Naglakbay nAPO ako

Naglakbay nAPO ako
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated December 27, 2009 12:00 AM


The year 2009 has been a long one, especially if you live in the Philippines. It feels like an exceptionally long one because of the many things – both good and bad — that have transpired. To enumerate a few events quickly, this was the year of the ZTE, Jocjoc Bolante scandals, the death of Cory Aquino, the rise of her son Noynoy, the deadly Ondoy and Pepeng typhoons, Manny Pacquiao’s spectacular fights, Efren Penaflorida’s glorious win, rising election fever, the Ampatuan carnage, and the eruption of Mayon Volcano. Quite a plateful.

While we all went through these events collectively, I am not about to go back to them. Instead, I want to leave them with some finality. In place of a retrospective look at 2009, I prefer to review another series of events, that I experienced in the past 12 months — my sojourns abroad and my thoughts about Filipinos as a world-traveling people.

This has been quite a traveling year for me. The APO had a short concert tour in the United States and Canada. We did five concerts in five cities in one month. I went back and forth to Sydney from Manila about four or five times in between work. I also went to Korea and Bangkok for writing assignments, and around the Philippines to do more shows.

At age 58, I find that travel is beginning to lose its attraction in the sense that it has become physically tiring. I used to love the frenzied craziness of a tour schedule. The idea of being in a new town, a new hotel room, a new concert venue every few days would get my adrenalin going. While I can still do it, I prefer a slower pace. Instead of collecting postcards, souvenirs and cramming experiences in tight memory banks, I want a less stressful pace with time to smell the flowers, so to speak.

When I was a young man in my 20s, my greatest wish was to see the world. Perhaps the sheer act of wishing it as often as I was awake made travel happen for me in great abundance. The Universe must have heard my desire and deemed it worthy to grant my wishes. I have crisscrossed many parts of the world, seen many wondrous things, and met many, many people.

Travel is one of those ingredients in my life that has opened me up intellectually, philosophically, even artistically, and pretty much shaped a big part of what I am today. The world is a big place and when one meanders in it, one can grow exponentially. I often return from travels writing a lot of songs, or just glorying in some kind of growth spurt.

I have often wondered what it was like for people like Rizal, Lopez Jaena, the Luna brothers and other expatriates who experienced a pre-jet age Europe that was not yet familiar with Asians, much less Filipinos. The Europeans must have found their height, complexion and accents strange, quaint and perhaps funny. Maybe, some even found them charming. The romantic exploits of the Pinoy ilustrados in Europe, as told by our historians, suggest a lot of success in cross-cultural love and sex. Those encounters must have been quite an experience for our young countrymen then.

I don’t know if anyone has written an in-depth analysis of how Filipinos have reacted to migration all these years. In my limited observation, Filipinos generally react two ways to travel and migrating. One is to completely absorb and be absorbed by the experiences, sometimes enough to lose and even consciously obliterate much of their Filipino-ness in their attempt to assimilate to the new culture. The other way is to absorb, learn, objectify and get the best of what a foreign sojourn presents and integrate what they learn with their being Filipino.

In the case of the some of our 19th-century Pinoy expats, the physical, psychological and cultural differences they encountered must have challenged and even strengthened their own identity as Filipinos then. It is amazing that while Rizal learned practically all the science, art and general knowledge he knew through a foreign language and its attendant cultural prism, he never lost his love for his homeland. In fact, he often thought of the Philippines, and while he heavily criticized it in his books, he showed a love and compassion for the suffering it was going through, and a belief in its promise.

During my last trips the past few years, I met many Filipinos who left home many years ago but now, in their advancing age are pining for life back home. These were the same people who were dynamic angry young men and women who left for greener pastures because they were disillusioned with their country. They were not about to waste their lives in a place that could not bankroll their dreams then or give them a chance to have a good future.

But now, even as some of them have attained material and professional success in foreign lands, they are toying with the idea of leaving everything again and going back home. They are genuinely curious about what is happening in the Philippines and welcome every random hopeful sign that they see in the hope perhaps that things are getting better, or at least enough to make a decision to return home a viable one.

Is it age that is making them do this? Has the excitement of constantly adjusting to a new culture finally tired them out? Or is it because one realizes sooner or later that no one can completely leave home no matter how hard one has tried?

The yen to travel and experience the unknown has always been a human yearning. The grass has always appeared greener on the other side. The rest of the world outside one’s hometown has always been too attractive not to explore and maybe even plant oneself in.

I am a migrant to Australia. Among my family, though, I have stayed away from Oz the longest and have lived here in Manila more than Sydney since we left. I am still psychologically and emotionally tethered to the Philippines, and held spellbound by the unraveling of its national life. Perhaps I always will be.

I must admit there is something to love in both places. Both have a feeling of home for me. Maybe it’s because I just have the ability to be present wherever I am. With every wind blown in my direction, every pothole, every smiling face, cheery laughter and every tacky billboard, Manila speaks to me, and tells me its many stories. Sydney does the same albeit in a different accent. There are many things we Filipinos can teach Sydneysiders about our love for life and our “chaos,” just as there are many things we can learn from them about order, greater egalitarianism and civics.

I once wondered whether our karmic destiny as a people was to be foreigners owing to the number of people leaving for other shores. And yet, the more we become “other people,” the more we learn about who we are. James Joyce (who wrote and lived much of his life far from his native Dublin) once wrote, “Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”

I remember the smell of pakbet wafting in the air in a small restaurant in California in the ‘80s. I thought then that this was proof that we can make any place home. But Henry Miller also said that, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

With all this traveling Filipinos are doing, something in us as a people is changing us and I am betting that, in the end, it will be good.

Christmas moments

Christmas moments
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated December 20, 2009 12:00 AM

I must confess I am one of those who feel ambivalent towards the whole season of Christmas. The traffic, the frenzy of Christmas parties, the shopping, big expenses, the mindless commercialism and materialistic orgy that it has become and the increased noise level everywhere often get to me and disturb my routine and my peace.

I am not really a party animal. I don’t even drink, save for a beer or a glass of wine that lasts me the whole night. A good, noisy party once in a while is okay, but please, not the three or more parties in a week that the current season brings. Neither am I an enthusiastic shopper like my wife. My tolerance level in a mall is one hour, max.

I like my quiet time and miss it a lot when I don’t get it. Thus, my lack of enthusiasm during the Christmas season which has become less of a festivity and more of an imposition, an obligation lacking in meaning. Sometimes, it is more like an assault especially when I hear the monstrosity of “discofied” versions of Silent Night and Hark the Herald Angels Sing on radio and TV and in commercial areas. Do I sound like the Grinch?

Many people I know feel the same way. I often think that if Christmas could be celebrated once every two or three years, it would be just right and appropriate. It would be more along my pace.

Which is why I have begun to try and rethink Christmas and how to survive it year after year.

In the past few years, I have been on the lookout for what I call “Christmas moments.” This is when I go out of my way to try to deliberately spread true Christmas cheer by way of sincere, unexpected and voluntary giving.

A few nights back, I was stuck in a traffic light when a young girl no more than 11 years old came up to my car, knocked on my window and showed me the sampaguita garlands she was selling. In the past, on occasion, I would buy some, but normally I would just knock back to signify that I was not interested. This time, however, I took pause and looked at the seller’s face. I don’t know why but I just felt empathy seeing someone so young who had to hawk flowers late in the evening.

I brought out P50 and asked her for P20 worth of sampaguita. She politely explained to me that she only had P10 change and proceeded to get P40 worth of flowers to give to me. At that point, I took the flowers she gave me, got one strand, and gave her back the rest. I told her that it was all I wanted. In short, I gave her P50 for something much less in value and wished her a Merry Christmas. Her face beamed. Her smile said it all. Something in her face spelled a special moment. I saw gratitude and hope in my fellowman (or girl, as the case may be). Me? I felt my eyes welling up as I drove away.

Last Sunday, my immediate family was home together. Everyone arrived from Sydney the night before for a Manila Christmas. We have not spent Christmas here in three years. It was no surprise therefore that everyone felt good to be together at dinner. I could tell that my granddaughter Ananda was especially thrilled. She somehow knew it was an extraordinary moment, perhaps because the house was all lighted up and everyone was feeling happy and aglow.

To further amplify the occasion for her, I brought out my iPod and speaker and played Christmas carols. My daughter Ala and I upped the ante some more by engaging Ananda in a dance. Like children, we jumped, swayed, shuffled, pirouetted ourselves silly, which only made Ananda more animated. We danced and laughed for about 45 minutes. It was a great, fun and silly time, but I knew it was a moment that my granddaughter would remember for a long time. It will probably be part of her primal memories of Christmas. I just know that last Sunday evening was a wonderful gift we had given her.

Ala is thinking of doing volunteer work with some NGO while she is here on a visit. My other daughter Erica has thought up a gift-giving gimmick by asking her friends to donate things to fill shoe boxes for the victims of typhoon Ondoy. The contents are not the usual canned goods but stuff like shirts, and other useful things that will make the recipient feel that he or she is opening not another package of relief goods but a real Christmas present.

I am glad that they are somehow getting past the materialism and the hardcore partying that the holidays seem to mean for many young people.

A familiar line one hears during Christmas is that “it is better to give than to receive.” Although I believe it, I notice that it is easier to say it than to practice it. And sometimes, I still need convincing that it is true. Peyton Conway March, an American military officer, put it another way: “There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life — happiness, freedom, and peace of mind — are always attained by giving them to someone else.”

The idea, therefore, if one is to survive Christmas with sanity and good cheer intact, is to make something of Christmas for one’s self and avoid the ennui that the materialism of Christmas brings. And that is done by giving to others, even if one’s motive for doing so are to feel good about Christmas. “Selfish” motives notwithstanding, it’s more than just giving that happens when one gives. More than the simbang gabi, a Christmas moment for me is one where I see another person as myself, and thus my very giving to him or her opens me to my own spirituality. It does not matter whether the motivation was emotional, or whatever else. The important thing is to not say “no” to the Christmas moment when it moves you.

This early, I am already thinking of being less random and more methodical about opening myself to more of these Christmas moments throughout 2010. I intend to commit to a charity or an NGO that will offer me ample opportunities to give of my time and self. And I am doing this while the spirit is moving me at the moment. If I can do this, I can stop feeling that Christmas should be just a once-every-two-or-three-year event. Perhaps it is what I need to look forward to Christmas every day of my life.

Whose dream will play out- GMA’s or ours?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated December 13, 2009 12:00 AM


It’s not only me. Many people I have known for a while, and even people I have just met seem to be suffering from the blahs. This is not the usual regular holiday blues or depression that besets many at this time of year. It is something else.

It seems that most people feel like they have been under siege these past few months. There are the big losses of livelihood and possessions, and even lives caused by typhoons Ondoy, Pepeng and Santi that many still have to recover from. Then there is the demoralizing onslaught of horrific events that have been playing out in our national life, leaving everyone in fear, shock, anger and unadulterated disgust.

The monumental ineptness of rescue efforts by the government during recent natural calamities has left many reeling. Seeing many of our friends, neighbors and countrymen completely at the mercy of Mother Nature, and government practically useless in abetting much of the suffering, we have begun to question what kind of officials we have in place, or why we even have a government at all.

The saving grace in all this is that the people themselves realized almost instantly and collectively that we would have to provide the help ourselves — taumbayan helping taumbayan. Thus, the great outpouring of compassion from everywhere energized many and neutralized the cynicism that was creeping in big-time.

The phenomenal victory of Manny Pacquiao over Miguel Cotto, making him a candidate for best boxer of all time, helped lift our sagging spirits, no doubt. What a guy! Watching the fight, I had moments similar to what I felt when I wrote, “Kay sarap pala maging Pilipino” in the song Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo.

Then, Efren Peñaflorida winning the CNN Hero of the Year award lifted us up even higher and made us feel very proud that, yes, we do have what it takes to be world-class. And yes, there are good people among us who can and are showing the way out of the rut of ignorance, poverty and helplessness. There is hope.

But then, just as the heroism of Efren inspired us collectively, the spoiler — the evil that often appears to sabotage our own dreams of liberation — moved in swiftly with a counter 1-2-3 punch.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, defying the most cynical among us, announced that she was not through with us yet and was filing her candidacy for Congress. Wow! This woman, despite garnering the lowest rating any president has ever had in our history continues to wantonly, brazenly pursue her ambitions. No, she was not stepping down, and with matching timing, her heavily-stacked Supreme Court asserted that incumbents or persons in position of authority need not give up their present powers if they wish to run for public office. Unbelievable shamelessness!

Ominous clouds suddenly hovered overhead, threatening to end the sunshine of Manny and Efren’s world-class victories.

And as if GMA’s caper wasn’t dizzying enough, a few days later came the most shocking, barbaric, grizzly and horrible murders that went beyond any evil we had ever experienced as a people. The Maguindanao massacre of 57 Filipinos in the most heartless and brutal fashion made us recoil in horror and disbelief at what a Filipino could do to another Filipino. The inhumanity of the execution, rape and mutilation of the women, and the crude burial by backhoe was incomprehensible in its animalistic butchery. I felt sick hearing the accounts and almost threw up when I saw the pictures circulated on the Internet.

What kind of monsters are these who are capable of such depravity? And what kind of president could even have a history of being cozy with such moral cretins? Why did it take her four days to act on the situation? And why did her spokesperson say that the horrific event would not put an end to GMA’s close relationship with the Ampatuans?

It was mind-boggling hearing Lorelei Fajardo say that. We already knew that we had a shady, morally- challenged president who wants to stay in power at all cost, but we had no idea what that “cost” would be. The Ampatuans delivered ARMM to GMA during the last two elections with results that defied logic and the projections based on statistics applicable elsewhere in the country. If that means cozying up to low-life butchers such as these, then so be it.

Many are worried that GMA’s declaration of martial law in Maguindanao may be another manipulative card she is playing to save the Ampatuans from the long arm of the law, if only to prevent the dismantling of their cheating machine that has served her well.

How can we not speculate when 79 percent of us Filipinos do not trust her to ever do the right thing?

Last Tuesday, Governor Grace Padaca of Isabela, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, a handicapped media person who has thrice beat the powerful Dy clan in elections, was unseated by the Comelec after a spurious recount. It won’t be long before Among Ed Panlilio of Pampanga will also be unseated in favor of GMA’s friend, Lilia Pineda. The sky seems to be falling for those who had high hopes that the start of true change might come in 2010.

These past months, I have been asking myself and speculating on the future of the Philippines after the 2010 elections. Will Noynoy win? Will we have a resurgence of elected reformists who will enter the scene with a “real change” agenda? But all I am seeing right now is that the prospect of getting rid of GMA in 2010 is almost frustratingly nil.

The resident evil refuses to leave us. You know what it’s like when you keep flushing the toilet and the excreta refuses to disappear?

If the pundits are right (and more and more of what they have been saying is turning out to be correct), she is going to be a congresswoman with her eye on the speakership which will put her within stone’s throw of acquiring her greatest desire — Charter change — after which she can impose herself further on us as prime minister. For life!

I am so sorry to say that her chances of succeeding are great, despite her overwhelming rejection by the Filipino people. Why? It’s very simple, really. We all know she will stop at nothing to get what she wants. That’s more than what can be said about the millions who hate her but who only complain, blog, tweet, march once or twice in a demonstration, vote for the reform candidates, but will do no more. GMA is willing to show up every day and do what she needs to do to fulfill her ambition. Can we say the same for ourselves?

And that’s why we Filipinos are doomed, for now. Only when we wake up and fight for this country like it is really ours will we get the government we desire.

There is a Hindu saying that goes, “There is a dream dreaming us.” Look around you. What are you seeing? Are you seeing a world where your dreams are taking place? Of course not! Whose dream are we seeing then? GMA’s, the Ampatuans’, the trapos’, the polluters’, the predators’ of the poor are all playing out their dreams. Why are we allowing this? Why are we allowing ourselves to even be part of it?

It’s time to wake up, and dream our own dreams, act on them and pursue them, like free peoples elsewhere. Let us do something constructive everyday— learn about the issues, engage, convince or inspire someone. Join an org, get involved, be active and stick to it. Fight the forces of the nightmare that rules over us. Do anything except be a passive player in GMA’s dream. This is how we can reclaim our country.

The way we were and should be

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated December 06, 2009 12:00 AM


This year, my alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University celebrates its 150th year as an educational institution. There will be a lot of celebrations — some have already started — to highlight the greatness of this paragon of education and formation that has affected in many great ways, the trajectory of our nation’s life.

When I was growing up, there was an aura bestowed upon those who were lucky enough to study at the Ateneo. It was a special privilege to be studying there. It was among the best — and if you ask any Atenean, they will say it is the best — school there is. Its academics, sports and spiritual formation have been the envy of many schools.

Actually, not much has changed regarding Ateneo’s reputation. It is still a great school, and Ateneans still feel that it is the pinnacle of educational institutions in the country. There is no shortage of parents who would move mountains to make sure their children get an Ateneo education.

To be sure, there are many good schools in the Philippines, and all of them can claim that their graduates have played big roles in our national life. Yet, despite the fine traditions and reputations of these great schools — the Ateneo included — in inculcating values and skills among their alumni, and the long list of their graduates who have done well not just for themselves but also by their fellowmen, it is obvious that all these school also carry the shame of having among its alumni the rogues who have not only scandalized the Filipino’s sense of values but may have also inflicted heavy damage on our political, economic and social institutions.

It must make their teachers, spiritual advisers, guidance counselors shudder when they see their former students occupying prominent places in the national gallery of ill repute. I can imagine how bad some of them must feel, having given (at least in the Ateneo I knew) so much time and effort, patience and perseverance to teaching these rogues their A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s as well as the religious, civic and social values that were supposed to shape them into decent, ethical and exemplary grownups.

I remember my early catechism classes where we heard the story of the fallen angels led by Lucifer who were privileged to be among God’s inner circle of goodness but turned away when they chose the path of evil. I think of classmates and other people I know who got the best formative education that money could buy, and yet have turned their backs on the values that were taught them, choosing instead the ways of corruption and destructive self-gratification at the expense of the society they live in. Maybe they never really bought into the values their schools imparted in the first place. Perhaps, to them, these were merely subjects they had to pass in order to graduate.

More and more, it is becoming clear that education at a great school alone is no guarantee that one will grow up upright. I believe that upbringing and parenting have a greater impact on a person than any school can ever have. More than going to prestigious school, it must impact more on a person if he was loved or neglected, cared for or ignored, treated decently as a person or abused verbally or physically. Anyone who was never loved properly in early childhood or whose self-esteem was damaged, whose sense of self was distorted greatly, or was not trained at home to delay gratification, will find alien many of the values of respect, decency, the common good, sacrifice and virtue, since he did not experience them at the time that he was most teachable.

That’s why I sometimes get appalled at how parents practically surrender the rearing of their kids to teachers and educational institutions. They like to believe that their contributions are largely financial and it is the school’s duty to take care of how their kids develop as persons. Often, parents excuse themselves saying they are doing enough — working so hard to feed, clothe and pay for their children’s education. Perhaps such parents experienced the same treatment while they were growing up and they are merely passing it on.

It is parents who must inculcate in children the primal sense of right and wrong. The school merely strengthens, encourages and clarifies their budding consciences. I think of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s childhood in Malacañang and imagine that her sense of decency, morality and the guiding values of her life must have been shaped by her politician parents who occupied the palace for a while. Was she ignored or abandoned? What did she pick up from her parents as she listened to their discussions about the use of power? Did she acquire a sense of entitlement growing up in Malacañang? What decent, adult or moral behavior was mirrored to her?

What about warlords like the Ampatuans? What kind of childhood did they have? Were they not taught to love or even just respect their fellowmen? Do they not feel any human, compassionate connection to the rest of humanity that they have been tasked to serve? What makes a person so obsessed with power and money that he or she can abandon any sense of decency and pursue power to the limit, regardless of who lives or dies in the process?

I am aware that many of our officials who are perceived as corrupt, murderers and cheats went to the best schools, and yet, there seems to be no trace of any of the school values in their style of governance and conduct. What gives the school away is the brilliance and adeptness at legal but crooked reasoning, good English skills, oratorical savvy, double speak, and the power to influence and outsmart their fellowmen.

It seems that all the spiritual formation — retreats, recollections, theology subjects — is no antidote to the poor character training I suspect they got at home.

To be sure, no one is perfect. And we do abandon some of the values we grew up with as we experience life and acquire new ones. But for the most part, we never forget much of what is basically wrong or right. We know when we are good. M. Scott Peck describes sin as the militant denial of the light. We are only able to do things against our values by denying the inner voice that whispers and tells us we are wrong.

Perhaps that urge to look back and in the process return to the fold of one’s values is one of the things an alumni homecoming is good for.

In these cynical times when our leaders seem to gloat at how they can literally get away with mass murder and deception, and plot against their own people just to hold on to power, seeing old mentors, classmates, counselors and recalling the innocent, idealistic days of youth remind us of the way we were, and how differently things have turned out for our country if we had stayed that way.

And hopefully, we can finally make things the way they should be by doing the right things as we were taught by our parents and our teachers a lifetime ago.