Monthly Archives: March 2013

Have a good Good Friday

Growing up, the Holy Week was a time of wonder for me. School was out. And my summer vacation with my paternal grandparents was about to start. That is, right after the grand procession on the evening of Holy Wednesday. As a boy, Maundy Thursday was the start of my 4-week vacation in Candaba, Pampanga (the other 4 weeks before school started to be spent in Manila, with my maternal grandmother). It was one of the happiest times of my childhood, when I got to play in the fields, in the creek, pick fruits with my cousins, watch my uncles as they harvested and fished, etc.

that poor carabao

that poor carabao

As an adult, this translated to traveling during the break from studies and work. But I did this infrequently. I like to travel, but I hate the crowds that holiday traveling usually brings. I am more like an off-season traveler. So for many Holy Weeks in my adult life I didn’t venture far from home. I enjoy the stillness of our neighborhood, and the city in general, during these times.

one of my Holy Week trips in college

one of my Holy Week trips in college

Also, the Holy Week seems to bring out my writing Muse. I have written many things in the previous years, during Holy Week. I remember in 2004, before I left for Cambodia, I was able to write a short story and about 15 poems as I was finalizing things with the job that I left and the arrangements for my trip. The evenings of my first few weeks in the new country were spent editing those poems.

Since coming back, I haven’t done any traveling during Holy Week. But I kept on writing. And editing. Like right now, I am editing a short story that I wrote, also during Holy Week 15 years ago. This editing process is a bit painful because the story has grown on me, before its critical flaws were shown to me by a fresh set of discerning eyes. I do not write the same way that I did 15 years ago, which makes the task particularly challenging. So I try to delay the process over the past days, distracting myself with Facebook, Twitter, and this blog, all the while knowing I have to get on with it–the sooner the better. Aside from not eating meat, this is my other sacrifice this season.

My own version of self-flagellation.

When kids kill themselves, part 2

Up to the day Kristel Tejada was laid to rest, protests were still ringing through various student and interest groups. The issue of late has been focused on education reforms, particularly among state-owned universities. It is un-surprising that many will regard young Kristel’s suicide as something ‘heroic’ for creating awareness on the issue–a virtual can of worms waiting to be opened.

How’s this for a resulting event? Students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), who study by paying P12 (30 US cents) per unit, threw the financially strapped university’s tables and chairs from the fourth floor balcony and burned them. In protest of an impending tuition fee increase. All for education reform.

misguided fires of youthful passion

misguided fires of youthful passion

When young people kill themselves, I think it is easier for those who are left behind to to look for one specific reason that will explain such a decision. Sometimes it is easier to find someone or something to lay the blame on.

While I agree that there are inherent flaws in UP Manila’s tuition and scholarship systems, I think people were too quick in blaming young Kristel’s suicide on the institution and on (some of) its people. This simplistic view is a reflection of our society’s ambivalent feelings and attitudes towards mental illness.

It was very clear to me that Kristel has been clinically depressed for months before she committed suicide. And like for most Filipinos, this was most probably un-diagnosed–attributed to ‘just the blues’ that seem to be omnipresent in many adolescents. True, the tuition fee-related incidents leading up to her suicide was probably the ‘trigger’ that resulted in her decision to take her own life. But to blame everything on UP Manila is a further disgrace to Kristel and what she went through.

We need to understand the complexities of depression along with the complexities of our own emotions, without fear of judgement or stigmatization.

I was clinically depressed for most of 2010 and 2011. thoughts of killing myself occupied a lot of space in my mind. My reason? I can’t name one specific reason, even now. It was everything: a confluence of unfortunate events that seemed to work against me. At the same time, it was nothing: I felt there was nothing I could do to feel better and death was my only way out. Even now, two years later, I’m still struggling to find the good and happy among everyday things. I have good days and bad days.

At the height of my depression, it didn’t matter how kind the words spoken to me or how compassionate people behaved towards me; nothing swayed me from my goal, which was self -destruction. Fortunately, I changed my mind. But this happened on my own, not through family or friends. My mother, in particular, was baffled by what I was going through. Only an aunt, who’s a veteran nurse, understood me.

I have told my family or friends not to feel guilty if they weren’t able to really help me that time. At most, the help I needed from others were either company when I sought it or solitude when I needed it.

All I can say is people deal with depression in very unique ways. And sometimes, no matter how much we disagree, for some people, suicide is the only way of dealing/ coping with it.

Nothing important happened today

I try to avoid watching the news because I find it too depressing. The ratio between good and bad news being reported by broadcast media is seriously imbalanced, in favor of the bad. But like a passer-by who stumbled upon a road accident, I am often unable to resist the urge to watch the news on TV. I like information. I like to be informed, for better or worse.

word salad

word salad

As a discerning consumer of information, I take it from a wide range of sources to ‘expand and balance’ my perception and opinions. I have learned not to take things at face value right away. I have cultivated the habit of looking at the reasons and contexts at play behind events and incidents. I have come to understand that good and evil are not absolute but more likely relative states.

However, all of these learning can prove useless in the face of the fodder that’s being shoved down our throats by the media these days.

Since when are domestic squabbles national news? The warring couple might be both celebrities but why are their mundane affairs covered as if it were of national importance? Can’t talk your daughter out of a relationship with someone you don’t approve? Here’s the solution: hold a press conference and malign everyone except yourself for being such a terrible parent!

Until recently, I didn’t think that we have this culture of washing dirty linens in public. I thought this was confined to Americans, with their indignant glorification of victimization, as seen in some of their popular talk shows (Jerry Springer Show, Geraldo, Ricki Lake Show, etc). So when the format of TV5’s ‘Face-to-Face’ surfaced in another network’s shows, I came to the sad realization that as it turned out, we are also susceptible to this condition.

Our Muslim brothers are dying in Sabah. The means of counting our votes might have changed, but the candidates in this election have mostly remained the same. Suicide has claimed another young person, putting public education under scrutiny. The church continues to meddle in political affairs. The country’s so-called economic gains has not trickled down to sectors that matter.

“Nothing important happened today.” King George III, unaware that Americans had declared independence, wrote this in his diary on July 4, 1776. Communication  technology has changed dramatically since then. But with the quality of stories that our mass media has chosen to foist upon us, it becomes safer to say that, indeed, nothing important happened today.

When kids kill themselves, part 1

I’ve been wanting to write something “Papal” but it keeps on getting bumped off by what-I-think-as more pressing matters. I will be writing something about Kristel Tejada but first I am re-posting something from my previous blog. On November 2007, 12 year-old Marianette Amper hung herself because she couldn’t cope anymore with her family’s abject poverty, which has affected all aspects of her life.

Six years separate the two suicides, but I can’t help but feel they’re one and the same. Here’s my old post:

On the afternoon of November 2, a 12 year-old girl from Davao City, Philippines named Manette Amper used a thin nylon rope to hang herself in their home. As her distraught family went through her things, they found her diary, which revealed that Manette had been miserable because of the poverty that her family had been living under (probably) most of her life. I found it hard to breathe as I saw the television broadcast. I was thankful that the report was sensitive in handling the story and the news was presented without resorting to sensationalism.

It was excruciating to see/hear the contents of Manette’s diary. She wrote feeling like she has missed a month of school because she didn’t have the money to bring herself to school. Unlike most children who look forward to Christmas with unalloyed joy, Manette sounded sad when she wrote (realized) that Christmas is just around the corner. Judging from the snippets of Manette’s diary that were broadcast, she struck me as a clever, eloquent girl. I feel that she would’ve done much better in school (and later, in life) if she had adequate support from the people around her. Sayang talaga (what a waste).

Manette’s story on TV Patrol was immediately followed up by a bit saying that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has taken personal responsibility of Manette’s bereaved family. How thoughtful. How compassionate and brave. How totally late for Manette. After the president, Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz (Lingayen-Dagupan) said that we are all to blame for Marianette’s fate. Manette has unwittingly become the poster girl for the state of desperation that is plaguing Filipinos. Her words reminded me of another girl who poured her thoughts into a diary before her young life was also extinguished. However, unlike Anne Frank, Manette did not live in a time of war. If anything, Manette’s war was largely ignored by most people. It has been repeatedly reduced to a talking point for the government, an advocacy cause for activists, a charity for religious institutions. I am choked with guilt that I am part of the collective that had given Manette no hope or recourse other than to take her own life.

All Manette needed was a hundred pesos (about US$2.30) for her school project. This was infinitely smaller than the amount of money that has been offered to or shared between politicians, government officials, and businessmen as part of deals and machinations that only serve to bring the country further down on its knees. But more than this measly sum of money, Manette would have fared better if she had the support of her community. I read that in their mostly-poor neighbourhood, Manette’s family have been discriminated against for the state of their clothes and appearance. Such un-Christian behaviour coming from a people who is proud of its Catholic ways. Has the church, in its preoccupation to meddle in government affairs (blocking legislation protecting the health of women, legislating morality), forgotten to remind its flock to treat each other as good little Christians?

In Manette’s death, no one among us is blameless.

depressed

Filipinos are proud to admit that we are a resilient people. We survive natural (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and super-typhoons) and man-made (sinking ships, fires, and landslides) calamities, dictatorships and military upheavals. Heck, even the death of Fernando Poe, Jr. If we can survive these, why can’t we survive poverty? The Philippines ranks #83 (out of 100) in terms of suicide rate, according to the World Health Organization. We have even yet to consider suicide as a public health problem (as WHO recommends) probably because the figures are not high (2.1 per 100,000 people). Worldwide, 100,000 adolescents die from suicide each year.

Whenever something disastrous happens, we all like to say, ‘Kaya natin to’ (We can take this). This is not machismo. This is Pinoy Bravado. This might have held water years ago but now, it took one girl to shatter this myth of resilience like a ball of glass thrown to the floor. I can feel the shards sticking into my skin, drawing blood painfully. I feel miserable and guilty. I am indignant. I wish the same happens to the people and communities and institutions responsible for Manette’s death.

Have you embraced your inner bigot today?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. described bigotry this way: “The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract.”

That sums up right away the way I feel for those who harbor prejudices against anyone or anything. A kind of resigned acceptance, even tolerance–the same things that they cannot find within themselves. I don’t try to change them; I just make sure that our paths cross as minimally as possible. However, there are times when this becomes difficult to do, especially when bigots find a platform to stand on and a channel to broadcast their bigotry to the rest of the world.

I was prepared to contain my reaction to Christine Babao’s parenting column article within a single tweet because I felt it deserved nothing more. Many have reacted to the article and there have been far more eloquent responses and reactions than mine would have been. One such reaction here, from a lesbian and another from a developmental psychologist provide insight based on critical and scientific thinking instead of pseudo-psychology and moralistic and polite shaming.

rainbow4bigots

However, just the other night, as I was having coffee with a close friend (who’s also gay), this topic found its way into our conversation wherein he told me that he wasn’t really bothered by Ms Babao’s pronouncements on parenting (possibly LGBT) children. Because he felt that, as a parent, she was entitled to think that way and to act according to what she thought was good for her own children. He had a point, I had to agree.

Therein, I thought, lies the deeper problem. Ms Babao’s comments are a reflection of parents’ lack of knowledge and understanding of human sexuality. The fact that she talked about looking for ‘early signs of homosexuality’ is a clear indicator that she and the so-called expert she quoted view homosexuality (and other variations of sexual preference) as a disease or a disorder of some sort. She also displayed a complete ignorance of the differences between sex and gender, which further affects her views on sexuality.

For someone who’s in the mass media, one might express surprise at her old-fashioned dated views on human sexuality. However, she’s not really alone in this. Ms Babao is not the first and she won’t be the last. I know for certain a number of female celebrities who are surrounded by gay men & women colleagues and friends who will find it inconceivable to accept should her son/ daughter grow up gay. When this hugely popular actress had a talk show, I remember cringing upon hearing her prejudices against gays, which she let slip discretely beneath her very nice and polite demeanor. And just last night, in a talent show, while judging a young male contestant who might’ve danced too gracefully (like a “girl”) so as to arouse doubts on the boy’s sexuality, its out-spoken female judge said that if it were one of her sons (who acted like that), she would probably die.

Bigotry is a tricky thing. Not many will admit to having prejudices but we all have it, in varying degrees. Like I said, my problem is when bigots find a platform to stand on and a channel to broadcast their bigotry to the world. Ms Babao tweeted some sort of apology that reeks of arrogance and self-righteousness. She even relayed the same kind of apology, presumably from the pseudo-psychologist that she substantially quoted in her article.

I thought, my God, has she really deluded herself on her so-called expertise on parenting? Having a child does not make one an expert on parenting; it’s like regarding yourself a mathematician after learning just to add and subtract. In these times, Ms Babao, parenting is already challenging as it is. So please don’t muddle the issue by imposing your prejudices on other concerned parents and disguising them thinly as your simplistic disclaimer. Good thing somebody gave an insightful response, here.

The television wields so much transformative power over the psyche of people. It has the great potential to broaden minds and mitigate the impact of bigotry and discrimination. Unfortunately, these potential and power are largely ignored by many of its practitioners, choosing instead to provide entertainment that panders to instead of uplifting the minds of viewers, to highlight opinions that espouse shallowness of thought instead of critical thinking and acting, and to emphasize ideas that deepen materialism and greed instead of equality and equity.

ADDENDUM:

I just finished watching Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho’s segment on raising LGBT children and I would just like to congratulate the show for its factual and sensitive treatment of the issue. The two case studies were both presented without a touch of sensationalism that lesser shows would normally succumb to. The resource person spoke simply but effectively, unlike that Dr. Camille. It was touching and uplifting, even in its most tragic moments. Best quote of the segment: “Homosexuality is a normal variant of sexual preferences.” As it was just proven, there is hope after all for Philippine television on being an agent of change.