the government for the high inflation and the sharp increase in oil prices. He told the Cambodian public that if his party wins the election, the Sam Rainsy Party would reduce the gasoline price and cut down the inflation.

“Please vote for Sam Rainsy to stop the price increase in oil and goods,” he said.

Even though the oil price has sharply increased and the people complained about this, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that it was impossible to stop the increase, as it is a global trend. He even warned the increases would continue.

Some political observers said that the crisis could give more votes to the opposition as the government has not given concrete plans to deal with the crisis.

Oil Crisis Sparks Protests in The Philippines

While the protest against skyrocketing oil price took place only half day in Cambodia in June, militant groups have been holding street protests against high oil prices roughly eight times since the start of the year.

Militants also vowed to hold a major protest on July 28 when the Philippine Congress resumes its session and more importantly, the day Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will deliver her State of the Nation address.

One solution militant groups want is for the government to remove the 12 per cent sales tax on oil. The tax has been blamed for high prices but the government said it would lose about P45.7 billion in revenues yearly if the tax is suspended.

Finance Undersecretary Gil Beltran said the government would instead invest the revenues from the oil tax into social services. The Finance department estimates that the tax will yield an additional P18.6 billion this year.

“We will focus on the poor. We are allowed to spend on items like these if we exceed projected revenues,” he said.

Since the start of the year, oil companies in the Philippines have increased prices 18 times. Oil firm executives say the weekly increases of P1.50 per liter (US$0.3 cents) will continue until August.

Oil Shakes Laos’ Economic Growth

Worried that the economy will not grow by eight percent as projected, Laos Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh convened last month a brainstorming meeting to discuss ways to spur growth amid high oil prices.

Inflation rate in Laos has jumped from 6.0 cent in February to 10 per cent in May. The government said early this year the inflation rate would be kept under 10 percent.

“The current 10 per cent would be further existing until the end of the fiscal year (2007-2008),” said Vice President of the National Economic Research Institute, Dr. Leeber Leebouapao.

However, analysts said inflation could be between 10 to 11 percent this year.

The Lao government has adjusted oil prices upwards nine times and only once, downwards. The oil crisis has indeed affected the region and its citizens are hoping that price increases would soon abate.

Friday, July 4, 2008

my thoughts on a Saturday morning

Tons of reading materials are waiting on my desk which probably explains why I haven't been able to update my blog. I just came from school to pick up next week's readings and really, they're a truckload.

On top of all these, I just saw one of my favorite blogs, John Nery's blog, filled with new updates. I've been waiting for updates but I didn't expect to see so many new entries all in one blow. (Oh, John!) I hope to finish them all. There are also a number of other blogs I hope to see updated soon. There's nothing like reading good writing and interesting thoughts combined.

I also have new books waiting on my bedside, hopelessly competing with my dear daughter's demands.


I just received a text message from Charo Logarta of ABS-CBN. It's a farewell text, saying that she will no longer be connected with the network and that she is thankful for 10 years of stories. Good luck to your new endeavor, Charo!


Oil prices are again up by P1.50 per liter. Inflation is up by 11.4 percent in June, above the high-end of the central bank's projection of 11.2 percent. Wow. How we will survive is anybody's guess.


Ingrid Betancourt's rescue is one for the books. It also provides much needed good news for the French president.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

all my bags are packed but I'm not ready to go

I've been asked to vacate my room, my heavenly abode somewhere in Quezon City. It's the place where I grew up and where I spent years becoming the mold that I am now.

It's that one place which knows all my dreams and nightmares -- every single one. It's my one true home, the only home I've known for a long time. It is my kingdom, my utopia, my universe and my wonderland.

On one wall is a huge cabinet filled with books, photos and other mementos. On one corner is my doll house for all the dolls I've collected from my most memorable journeys around the globe. The origins of the dolls are as varied as their shapes and costumes -- from as far as Slovakia to neighboring Thailand.

There are paintings and posters, too and wooden masks around the room.

But everything will soon be gone. Almost all my stuff are now in bags and boxes. The room that I know will forever be removed from my map of the universe.

How do I move on? I'm not really sure. In the meantime, my displaced soul will try to stay sane amid the chaos of packing stuff and choosing between what can be buried and what can be saved.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

back to school

It looks like I'm all set to go back to school. I received my acceptance letter this morning.

"Congratulations! We welcome you to the academic community of the Ateneo de Manila University, an institution of higher learning known for a tradition of excellence and service," read my letter from the Ateneo Office of the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.

Wow. To say that I'm excited is an understatement. I've always wanted to go back to school. It's been 10 years since I graduated from the university, I realized just now.

It's easy to lose track of time when you're in a profession that gives you the opportunity to experience the world as few others will ever experience it. I have been enjoying every minute of my life as a journalist, including the missed deadlines, the interviews with blatantly lying government officials, the outscoops and the scoops, the twisted ankles and tired muscles, the blood, sweat and gore. Everything.

So I'm lucky to be given an opportunity to study without the need to quit work.

In the past, I missed a number of chances for postgraduate studies. There was, for instance, that much-coveted slot for postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom.

I made it to several stages but when the jury later saw my big belly on the last stage of the process, they chose another candidate in the end. But as the Dalai Lama once said, missed opportunities later turn out to be better for you.

I lost a chance to study in UK again (having had the chance to participate in a short course in London earlier) but I would later realize that my experience with my daughter will turn out to be the best adventure I would ever have.

Besides, second and third chances come when you're ready.

I'm taking mine now.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

postscript on the Meralco stockmeet

The corporate war between Meralco and GSIS chief Winston Garcia gets more complicated each day. As I write this, the battle continues at the courts and at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

I meant to update my first entry on the stockholders' meeting held last May 27 but haven't had the chance to do so. Over the past several days, however, some people asked me for updates on it and why I was so exhausted. This, was ofcourse, after Manolo Quezon mentioned this corner in his blog. (Thank you, Sir).

So what really sapped my energy?

For the most part, it was the pressure of coming out with the right story and making sure I got all sides covered (even though I was only there to back-up senior colleague Donnabelle Gatdula).

And then ofcourse, it was everything else. For one, there was the tight security at the gate. The guards did not really know what to do with press people coming in.

When I entered the building, the place was already filled to the brim. Men and women -- serious stockholders or just kibitzers--gathered for the big event.

At past 8 a.m., the crowd booed and jeered Garcia as he entered the building. When I entered the auditorium, I couldn't see much, except for the backs of people standing in the jampacked arena.

My 5'5"-height wasn't much help. I should have worn my only pair of high-heeled shoes but I would later realize that I should have worn rubber shoes and comfortable clothes as we had to sit down on the floor to give way to the stockholders who occupied the seats.

As people might know by now, the SEC, the country's corporate regulator, issued a cease and desist order, stopping the meeting. It was then the start of an adrenaline-pumping, chaotic and noisy corporate event.

Garcia, with booming voice and angry tone, addressed the crowd many times only to be booed, jeered and heckled by the crowd.

It was a long and arduous meeting, leaving me and many others hungry by lunchtime.

During the break, we chased after Garcia for an ambush interview. He dished out a mouthful of lines but some quotes were just hilarious or maybe it's just me. I'll leave it to the readers to judge.

ie. "We will order the freezing of the accounts of Meralco."

"How, sir?" I asked.

"We will write to all the banks," Garcia said.

When we chased after Garcia who went out of the auditorium to vote, a mammoth crowd of photographers and cameramen followed. I was shoved and kicked and stepped on but no hard feelings. It's all part of the job, I know.

TV reporters Karen Davila and Sandra Aguinaldo of ABS and GMA-7, respectively, exchanged angry words, too because one side brought a camera inside the auditorium which was not allowed. The other side reasoned that it brought a camera because the other side already sneaked in a camera ahead of everyone else.

Photographers, meanwhile, were shouted at and scolded by angry Meralco security men.

It was indeed, a rowdy experience. It was tiring but it comes with the territory, especially when one is in a profession which is all about history in a hurry.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

notes on the Meralco's stockholder's meeting

In my years of covering the Philippine economy, this would be the most chaotic corporate war I've witnessed.

I am in a daze. My mind is spinning and I am very hungry. I arrived at the Meralco auditorium before 9 a.m. not expecting the mammoth crowd that had already gathered and the long, tedious meeting that took place.

As I write this, the counting of votes isn't over yet. I managed to beat the deadline but I am still on standby as to what would happen later. And I fervently hope I got the right STORY. Could there be another angle I missed? I hope not.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Oh, sigh. I'm absolutely stressed out.

More later.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy Nanay's Day!

Most of the time I get by. I find joy in seeing my daughter's face light up everytime I walk through the door. It's enjoyable to hear her laugh her heart out, to see her smile and to just stare at her big round eyes.

She's slowly discovering the world and I'm slowly learning how to be a mom. So far, I don't know how I'm doing. Only my daughter can tell whether or not I'm doing fine.

All I know is that motherhood is no playground. It's exhausting, tiring and heartwrenching at times. It's especially painful when you lose yourself and have a hard time getting even some of it back. I always remember what my friend Nico said a few years back: a mother should be ready to embrace a new realm. It's not easy. Not at all.

But despite the bumps, I would never trade this place where I am now for anything in this world.

Happy Nanay's Day to all the moms out there.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

One night in Buenos Aires

The football stadium in Buenos Aires seemed larger than life. There is an infectious atmosphere as U2 fans gathered for the rock gods' concert.

I found myself swallowed by the crowd, embraced by the moment and swept away by Bono's magical spell.

In the final hours of that memorable evening--for almost two hours of pure magic--I found myself in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At least, that's exactly how I felt watching U2 on IMAX 3D at the SM Mall of Asia.

This cinema is capable of sucking the viewer to another universe. In my case, it was U2's concert in Buenos Aires in 2006.

“Uno, dos, tres," Bono's magnetic voice reverberated in the air. This was the start of pure rock-and-roll trance.

I'm just so glad I didn't miss it.

Kudos to directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington and Peter Anderson and Tom Kreuger for the cinematography. (Wikepedia).

I almost tasted the sweat on Bono's brow and nearly touched him as he reached out his arm.

The highlight of my evening was when the band sang Sunday Bloody Sunday but for others it was the Sarajevo song that made the evening.

My "one night in Argentina" could not have been any better.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


It has been, to say the least a very tiring week. There are times, like now, when I question my faith on humanity.

I will never understand why a 70-year old Austrian locked his own daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.

Why do these things happen? Why do crazy parents put their babies in microwave ovens? Why do men molest their own daughters?


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the pleasure of reading

I'm back after two days in Hong Kong. I'm bankrupt as usual as I couldn't resist shopping for books in HK's Page One and the small but very interesting bookshop at the HK airport.

So now, I have absolutely no money until the next payday. But who cares? There's almost nothing that can compare to the pleasure of reading good books.

I bought Pico Iyer's latest book on the Dalai Lama and Paolo Coehlo's Brida. I also bought a book about a child soldier who fought in the war in Sierra Leone and another on parenting.

Now, I can't wait. The pleasure of being lost in a good book takes away all my worries about where to get my next food and gas money. In times like these, I always remember a good advice from taipan John Gokongwei. He said in one interview that he taught his children to spend on travel and good books because they are among life's greatest treasures.

Oh yes...such pleasures of life!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Drenched in Hong Kong

Hong Kong- Did my life flash before my eyes as the pilot warned of a tumultous ride? No, but all I could think of was to throw up as I suddenly had a revolution in my tummy.

It was more than a bumpy ride. It was a roller-coaster ride and a very scary descent on the former British colony.

Three young ladies who looked fresh out of college, seating on the same row, said their lives flashed before their eyes. As for me, I only thought of my dear darling daughter.

The uncertainty was over in a few minutes but the heavy downpour in Hong Kong lasted the whole day yesterday. I was drenched after walking the whole afternoon around Mong Kok looking for this and that.

Today, however, is a new day. The sun is out. My travelmate and I will again roam the city for whatever we could find. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the typhoon has left for good.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Northern Exposure

SAGADA, Mountain Province - It was a long and arduous trip, perhaps not unlike the journey of a pregnant woman in labor, giving birth for the first time. But I am finally here after several hours on the road.

It's been years since I last saw this town where time seems to have ceased. At least to me. The air is still fresh and crisp and the deafening silence of the evenings is still music to my ears.

Or so I thought. After several days, I realized I am still a stranger to this place, with every experience still as foreign to me as any new journey. It's true what they can never really come back to the same place.

Still, this trip is still an experience that will linger in my memory for a long time.

For how can one not enjoy Sagada? You listen closely and you will hear nothing but the laughter of children roaming safely and freely around town, no need for the watchful eyes of their mothers and fathers. You listen more and you will hear the chirping of the birds, the cries of the owls and the dogs, echoing deep in the mountains. You will hear the rustling of the leaves and the splattering of the rain on the pavement.

The air is cold but the warmth of the people will welcome you. There's no need to rush here. There's rarely a chance to feel stressed out. You can take your time eating "born again" cooked in garlic and olive oil. You can devour on the famous lemon pie from the town cooperative or you can while your time sipping mountain coffee in one of the many shops here.

Oh yes, this is the Sagada that I know. Only this.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tips for Women

A dear friend sent me an email celebrating Beautiful Women's Month. Here's the letter. Enjoy:

Five tips for a woman....

1. It is important that a man helps you around the house and has a job.

2. It is important that a man makes you laugh.

3. It is important to find a man you can count on! and doesn't lie to you.

4. It is important that a man loves you and spoils you.

5. It is important that these four men don't know each other.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Oh My Gulay!

La Trinidad, BENGUET - They wake up earlier than the roosters do. They're busy trying to make a living from selling their harvest. They're the vegetable farmers and traders of northern Philippines.

I met them at the La Trinidad Public Market where fresh vegetables from the northern provinces are sold.

In this huge basin of leafy greens, everyone is busy selling and transporting sacks and sacks of vegetables. Men, women and children are constantly on the move. They sweat it out if only to survive the tough competition brought about by the flood of cheap imports from Taiwan and elsewhere.

I was privileged to catch a glimpse of their lives on my stopover here during my weekend road trip.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

amazing race

So the Singapore boys won while the Pinoy team, the perennial first runner-up for most of the race, came in last.

Irony of ironies. Such is life. You just never know what you're going to get in the end.

But I'm happy for Collin and Adrian. They've always been my choice because they were so determined and focused yet humble and considerate. For them, it was all about the journey and how they went through it. They didn't try to get ahead of the whole pack by being dishonest or scheming. They just did their best. And they had faith.

I've always believed that when one has faith in oneself, he has already won half the battle.

In the end, it wasn't about strength and stamina. It was a mind game, after all. It was about which flag came first.

It's a lot like life. You just never know what happens in the end. No matter how much you try, a single road block can change the course of things forever. One just has to keep his fingers crossed that things would turn out only for the better.

Amazing, indeed.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Marie Claire

To those who enjoy reading travel stories, I invite to get a copy of the February 2008 issue of Marie Claire (Philippine edition). My travelogue on Cambodia has been published by the magazine. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing the piece and discovering that part of the world.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

what I did this morning

Journalists file P10-M class suit vs gov’t

For threats to press freedom

By Nonoy Espina
First Posted 13:21:00 01/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- Journalists and media organizations filed Monday a class suit seeking damages against the government for threats to press freedom.

The suit, which also seeks a preliminary mandatory injunction and/or temporary restraining order against further threats and future arrests of journalists, was filed at the Makati regional trial court.

It seeks P10 million in damages that the plaintiffs said was intended to drive home the point that it would be “costly for those who would abuse the power momentarily entrusted to them by the sovereign citizens of this land.”

The case is an offshoot of the arrest of journalists after government forces put down an attempted uprising by mutinous soldiers who occupied the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati City last November 29 and subsequent threats to carry out similar arrests if media refused to obey government orders.

The government officials named as respondents were Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, and military and police officers.

Among the organizations that initiated the filing of the class were the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and the Philippine Press Institute.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

at the surgeon's mercy

The surgeon's room looked eerie, dark and lonely. Most of all, it looked old, as if thousands and thousands of surgical procedures have already been done in the room. Who knows? Some patients may have survived, some may have died. But there was no smell of death. Only the fetid smell of medicines and anesthesia.

It was my turn on the bed. There was no time to say no. The surgeon, old and almost bald, reminded me of my grandfather. He didn't look scary, just intimidating. He exuded the aura of someone who has been around and has done almost every surgical procedure.

Mine was a minor, minor procedure. But still, I cried. I cried like a child. I cried as if I was going to give birth again. I cried when he was about to inject me with pain killers. I cried when I saw the needle. I cried as the dreaded moment came -- the tip of the needle slowly and mercilessly grinded into my skin.

But I needed the anesthesia, no thanks to my low threshold for physical pain. Fifteen minutes later and several muted screams of pain after, it was over. I now have a bandage over my head and hope that when the wound heals, everything will be back to normal.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

The morning after

So this is how it feels the morning after. Last night, I emptied the tiny room that had been my second home for nearly five years. For months, I had been preparing to leave. Last night, left without much choice, I finally pulled out the two remaining bags of old books covered with the thickest dust.

It's not easy. Datelines Bookshop after all, had been my second home for nearly five years. Its walls witnessed too many experiences which are all partly the reasons I am my own mold now. The inner room, for instance, saw and heard the best and worst --the laughter, the tears, the endless nights of both joy and pain.

In this place, I've met some of the greatest men and women. I have had the pleasure of seeing artists, journalists, writers, poets, cultural workers, pilgrims and drifters while their time in this wonderful haven I co-own.

But most good things come to an end. This was no exception. I, albeit painfully, finally said goodbye to the bookshop. I had no choice. Responsibilities have been forgotten. Promises were broken. Cowardice got the better of us. Commitments were not honored. The passion fizzled out. Love flew out of the window and last but not least, a business partner's wife got in the way.

Like most goodbyes, however, this one isn't for good. Someday, somewhere in this great big universe, at another dateline, it will again be possible.

In the meantime, thank you to each and everyone who joined the journey.