A 10-day trip down cancer memory lane. Day #1

I was nominated by dear friend, Alma Anonas-Carpio to post a selfie daily for ten days and to nominate one person each day to do the same for cancer awareness. The campaign seeks to honor those who have battled and are still battling cancer, and those who have lost a loved one to cancer.
I also happen to be a cancer survivor. I have lost a breast to the beast and underwent chemotherapy.
I have since been pronounced in full remission — no one every says “cured” when it comes to cancer.
I treasure each day … every shaft of sunlight and fall of rain, every meal with friends, every battle that comes, every victory and loss, every song, every splash of color, every tear and every gurgle of laughter.
This treasury of memories will succour if and when the day comes when the doctors say cancer has recurred. It is a day I hope never happens. It is something I know could happen.
Alma’s challenge is an opportunity to share some parts of that struggle.
Call it a 10-day cancer odyssey.
Let me start with how doctors spotted the cancer early enough to avert disaster.
It was early 2008; a high school class thread on the experiences of two buddies who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. Our two brave souls advised everyone — we were then in our late 40s — to get breast mammograms and regular examinations to spot for cancer.
We were mostly well-educated professionals in that group. We’d read plenty about cancer. Few of us had ever had that checkup. I am a doctor’s daughter. Yet no one among seven daughters had ever gone for a beast exam.
There is, I guess, an instinct in all of us to shove the thought of cancer to the back of mind.
I went for a mammogram with this thought bubble: “let’s see if it really hurts as they say it will.” (It didn’t, but then I have a high pain threshold.)
The results came up negative. But the doctor recommended an ultra-sound. I had dense breasts and these sometimes result in false negatives.
The doctor found a few very tiny lumps in the ultra-sound. They were too small for any other tests. She said to come back after three months.
Waiting game
I followed the palpating test for those three months. The first two came up with nothing. On the third month, just before the second ultra-sound, I felt a squishy little lump. It wasn’t hard like a pebble, which doctors cite as a warning sign.
Our family doctor agreed. There was a lump but it seemed, on touch, benign. But she said, get that ultra-sound.
There, the doctor sounded worried. Two of the lumps were clearly benign. But one showed an irregular shape, a red light for possible cancer. Her recommendation: Immediate biopsy.
I asked Nanay’s long time assistant, Lynn Carinal Casia, our dear lifeline to everything medical, to get an appointment with classmate and surgeon, Julian Rizaldy Jr Raca, and the cutest surgeon in town, Dr. Tony Vasquez, also a family friend.
Both were in the US for a conference. So I went to Doc Sidney, the son of doctors who are my parents’  buddies.
It was Masskara festival.  Buddy Yvette Lee and I were in town to gambol. I squeezed the biopsy in between a morning press conference and an early dinner with a visiting senator.
Yvette didn’t know to laugh or groan when shown a mobile video of the event. Yeah, I took it, asking questions, getting answers. A bit surreal — siblings went, ewwww, you’re crazy! But that’s how this journalist copes with fear.
Sparkling memories
The biopsy coincided with preparations for a long-planned, all-girls trip to Thailand — seven siblings, our friend, Effie and our dear cousin, Tess, coming in from the US by way of Cambodia and Laos.
Lynn, who we all call Tita B-bing, was requested to forward the results through email or SMS.
And off we went.
Gallivanting before going home for breast cancer surgery. Bangkok, 2008
Memories of that trip sparkle, although it was my nth visit. Maybe, it was us celebrating life, pretending there was nothing to worry about.
We feasted land took funny photos of our bellies in diminishing sizes. We scared Mary Anne’s then boyfriend and the driver he hired for our van as we battled to follow our itinerary  (no jewellery bazaars, just old palaces and temples.)
The driver fled and was replaced by his brother, a sweet, gentle, funny guy who got us hooked on Korean telenovelas (probably as a way to save his sanity). He even loaned some bootleg series.
Us braver ones got hoisted on elephant trunks. We traipsed through temples. We tried not to bolt at the sight of things dangling from the boys of Patpong — including the two who offered to take Tess and me out for dinner — free, they said. 🙂 We graciously turned down the invite.
Tess and I even went on a side trip to Chiang Mai.
One morning, I texted B-bing asking for the biopsy result. It was a day after it should have come out. After my third, text, she got in touch with our doctor-sibling, May.
Turns out, my son, Commie asked them to hold off so as not to spoil the trip. But B-bing and siblings knew me; they eventually decided that revelation was the better part of valor.
It was positive. I had cancer.
Everyone was calm but watchful. I requested B-bing to book surgery, asking for a few days to inform my Philippines Graphic family and ensure that managing editor, Joel Pablo Salud, was up to holding up the fort.
Waiting for Barack
I had read up by then and decided to take the route of radical mastectomy. It helped that Doc Tony, the main surgeon, was eye candy and calm. He’s also a talented photographer; we chatted about light and shadows in between medical notes.
Julian was the second. Both were amused when I lobbied for a specific date and time for surgery.
You’re not going anywhere for days, they pointed out. The wound would need draining.
The rolled their eyes on the reason: I wanted to be awake and lucid when America elected Barack Obama.
It was Nov. 5, 2008 our time; it was Nov. 4 for Americans. (Photos below fro, http://patrickfallonphoto.com/2008/11/04/election-2008-barack-obamas-election-night-grant-park/)
Shaking off the fog and nausea of anaesthesia, I asked for the laptop and weirded out the nurse by writing a column on the rise of my Bama to the presidency of the US of A.
The drainage went smoothly and I went home to heal. The next time the doctor saw me, he asked who had changed the dressing.
I had, by facing the mirror. He broke out in a chuckle and said I did a better dressing.
The second time, he frowned at a request to go Macau. He threw up his hands. Why?
Because Nadal and the Fed were playing an exhibition and there was a standing invite from a friend. He laughed, but warned about the possibility of the stitches breaking. I had a ready answer: Doc Julian was going escort and baggage handler and changer of dressings (which Julian knew he didn’t have to do.)
Shaolin me
I’d also sat down with oncologist, Dr. Adonis Guancia, as straight-forward and grounded a doctor as anyone could hope for, and a passionate campaigner to ensure poor women are not deprived of checkups and intervention for cancer.
I opted to take chemotherapy. I knew other friends elsewhere took the alternative route.
He gave wonderful advice: Not to let cancer interrupt your life. To rest when energy flagged but to continue doing the things one loves.
I kept on working, flying back home for a couple of days for chemotherapy sessions. Joel and the Graphic family were wonderful colleagues. We joked about the one remaining boob being more than equal to other pairs.
Sister Malou and her daughter, Alex,  went shopping for wigs. I had decided to shave the head on the first sign of falling hair.
But the wigs were hot and I looked like some refugee from a Marx Brothers film.
Besides, the mirror showed a strange gal — the Shaolin runaway this kid always wanted to be, although I doubt warriors of yore wore dangling earrings and ruffled jammies.

shaolin1shaolin2wig partywig party2

Ties that bind
I’m not fearless. I’m just good a not showing it. Sometimes, too good for my own sake. 
But we grew up with elders who laughed and mocked at their adventures and disasters.
And we grew up singing, “Whistle A Happy Tune.” We believe in the song and in that other childhood ditty, “My Favorite Things.”
It helps to have a big, sprawling clan of chaotic individuals who will argue and skirmish but come together when shit happens, clowning around but letting people cry if they need to.
Commie and his sister, Mutya, were pillars of strength. I’m sure they schemed behind my back for ways to negotiate more days of rest. Commie stood between his mom, who has a hard time saying no to people, and the rest of the world.
It also helped that Doctors’ Hospital in Bacolod was our second home — I’d eavesdropped as a kid in the emergency room, hoarding stories of lives unknown. The nurses and doctors didn’t blink as we gossiped during chemo sessions.
It was a wonderful Christmas. Dad and I went to arts events. Nunelucio Alvarado’s Nami-nami became a bonding place with old and new friends.
Once the siblings had straggled home, we sang a concert of carols and broadway songs and guffawed and cried through old film favorites.
And there was Facebook, a new gift then, a perch from where to  watch the world those days I couldn’t be in the thick of it. There was the Mac, for taking selfies, and there was photoshop for mucking up.
Dec 2008
Life IS wonderful. Breast cancer is easy to overcome if you catch it early.
How you do your checkups, what tests you take are issues still being debated by the medical profession. The stories seem to morph with every year. Consult with your doctor, read up and decide for yourself.
Shit happens, yeah. But we don’t have to let it cover us, whether we’re dealing with cancer — or dictatorship.
For the first day, I’m nominating high school classmate and friend, Alpha Shanahan, a great singer, a former nun, a wife and mother, and an artist who came into bloom while in the midst of struggle.

Hitler… Holocaust lines? DO YOU REMEMBER THEM, MR. PRESIDENT?

Dear President Aquino,
I oppose the candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte because of his views — and actions — that are inimical to human rights. I oppose the candidacy of the dictator’s son, who still pines for the bloody paradise of his father.

“If you allow them to oppress your fellow man and you do not speak up, you will be the next one to be oppressed.”

Aquino repeated the famous quotes of Martin Niemoller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken critic of Hitler and spent the last years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

“First they came for the communists, but I did not speak out because I was not a communist… finally they came for me and there was no one left to speak up for me.”

Let me jog your memory, Mr. President. What did your government do while soldiers and para-military forces hounded Lumad to death in Mindanao?

When the Lumad sought sanctuary in Davao, your Liberal Party colleague tried to force their “rescue”.
‘Saving the Lumad’ Cops summoned to Davao City by the Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Indigenous Peoples to “rescue” lumad fleeing military abuses in their mountain communities injured 15 of the displaced folk and destroyed a number of temporary shelters. (Photo by Karlo Manlupig)
Your Armed Forces earned a sharp dressing down from a UN expert when they tried to manipulate his words and the truth (yes, pretty much Goebbels-style, right?)
You snubbed the Lumad when they came to the capital to call attention to their plight.
Yet your allies in Congress and your AFP brass — and your national security office in Malacanang — hosted pet datus as they preached their belief that anyone with “alien” ideology was fair game for murder.
Your hand-picked successor Mar Roxas ignored entreaties by a governor from your own party. Indeed, when a refugee shared his plight, Mr. Roxas urged him to deliver himself unto the AFP — the very same folks who’d sent him scrambling for safety.


Nobody came to the aid of 15-year old Manobo boy from Sitio Mando, Barangay Mendis, Pangantucan, Bukidnon.
He didn’t just hear of the murders of his kin, Mr. President. He actually begged soldiers to spare their lives, appealing that his father, brothers and cousins be jailed if, indeed, they had done anything wrong. His father was 70 and blind; his brothers 20 and 19 years old. One of his cousins was 13 years old; the other was 17.
He begged the soldiers, Mr. President. And they shot father, brothers and cousins, one by one.
Remember them, Sir?
Lumad and supporters hold candlelight rites for Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo and 57 other Lumad murdered under the Aquino administration. (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)
On September 1, in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao Sur, the head teacher of a lumad alternative school was found murdered.
Emerito Samarca’s students at the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) discovered his body. The folk at Diatagon had no access to education until private efforts established Alcadev for Manobo, Banwaon, Higanon, Talaandig and Mamanwa youth.
AlcadevYou spurned Alcadev’s students when they were in town late 2014 to protest the militarization of their schools.
A year later, these same children saw Dionel Campos and his cousin Belio Sinzo murdered by paramilitary troops.
The three gentlemen’s crime — providing a safe space for the education of children neglected by government.
No one came to help the hapless Lumad, Mr. President. No one from your government. It took private citizens and people’s organizations and churches to come to their aid.
And don’t you talk of coming to the aid of people suspected of being communists.
There have been more than 300 cases of extra-judicial killings under your administration. Eighty of these involved indigenous people or tribal groups. Almost always, people your government suspects of being communist.
You couldn’t even be bothered over the death of hungry farmers, Mr. President. Spare us your warnings.
KILAB MARCH 31 Screen Shot
We know about tyrants and what they can do to the country.
You speaking on our behalf isn’t just silly and thoughtless as you often are. It is criminal, because it seeks to use legitimate fears to cover-up your government’s attrocities.
Your government kills teachers and children, Mr. President. WE WILL NOT FORGET.

Track record over words: My left-handed choice for the vice presidency


Bongbong Marcos, the unrepentant son of the dictator, was never in the running for my vote. Nor was failed mutineer Antonio Trillanes ever considered. Nor Honasan.

Cayetano’s a competent lawmaker. And bless him for going hammer and tongs at Marcos. But his bigotry was in full display during the Mamasapano hearings and BBL-related events. I’ve seen up close and personal the results of such bigotry. For that reason, I’ve never considered Cayetano.

For some time, it has been a toss-up between Sen. Chiz Escudero and Rep. Leni Robredo.

Before delving into the pros and cons of both candidates, here are some issues and points that influenced my decision. These are mine; I am well aware others have theirs and have no intention of forcing these on anyone.

  • You are not your father or your spouse, whether they be demons or saints. (Had Bongbong showed repentance, had he cooperated with the country’s search for justice, he would not be the candidate I most revile.)
  • Human rights are non-negotiable. So is a justice system that gives the poor a fair shake.
  • Corruption is evil. Working for transparency and systemic changes that make it harder for the corrupt to operate earn big points.
  • My socio-economic views have always leaned to the left, for inclusive governance that goes beyond dole-outs.
  • #ScrapPork
  • I have never voted based on gender. What one does for gender equality is more important.
  • “Experience” is over-rated. What one has done is what matters.

 Leni Robredo

Leni is competent. An economics degree the University of the Philippines (UP) and law from the University of Nueva Caceres. She is a member of Saligan, a national alternative lawyers’ group helping farmers. She is a lawyer for the poor. And, yes, her lifestyle is simple.

What has she done in her single term in Congress? I’ll quote Yoly Ong’s article in Rappler:

“Leni has pushed for the bills that benefit not only her constituents but the entire country such as the charter extension of the Philippine National Railway. She filed for the Full Disclosure Bill that will require all elected officials and government agencies to fully disclose any transactions, documents, and budgets of public interest. She is a champion for the Freedom of Information bill (FOI).”

Leni also backed President Aquino’s Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL.) I will give her full credit for taking on Marcos. She supports reforming the law on annulment. (No contender for the top two posts has come out for divorce.) She’s an opponent of the death penalty.

The FOI bill DIED in the House of Representatives. There were champions, yes. I think they tiptoed too much around Mr. Aquino’s aversion to FOI – even when they had accommodated Malacanang’s numerous suggestions. The timidity helped kill the FOI. The unwillingness to confront stalling House leaders helped ensure the bill would lie there and die there.

“Support for the BBL” is a phrase that doesn’t impress me. I followed proceedings. The BBL was WATERED DOWN by Mr. Aquino’s allies, Robredo among them. What it looked like after they got through with it was something the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vowed to reject.

I won’t invoke the sainted Jesse’s fight against illegal gambling. But Leni praising the governor of Pampanga (the wife of one of the country’s biggest alleged illegal gambling lords) puts into question her commitment to fight corruption.

To invoke good governance as a reason for getting cozy with Mrs. Pineda (who represented her husband in Senate probes) totally flies before known facts:

1) Pineda was a name that surfaced during the Estrada impeachment trial – those sacks of money delivered to San Juan;

2) A falling out over the spoils of jueteng made the family embrace Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo;

3) Coming out bigger post EDSA 2, Pineda’s name once more during accounts of electoral fraud by the former President; he was allegedly among those who underwrote fraud.


Leni may spout anti-corruption lines. She may from time to time seem independent from this administration. But she sure hasn’t shown that independence when it comes to the heavy-handed use of government services – paid for by taxpayers – for her campaign.

Chiz Escudero

My problems with Chiz:

He’s too soft on President Aquino; they are good friends.

He justified the Iglesia ni Cristo’s shameless, extra-legal pressure to block a legitimate criminal case.

He did not come after Bongbong Marcos.

He did not banish that rapist Jalosjos from the slate’s campaign sorties. (A pardon does not change my mind about Jalosjos.)

He’s hasn’t given up on the idea of pork. (Robredo has her own DAP problems.)

He is a critic of the BBL.

Problems other people cite that I don’t buy:

Noy-Bi: Chiz was never LP; he owed Mar no allegiance. The President’s own sisters were Noy-Bi and so was the man he appointed executive secretary. There could have been no Noy-Bi without the Noy. (Don’t say, ‘didn’t he know Binay was corrupt?’ I’ll point you to PNOY and family.)

Alleged closeness to Danding — The old man is not fond of Chiz, whom he considers defiant and rebellious.

Blocking the coco levy bill — DHe’s not the only one who has serious concerns about HOW that particular bill aims to give justice to coco farmers.

Corruption — What? Where? When? How? There have never been clear facts on that. And that Napoles claim fizzled out fast.

So, yeah, never expect fire and brimstone from Escudero. He has never pretended to be an “alternative” politician. If you call him “trapo,” he’ll probably smile and and give you that silly wave.

Where it counts, however, Chiz DELIVERED on my priority issues.

He will not bash Marcos. But he was the main author in the Senate of RA 10368 – the reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime; RA 10353 – defining and penalizing enforced or involuntary disappearance; and RA 9745 – penalizing torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Aside from laws that added many courtrooms nationwide, he authored laws that seek systemic reforms in the justice system, reforms that better the odds for those without money or ‘connections’:

RA 10389 – institutionalizing recognizance as a mode of granting the release of an indigent person in custody as an accused in a criminal case;

RA 10158 – decriminalizing vagrancy;

RA 10071 – strengthening and rationalizing the National Prosecution Service (increasing salaries of public attorneys, among other changes);

RA 9999 – providing a mechanism for Free Legal Assistance;

RA 9995 – defining and penalizing the crime of photo and video voyeurism (critical in this digital age);

RA 9946 – granting additional retirement, survivorship and other benefits to members of the judiciary

We all know how PAGASA has improved. Escudero authored RA 10692, which allowed for the modernization of the weather service. He also authored

RA 10625 – reorganizing and strengthening the Philippine Statistical System; and RA 9470 – strengthening the system of management and administration of archival records, stabling the National Archives of the Philippines. (Very important, if not really sexy laws.)

For anybody who wonders how safe are the funds we park in banks, Escudero authored RA 9576 – increasing the maximum deposit insurance coverage, strengthening regulatory and administration authority and financial capability of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.

Transparency? Chiz is among the rare politicians with their pork allotments out there for public review. He has submitted a genuine waiver with his Statement on Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth since 2013. It’s the real thing. He just doesn’t do a big song and dance.

Among his pending bills are :

SB NO. 16 – requiring public officials and employees to submit written permission or waiver in favor of the ombudsman to look into ALL DEPOSITS OF WHATEVER NATURE WITH BANKS WITHIN AND OUTSIDE PH, including investment bonds issued by PH govt; and

SB NO. 18 – the Senate version of the FOI — implementing the right of the people to information on matters of public concern … and the state policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest. (Full disclosure in there; Chiz was main author; Poe it’s champion. The Senate passed it.)

My anti-Epal side likes SB NO. 17 – declaring as unlawful the naming of govt projects after govt officials and other persons whose name or identity may be associated with said officials.

SB NO. 118 – an act penalizing influence peddling; and SB NO. 425 – an act providing for protection, security and benefits of whistle-blowers should matter a lot to those hoping for a less corrupt country.

As a journalist, I appreciate SB NO. 127 – an act decriminalizing libel.

SB NO. 445 – amending the law on prostitution by imposing penalties on its perpetrators, and protective measures and support services for its victims – would end the current hypocrisy that penalizes sex workers while letting their users go free.

On consumers’ rights: SB NO. 123 – an act increasing the penalty for criminal negligence committed by common carriers

On OFW welfare: SB NO. 432 – penalizing the imposition of excessive placement fees against overseas Filipino workers

SB NO. 441 – magna carta of workers in the informal sector – tries to narrow the cracks in the economic system.

And, of course, it counts that he voted for the Senate version Neri Colmenares’ SSS pension increase bill.

I only have one vote and that goes to support real, tangible issues that matter. What’s been done matters.

Escudero gets my vote. It doesn’t scare me that many Filipinos are waltzing with a dictator’s son. And the argument that my vote will help him win doesn’t impress – because this administration’s record has made a mockery of the word ‘democracy.’

Duterte’s contradictions

What’s the difference between a joke and a dirty slip showing? How do you distinguish hyperbole from a person’s genuine worldview?

In the case of the Davao strongman Rodrigo Duterte, the offensive comments come too regularly to be dismissed as careless witticism.

Credit Duterte for defending indigenous peoples hounded by henchmen of corporations out to wrest their ancestral lands. Credit him for condemning the massacre of hungry folk in Kidapawan. Praise him for wanting to expand agrarian reform to ensure farmers get the support they need. Hail his commitment to resume stalled peace talks with communist rebels and provide meaningful autonomy to the Bangsamoro.

But do not ignore Duterte’s record in justifying the killings of people he considers social pests – juvenile delinquents, addicts, pushers. 

The Davao mayor has not admitted to any extrajudicial killings. He claims the criminals killed under his direct supervision were all gunned down in battles with law enforces.  No case has been filed against Duterte for these extra-judicial killings.

His supporters stress this to debunk charges of selective justice. But there is no doubt that people have been summarily executed under Duterte’s watch.

Duterte applauded these killings, encouraged these, defended these, verbally attacked and threatened those who rang alarm bells. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has doggedly reported on this for years; its country researcher Carlos Conde has received threats for his efforts.

Duterte may not have actually pulled the trigger. But speech after speech – to cheers and ovation – Duterte, a lawyer, spits on the nation’s laws, including the Constitution, presenting murder as legitimate law enforcement policy.

Who judges the innocent?

In his April 12 rally at the Amoranto stadium, Duterte said he has never killed an innocent person. But who judges innocence or guilt? The courts do, not the mayor, not the President. To deny suspects a chance to defend themselves in court does not solve the problem of injustice.

In the same rally, Duterte expressed sympathy for the plight of the Bangsamoro.

“I have to swear to the flag. My duty to the republic is to protect everybody, including the Moro people,” he promised disappointed leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

That’s impressive. But government officials swear to protect the rights of everyone, including people suspected of committing crimes.

The military routinely tramples on these rights where suspected militants are concerned, including the Lumad fighting to keep their lands free of abusive extractive industries. Officials of the Aquino government routinely justify these abuses. They are wrong. And so is Duterte in his equally selective notion of human rights.

Duterte talks about the evils of corruption, of how top leaders have made a rich, small segment of the population more equal than the rest.

digong alabang
There is no denying Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity. Whether he campaigns in Metro Manila or the provinces, the Davao strongman draws huge, ecstatic crowds.

His followers also cite the same – criminals coddled by lawmen, judges, other officials – as a reason for their impatience with legal niceties and their support for death penalty sans any check and balance, except a leader’s righteousness.

I will not disabuse them of the belief that injustice stalks the land. It does; my Facebook page is filled daily of examples, from tragi-comedy to full-blown horror.

Nor will I try to paint Davao City as the country’s crime capital. It isn’t.

But there is no excuse for murder. There is no reason on earth that justifies state-sanctioned murder.

My rights are everybody’s rights

Dutere asks, “anong mawala sa inyo kung patayin ko ang criminal?” (What would it cost you if I kill criminals?)

I have seen state security officials kill people on simple suspicion of being criminals. I have seen friends die, seen them arrested and tortured. I have seen people languish in jail even when the courts have cleared them of alleged crimes.

I cannot agree that others do not deserve the same rights I fight for, the same rights government officials are sworn to defend.

Duterte isn’t a neophyte politician. He  has had decades as local chief to provide an alternative to instant-gratification, vigilante justice.

He offers higher wages for law enforcers. They certainly need it – like the rest of the country needs it.

But Duterte should be detailing steps needed to ensure that cops and soldiers do their job right, like trainings to lessen their use of shortcuts that then lead to lost cases.

He could list steps he’s done and will do to ensure the poor – defendants and plaintiffs – are guaranteed legal aid by efficient and honest government lawyers.

He could talk about workable rehab programs for young people who fall prey to drug abuse. He could talk about imposing harsher penalties for corrupt prosecutors who throw cases, or work with citizens’ groups to keep watch on hoodlums in robes.

It’s not that he hasn’t helped drug addicts. He has, as witnessed by  Clarisse Le Neindre, who know runs a rehab facility after recovering from addiction with Duterte’s help.

Watch Le Neindre’s testimony https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fforwardwomen2016%2Fvideos%2Fvb.1671955399731080%2F1690853824507904%2F%3Ftype%3D3&show_text=0&width=560

Why then stress shortcuts as solutions to problems? Duterte is doing people a disservice by pandering to the worst of our instant gratification tendencies.

He presents the sona – the whole-scale round up of suspected addicts and community pushers – as the swift response to the scourge of drugs. That blueprint misses the fat cats who control the entry, the manufacture and the deliveries of drugs to affected areas.

Double standards, too

duterte contractualizationDuterte says poor Filipinos will come first under his presidency. He opposes contractualization.

Yet he promises to create an enclave where foreign investors can stay safe from the reach of the country’s laws.


He personally commits to keep them safe from inconvenient truths – like the fact that workers have the right to unionize.

For all Duterte’s talk about the poor’s right to prosper, he sees the struggle for economic rights as an enemy of development. And, indeed, in his first official campaign speech, he threatened to kill labor leaders who would not heed his “appeal” for a moratorium on union work.

He banners his credentials as a dear friend to the LGBT community. By all accounts, he treats them well.

Yet he uses the word “bakla” as an insult, a synonym for “coward”.

Some gay friends who support him say they see nothing wrong with it.

If he uses it as an adjective that reflects your self-identity, there is nothing wrong with it. If you slam others for using bakla as a slur, why is Duterte suddenly exempt from those standards? His use of the word only encourages the bitter, hateful homophobia that have harmed so many of your peers.

And then there’s rape and his attitude towards women. He and his wife have a unique relationship and I will not impose my standards of fidelity on them. I must also acknowledge that, unlike ousted president Joseph Estrada, no one has charged Duterte with stealing public funds to subsidise his womanising activities.

Davao also has many pro-women policies.

And yet, he opens his mouth and something else comes out.

Duterte recently shared this tale of criminals in detention twice grabbing hostages. The second incident involved a bunch of Christian prayer warriors, including an Australian woman who was raped and then had her throat slashed, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.

Duterte used the anecdote to stress how incorrigible some criminals are and also to show his willingness to risk life for the sake of victims.

Then he debased everything that mattered. His anger towards rape was almost secondary to dismay that criminals used the woman first before the mayor did.

He was joking? Maybe. But he also used the same line earlier in his talk.

Cops who commit crimes for personal reasons deserve to be punished, he said. He made an example of a cop who kills his mistress – especially a pretty one — and implied  the mayor should have first dibs on the beauty.

It’s not the first time he used that anecdote on the hostage-taking, ending with a similar line. Watch Noemi Dado’s video at the 38:43 marker.

You can slog through the entire Duterte speech, including some moving performances by Freddie Aguilar here.


And this admittedly moving paean to change. Which, indeed, this country needs.

We all should be outraged that the haves in this country get away with all kinds of abuses while the rest of us suffer indignities daily.

Yes, innocent people get killed and innocent people rot in jail. Hungry people are left to starve; when they protest, they die.

We all should rage.

But in cheering for Duterte’s warped logic, in playing blind to his contradictions, we might just visit more of the same on this nation.



PHOTO from guardian.com

There are some images that won’t go away.

The silent boy marshals a fleet of plastic cars at 4 a.m. in a cramped flat on Leon Guinto St. Midway through an obstacle course of shoes, slippers and backpacks, he abandons the toys. His mother feels the weight of his gaze. She gives him a smile. This is their quiet time. She is 25. He is a serious two-year old. He rubs an index finger around a red corvette. She stops writing. The air prickles at her neck. They stare at each other.

It takes a long minute for his tilted little eyes to fill up. First comes a pink flush at the corners of the orbs. It is his “counting” look, the one that tells you he’s looking at all angles before accepting an answer to “Why?” She doesn’t know what’s coming but knows enough to let him run with his thoughts.

“Mama.” She almost misses the low whisper, too husky for a toddler. He is standing. He is shaking his head. She sees he has done the math. It is a lesson she had hoped he did not have to learn so early.

“Wala na si Papa.” The tears fall. “Patay na si Papa!”

Almost 30 years later, she still wonders. How did he make a leap from Papa-is-with-Jesus to Wala-na-si-Papa. (Papa is gone. Papa is dead.)


The girl has bigger eyes than her brother, but there is that same upward tilt and the same stubborn chin.

Strangers wail over the orphans who have just lost “Tatay”. The girl smiles, says thank you. She bears the hugs and the hands that muss her hair. Like her mother and brother, she does not tell them of the decade of separation, of the chasm that loomed when Mama turned her back on the fighting.

In the car, away from the strangers, getting ready to head for home, the boy weeps. She holds her older brother’s hand.

The girl does not cry. But in her room is a rough carving of a rifle-totting guerrilla. Above her bed is a framed picture of a slight man in a green beret with a star; he sports a square jaw and light brown eyes that mirror his smile. The girl does not cry. Her eyes say she will not weep for what she cannot have.

She does not cry but she makes people weep, up there on stage, at nine-years old the youngest of the contestants, in a simple lace dress, singing, vowing to be “part of your world.”


The boy was a painter, sometimes.
The boy was a painter, sometimes.Two children: The one who weeps is stolid, steady, dogged but laid back. The one who won’t is mercurial; with an all-or-nothing approach to life.

Two children: The one who weeps is stolid, steady, dogged but laid back. The one who won’t is mercurial; with an all-or-nothing approach to life.

His wit is gentle, the humor deadpan. Hers is sharp, like a rapier. And she knows just where to flick that tip.

They come up with surprises. She is the artist who rushes in to fight back to back with friends. Yet her work space is a marvel of order and logic and she has color-coded notes and fine penmanship medical school could not ruin.

His writing scrawls and sprawls. Yet he never swaggers. He stands back and observes and then, with impeccable timing his mother has never figured out, pounces to claim his prize.

She is bold but her art is delicate. He is gentle and serene but churns out a dark painting of an apocalyptic world and a short tale of animals in a jungle power struggle.

She is questing, a lover of fiction, a raider of her mother’s library, a singer, and the partner of a tattoo artist. And she is a doctor.

He sticks to news and science and anything that doesn’t deviate from reality. And he creates fantastic, unreal, scary burger sculptures.

She was a holy terror of a child. She needled her brother. Yet she was — still is — his protector, rushing to lawyer for him the very few times he got in trouble with Mama.

He always was more conservative. Yet he thrilled to her wilder ways, promising “suportahan ta ka” with an admonition to decide what she wants from life.

He always knew what he wanted — mostly what Mama didn’t have, couldn’t give. And so he learned to cook with his high school gang of wrestling aficionados, the first experiment the result of former President Cory Aquino on TV, cooking some Hawaiian chicken dish.

She liked to scold and could cut friends to the quick. But she got suspended for keeping faith, being there for some little lost girl.

Children are the other half of Mothers' day.
Children are the other half of Mothers’ day.

In that, they were her children, sure they could approach her when friends were in great need, when mothers got cancer, when fathers went missing. Home was where they brought their friends.

He started working as a student and went off right after school to work on a cruise liner. He wore hip-hop shorts and sports jerseys and that cap tipped backwards. Colleagues stared, asked if he was of legal age, and then comforted their bunso for having to leave the family so young to work for our survival. He smiled. His companions scoured Walmart. He went to see the Aztec pyramids. The seafarers wouldn’t believe him on the plane coming back home. He couldn’t be an OFW, they said; he looked like a college freshman.

She ran away briefly and Mama couldn’t rail. Mama was living life on the lam herself at 18. She sold banana-q on the streets, this daughter who couldn’t even cook hotdogs. And then she came home, as quietly as she left, and took up where she left off, surprising everyone but her Mama and brother with a smooth transition to medical school.

He is stolid and steady, but she is the one the cousins come to for advice, for blunt lectures tempered by compassion and a wry humour that often makes an example of her foibles.

Commie is now Zarks and he is made. He is also an exceptionally dotting Dad who makes much time for Sophie — as mercurial and talented as his sister — and Vitto, just the little man he was, and Sam, who is the spitting image of Lei, the woman he chose because she had brains and the feminine, more traditional skills Mama lacked. He is a capitalist and his math thrills his mother: Happy Workers = Happy Customers = Happy Boss.

Mutya has the style her Mama didn’t have as a young woman. She is outwardly brisk, secretly introspective. She laughs at setbacks, her eyebrows as arch as her mother’s.

Motherhood. How else does one talk about it, except to describe one’s babies, now all grown up?

Last year, Mutya’s training elders asked her to write about a memorable experience. Mama always thought it was the boy who had the writer’s eye, except that he decided making money was more fun. Knowing she was wrong was one of the best days in her life.

This is Mutya’s tale. Reading it, I thank our Nanay and Daddy. Reading it, one thought flashed: Errors a-plenty; but in all those turbulent years, I must have done something good.


What matters most. Photo from http://www.msruntheus.com
What matters most. Photo from http://www.msruntheus.com

Her white uniform. Black shoes. And the required pin reading – Junior Intern. It’s the usual start to her day. Getting ready. Preparing for the day ahead.

Goodmorning – a greeting thrown at every person she sees. Guards. Co-JIs. Patients. Folks. Nurses. The whole hospital team. Thereafter, she knows she’s almost half ready to welcome the hustle and bustle waiting for her. Always with a smile put on – to shield her thoughts of another tiring day – an armor, a defense, nearly perfected to conceal her emotions. Excitement. Nervousness. Anxiety. Its 7:30. It’s her cue.

Bed rounds. Questions fired but left unanswered – disappointed. Patients to accompany. Laboratory results that are hard to interpret. And the never-ending ward calls.

She’s tired. With only a quarter of the day done. Her patience tested and gradually diminishing. Her smile waning but still carrying on. Getting her work done. Wishing for a 15-minute break. Wondering for a moment – for everything to come to a halt.

Suddenly, she was called by the nurse-on-duty. One of her intubated patients was arresting. She ran to her patient’s bedside.

She knows this patient – an old maid living with her nephew. She started CPR. First dose of epinephrine done. CPR continued. Another dose of epi. Patient’s folks were already crying. CPR – her patient is not responding. Her heart is beating hard – in the recesses of her mind she is talking to her: “don’t give up on me now”. 3rd dose of epi. Still, no sign of life.

She asked the nurse to replace her and decided to appraise the family. The patient’s nephew was not around. She talked to the wife, who told her he was on his way. He is a pastor. She was also told that they already prayed over the situation days before. They had already asked for guidance. The wife only asked her for a single favor – to continue to revive the aunt until her husband arrived. They wanted to bid her farewell with their last prayers.

4th epi.. She asked one of her co-JIs to lend a hand. They alternated doing the CPR. The nurse provided the 5th dose..She thought she was ready to lose her..6th..Her mind repeating the words: “get back, get back. Please”..7th epi..the nephew arrived. A brave soul. Prayers were started. 8th epi. He took hold of the JI’s hand and looked her in the eye: “It’s alright. Thank you”.

She backed away. She felt defeated. She touched the shoulder of the nephew and his wife: “I’m sorry”. She was about to turn her back when the wife took a step forward: ” thank you, I Iknow you all did your best. She is happy now. Thank you very much”.

Coming towards her with outstretched arms, she knew: “”please..don’t..”. She stammered. She was given the embrace of life. Her eyes welled. She embraced back and walked away. Tears now pouring down her face. She was humbled.”

Congratulations, Mutya. At the graduation ball message, you expressed love, quipping that, like me, you weren’t good at showing it.

But words are easy, especially when the going is good. When chips are down and you are called to pour out your love, and you do it unstintingly – this is what matters.

To see Nanay in my children is this mother’s greatest gift.

The Legal Wife and the attraction of tragedy

INFIDELITY happens everywhere. Photo from Hufftington Post
INFIDELITY happens everywhere. Photo from Hufftington Post

Given a choice between a book and a soap opera, the book wins every time. Not that I’m above swooning over some hunk or smouldering anti-hero. But even House — or Tyrion Lannister — won’t make me a captive audience, the kind that drops tasks and cancel meetings for the privilege of muttering and cursing at assorted fictional characters.

Angel Locsin and Jericho Rosales, the main stars of ABS-CBN’s “The Legal Wife,” are among my favourite actors. I may not always follow their shows and movies. But these days their top-rating soap opera means a nightly break from round-the-clock news monitoring, to give our Mai-mai free rein to scream and stomp and mutter dark threats. (Her husband, Marlon, smiles and sometimes rolls his eyes.)

The Legal Wife is trending daily on social media. Coffee breaks are devoted to the newest outrage — and comeuppance.

I get the draw. And even critical friends have acknowledged there have been some gems in certain episodes.

Infidelity and betrayal hits the primal psyche. We know it can happen everywhere and to anyone. I don’t know anyone who’s never had to comfort kin or friend when partners stray. The scars can take years and years to heal. And we’re not even talking yet of the physical abuse that often accompanies confrontations and/or appeals.

Infidelity wallops at a person’s self-esteem, mainly because betrayers will often find a way to turn the tables and blame the victims.

A psychologist, on radio, said that if a husband strays, it’s because something’s missing from a marriage. Some talk show hosts quip about wives needing to prettify and re-learn the moves that can get hubby to hyperventilate again. But a Rutgers Univeristy study, cited by Women’s Day, notes:

56 percent of men who have affairs claim to be happy in their marriages. They’re largely satisfied with all they have and aren’t looking for a way out, yet they still find themselves in bed with other women—and in hot water with their wives.

So, you top the ratings, you have some bragging rights. I get that, too. But my friends at ABS-CBN will understand this appeal for some moderation. Sure, report the ratings and the Twittter trends and maybe, some funny/tragic things that happen when people invest so much of themselves in a teleserye.

But a teleserye’s every twist and turn should not swamp other important news. (I’m sure GMA and TV5 have heard similar plaints, too.) Nor do you have to drag out a news report or analysis and simper and gasp and declaim. This hasn’t happened on TV yet but it sure does on dzmmTeleradyo. 

And most of all, if you are going to interview experts on the wages of infidelity and the fallout from betrayals of relationships, can you ask serious questions AND LISTEN, instead of interrupting these experts to insert plot turns every minute?  


The cast of 'The Legal Wife'. From left, Angel Locsin, Jericho Rosales and Maja Salvador
The cast of ‘The Legal Wife’. From left, Angel Locsin, Jericho Rosales and Maja Salvador

It’s such a pity because there are important things one could share with women who’re wondering whether to bolt  and face financial uncertainties, or those folk who really feel they’re at the end of the road and just want to make things bearable for other family members. (Blogger Ana Santos gives great tips.)

God knows the main audience of ABS-CBN’s teleseryes are people who would really benefit from an exchange of knowledge and a sober discussion of an issue that can sometimes end up as a tabloid crime report. 

A friend and motivational speaker, Richard Brundage, once explained the allure of tragedy. It taps deep into our survival urge. We are horrified but can’t look away because these terrible events trigger alarm bells in the mind. We look because we want to get some lessons — why things happen, what we should do when these happen to us. We don’t always get the right lessons but we sure don’t stop trying because it’s a way to wrest some control over life’s chaos.

The breakdown of families is no laughing matter in this country without divorce. A 2013 report quotes the Office of the Solicitor General as saying that annulment cases doubled in the last decade. That doesn’t even include people who decide to separate sans legal niceties.

There’s a lot of lessons to plumb in tales of marital infidelity. I don’t think awkward themes should be kept out of popular media. But if we’re going to milk profits from these productions, let’s ensure we leave the audience with something more than anger or self-pity. At the least, let’s gift women — and men — seeking to move on with the tools they’ll need in cleaning up the mess.


Health, not just infra services crucial to PH disaster mitigation, recovery efforts

(First of Two Parts)

Life and death in Palo, Leyte. Photo by Charlie Saceda for Change.org Philippines
Life and death in Palo, Leyte. Photo by Charlie Saceda for Change.org Philippines

MANILA –When the stench of death and the wails of the bereaved fill the air, the advent of new life makes for great human-interest stories. 

A child born on a roof surrounded by swirling waters. Those babies nicknamed “Bakwet” (a play on evacuate) in the aftermath of typhoons, earthquakes or conflict. Beyond these life-affirming tales is a painful truth: In disaster-prone places there is scant protection to be found for the community’s most vulnerable members.

Over 1 million people lost access to full health services following Super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The international aid group, Save The Children, reports that more than 100 of an estimated 750 births daily in affected areas came with potentially life threatening complications.

“Four months after the typhoon, only half of affected health centers had reopened – meaning up to 45,000 babies were born without full medical care,” said Save The Children Philippines Country Director, Ned Olney.

In a briefing, Olney pointed out that when women die in childbirth following disasters, the family loses its primary caregiver. The surviving newborn babies could fail to thrive, and many do not survive beyond five years old, as they tend to be malnourished.

According to the NGO’s 2014 “State of the World’s Mothers” report, more than 60 million women and children are in need of humanitarian assistance this year. Over half of maternal and child deaths worldwide occur in crisis-affected places. “The majority of these deaths are preventable,” the report adds.

In a bid to ease mortality among mothers and newborns during disaster periods, Save The Children launched ‘the BEACON Box’ (Birthing Essentials And Care Of Newborns) program.

The kit, contained in a stormproof box, contains everything to enable a pregnant woman to give birth in a clean environment if she cannot get to a health clinic: plastic sheets, a tarpaulin, soap, sterile cord ties, sterile blades, clean towels, a birth certificate and a lamp. The aid group will preposition these supplies in the country’s most vulnerable barangays.

The project will cost P10 million.

Bracing for more loss

Disaster belts crisscross the world. But many governments lag in providing mothers and children with appropriate health services even during periods of strong economic growth.

In the Philippines, for example, per capita GDP has almost tripled since 2000. But a series of typhoons and a major earthquake in 2013 caused the country to slip four places in Save The Children’s global ranking of 178 countries.

The Philippines’ 2014 105th ranking is lower than neighboring Southeast Asia countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Even Iraq, a country still recovering from a decades of war and terror, outranks the Philippines.

The official Yolanda death toll has topped 6,000, thrice the initial figure claimed by President Benigno Aquino III. Private rescue and relief groups say the actual death count is much higher as protocols do not include unidentified dead and the missing. The Philippine government estimates that Yolanda affected 16 million, more than 16 percent of the national population. At least 10 million of these were women and children.

VULNERABLE. Mothers and young children take the brunt of disasters. Photo by Charlie Saceda for Change.org Philippines
VULNERABLE. Mothers and young children take the brunt of disasters. Photo by Charlie Saceda for Change.org Philippines

Beyond the immediate death toll, however, loss in human lives could worsen this year.

Save The Children’s report   cited research on impact of Philippine typhoons that indicate, “Almost 15 times as many infants may die in 2014 due to conditions that deteriorate in the wake of Haiyan than were killed outright by the storm itself.”

“Depressed incomes will leave families with less to spend on health care, education and nutritious food,” it added, noting that historically, female infants are most at risk post-disaster.

“More males than females die in the womb immediately after typhoons, as is well established. After being born, however, a baby girl’s risk of dying is higher even if she has no siblings, but it doubles if she has one or more older sisters, and quadruples if she has brothers,” it added. Save The Children cited a 2013 report, “Destruction, Disinvestment, and Death: Economic and Human Losses Following Environmental Disaster,” published in the Social Science Research Network.

Yolanda devastated more than 2,000 hospitals and health clinics and destroyed countless health records and computer systems, according to Save The Children. Six months after the disaster, only 50 percent of facilities have been restored.

Francesca Cuevas, Director of Health for Save the Children-Philippines however, notes that only 7 percent of health facilities in affected areas are able to provide clean and safe delivery. Only 4 percent of the health facilities can handle newborn that need resuscitation.

Greater health focus urged  

Six months since Yolanda, Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery Panfilo Lacson says the Office of Civil Defense still needs to submit its Post Disaster Needs Assessment. The report is a requirement before the national government rolls out its rehabilitation masterplan.

There are Cabinet clusters to streamline the delivery of basic government services to communities in an archipelago of more than 7,100 islands. Lacson says only the infrastructure cluster has submitted a comprehensive rehab plan.

Critics have chafed at what they see as a bias for infrastructure at the expense of other crucial sectors.

There’s no overstating the need for infrastructure recovery. Yolanda damaged more than a million homes and destroyed 17500 public school classrooms in more than 2,000 schools.

Lacson says 200,000 housing units need rebuilding. Many private companies and foundations have rebuilt or have pledged to replace more than 2000 of the classrooms.

Save the Children and multilateral aid agencies have acknowledged the Philippine government’s “robust” response to the devastation of Yolanda. They urge the government, however, to step up efforts in providing jobs, shelter, and safeguards to prevent post-disaster abuse and exploitation of the most vulnerable sectors.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the Philippines representative Bernard Kerblat noted, “gaps in aid provision of which, shelter and livelihood remain outstanding needs.”

The global charity Oxfam also expressed concern that the provision of jobs and livelihood lagged behind other services.

Kerblat said it best. After relief, the main challenge is putting “durable” solutions at the grassroots.

AT RISK. A family in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. Photo from Save The Children's 2014 State of the World's Mothers Report
AT RISK. A family in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. Photo from Save The Children’s 2014 State of the World’s Mothers Report

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, stressed the need to address longer-term health issues.

WHO country representative Dr. Julie Hall cited the need to provide safe health facilities for 70,000 births expected in the next three months. She also warned of mental health problems among those struggling to move on.

There have been many news reports of entire families perishing during Yolanda, and clans with only one or two surviving members.

“Six months on, we have made real progress, but the resilience of the Filipino spirit alone will not be enough,” Hall stressed.

“Ensuring the resilience of the health infrastructure, universal health care for all Filipinos, and continued investments in health promotion are all required,” she said.

Health gains

Multilateral and private aid groups note the improvements in the delivery of health care in the Philippines, one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. Save The Children, however, pointed out that, “without greater investment in disaster-proof health systems, and quicker and more effective humanitarian response, it may be increasingly challenging to keep rebuilding the country’s health infrastructure.”

“There are considerable inequities in health care access and outcomes between socio-economic groups, and a major driver of inequity has been the high cost of health care,” its report added.

The national insurance program, Philhealth states that 83 percent of the population is enrolled in what aims to be universal health coverage. Save The Children’s report, said that the covered rate (those who are actually able to go to a hospital) is estimated to be less than 75 percent, citing the PharmaBoardroom.com on Philippine healthcare coverage.

With local government systems still struggling to recover from Yolanda, aid groups urge President Aquino’s administration to invest more in basic health services. Resilience can only go so far. In the areas devasted by Yolanda, the 2013 earthquake and conflicts in Mindanao, defaulting on urgent health confirms could only increase the loss of human lives. (Inday Espina-Varona is Philippine Campaigns Director of Change.org, a global petition platform.)