The road to 2010

Danton Remoto
Remote Control

The road to heaven is paved with good intentions. So is the road to 2010.

It is still two years before the elections, but the battles have already begun. In the third district of Quezon City where I live, the councilors running for vice-mayor have strung many tarpaulins showing their fat, oily faces. Since they would be vacating their seats they have warmed for three terms, they have included photos of their wives, or sisters, or brothers, along with the pet poodle named Fifi to complete the family portrait. Of course, the wives, sisters, or brothers would run for councilors two years from now. In the Philippines, this is not called a political dynasty. It is called royalty.

Some of them are wise about it, in the Tagalog meaning of wise as in ”tuso.” They are offering 50 percent tuition discounts at some middling school or other. And when the poor people of Escopa would go to the schools, they would be informed that the councilors’ discount is 50 percent, yes, but the tuition is worth P18,000 per semester. And where would Aling Mila, who queues for four hours to buy two kilos of NFA rice, get that P9,000 to put Junior through school?

Or they are sponsoring bingo socials, or basketball games, or why not, even boxing matches, with them in tarpaulin poses that would make Manny Pacquiao blush in shame.

After I ran in the last elections and lost, I was contented to just return to my life a teacher of Literature, introducing students to the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda. But now as I write this column, my cell phone keeps ringing and ringing. Or else, it is beginning to be clogged up with messages.

Somebody running for congressman is asking me if I would run again for the same position? I won’t, I answer, not after seeing the election supervisors shuffled and changed by former Comelec Chairman Ben “Burjer King” Abalos one week before the May 14, 2007 elections.

“If you’re not running,” asked the persistent caller, “will you support my candidacy?”

I gave him my e-mail address and asked him to send me his platform. The silence of the lambs filled the other end of the line. “Hello?” I asked, and he was there again, resurrected from the dead, muttering that, yes, indeed, why not, I will send you my flatporms. Before I could tell him I wasn’t talking about shoes, he had already hung up.

Or take the case of this movie star running as a councilor in a nearby district, a friend of a friend, who is also asking for my, uh, endorsement. “My endorsement?” I wanted to say, following this with the laughter of a hyena. I never entertained the notion that my “endorsement” would amount to anything.

“Yes, sir, they told me you got 10,000 votes in the last elections, and you got them without any cheating!”

“Of course,” I wanted to answer, “without any cheating!” But I just resorted to my Americanism (aha, aha, aha), and let him drone on and on. I did not promise him anything even if he looked cute enough to play Superman in its next remake. I just advised him to begin working for the post now.

Yes, now. Two years before the elections, we do not need to see tarpaulins greeting us a merry Christmas, a happy Valentines, a great graduation, or a sizzling summer. I would advise below the radar-line campaigning.

What does it mean?

Good, honest-to-goodness work for and with the poorest communities. No fizz, no flash, no glitz, no glamour.

A real livelihood program, for one, where the people are taught skills, given initial supplies, then monitored afterward. A medical mission with good doctors, nurses and dentists, and a cache of medicines that could be used when the rainy season – and its illnesses – comes in. Books for the barangay library, so the young ones could learn to read and open the windows of their minds.

The list could go on and on.

But if I were you, you should also go out and talk to the youth. They constitute 70 percent of the voting bloc, and believe me, they will be a tectonic force in the 2010 elections. What I like about the youth is you cannot fool them. They seem to have what Ernest Hemingway called a “shit-proof lie-detector system” inside them that could sniff out the trapo from the real thing. The world wide web, the borderless world of cyberspace, cable television, even cheap air travel and the tales of wonder from their OFW relatives have made sure that in 2010, they will look for candidates who are young, bright, talented and brash.

Candidates who will call a spade a spade, a dictator a dictator – and step up the plate and offer themselves to the young voters. It is happening now all over the world, demographics have taken care of it – the rise of a new breed of candidates who reinvent the creaky wheel of politics. They do not have a lot of money, but they have guts and street smarts and the deep knowledge that they are inviting everybody to step aboard a ship A ship called hope.

My fearless forecast: the Jurassic candidates will doomed – those who are between 60 and death, those who give flowery speeches, and those who steal the country blind. We will see the revenge of the young voters in 2010, and it will give us the break from bad governance that we so richly deserve.

brave danilo of cebu

my apologies for not posting anything in the last week or so.

i am teaching six units this summer. introduction to poetry and books of the century. in poetry, we have finished japanese poems and are now in phil poems in english. in the 20th century icons, we have finished a portrait of the artist as a young man by james joyce and mrs. dalloway by virginia woolf. on monday we will have migraines with the metamorphosis by franz kafka.

but the more kafkaesque events happened to danilo of cebu, victim of the black suede scandal, aka the cebu rectal surgery scandal.

ang ladlad has issued a statement, shown everywhere -- radio, tv, internet, newspapers, blogs. i have appeared on tv, in the radio, answered interviews at 6 am, 7 am, 8 am, appeared in shows that taped at 1 pm, 8 pm, etc. i would go home dead tired -- as tired as i was in the last elections, and sleep the sleep of the just. to be woken up by a 6 am call from an am radio station asking for updates. anthony taberna of umagang kay ganda even asked me if i do gay sex. of course, i told him, but i would rather call it gay love. people asked me why i answered him, and i said, why not? what right do i have to talk about gender and sexuality if i will shirk from questions like this? and so, yes, to gay love...

danilo has a lawyer, he will get additional ones soon, we are finalizing the counselor / therapy for him. he is a brave soul, and only asks media not to pry into his private life, as in not showing his face anymore on tv. he goes around cebu wearing a cloth over his face, the poor man: raped by a sex worker, raped by the harsh lenses of video and uploaded on YouTube, raped by the condemnation of the narrower sectors in the catholic church.

in theology classes in ateneo, the only words i remember are these:

1. if you did this to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.

2. we are all equal in the eyes of God.

Ang Ladlad slams discrimination of rectal-surgery victim

Media Statement
released 1:00 P.M.
April 18, 2008

Ang Ladlad, the national organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Filipinos, has slammed the doctors and nurses involved in the rectal operation of a gay patient that was later uploaded in YouTube.

“This is a violation of the patient-doctor confidentiality that is part of the Code of Ethics of a medical practitioner,” said Danton Remoto, chairman of Ang Ladlad and Associate Professor of English at Ateneo de Manila University. “What rubs salt on the patient’s dignity was the fact that the doctors and nurses were shown saying anti-gay statements while making fun of the sedated patient. In this case, it is not the patient but the doctors who are sick.”

The came stemmed from the rectal operation of “Jan-Jan,” a 39-year-old gay man who had sex in Cebu City on New Year’s Eve. He claimed he was drunk and his partner inserted a perfume canister in his rectum, which necessitated an operation on January 3. The operation was done at the government-run Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center. He said that “I trusted them. And yet they ridiculed me. . . Was that something a professional would do? I can’t even walk on the streets without being laughed at by my neighbors. I want my ordeal to end. I hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

“We laud the investigation being done by the hospital. However, we would like to stress that the victim was made to sign a piece of paper he did not read nor was it explained to him. There seems to be a pattern of deception here. They wanted to turn him and his case into an object of fun, not of scientific or medical study. Therefore, we are batting for the revocation of licenses of the medical people involved. They have just violated the confidentiality clause between doctor and patient, and also the patient’s right to privacy. How would they feel if they were the ones whose images are spreading around in the limitless world of cyberspace?”

Ang Ladlad will offer psychological counseling to the victim, as well as help his lawyer, Guiller Ceniza, pursue the case in court. “Doctors are sometimes considered like gods who have power over our lives. In this case, they did not only defame and discriminate against another person, but they also stained the very dignity of their profession. We will pursue this case all the way to the Professional Regulations Commission and the Civil Service Commission. These callous people deserve to be taught a lesson they will never forget,” Remoto concluded.

How to survive as a nouveau poor: a mother's guide



Posted April 15, 2008

I wrote this piece in the mid-1980s – after returning Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. had been shot at the airport and the People Power Revolution that swept his widow, Cory, into the presidency. I dug this up in the journal I kept during those turbulent times.

I am publishing this because I want to ask – have times really changed for our poor but beautiful country? It’s written from the point of view of a mother who is a public-school teacher. The mother is both the fulcrum and focus of the Filipino family, keeping it balanced, not teetering to despair, or to doom.

1. Every morning, repeat this line after waking: we’re better off than a million others. At least we have fried fish and tomatoes for breakfast. Then rise form bed, wash your face and mouth, proceed to pour vegetable oil into the frying pan. Usually during cool mornings, the lard would have congealed. Get a tablespoon, scoop the lard and let it rest on the bottom of the pan. Let the lard sputter and quiet down. Now the lard is hot and you can begin frying the tuyo (dried fish).

2. After frying the tuyo, flatten a head of garlic, throw into the pan, and then follow this with last night’s rice. Sprinkle salt to taste.

3. Wake up the only child, now a teenager having his share of rebellion. Tell him to wash up and then sit before the breakfast table. Fill him with rice enough to last until snack time, then give him his allowance of ten pesos per day.

4. Buy minced meat, not whole meat. Use the minced meat sparingly, just enough so your mung-bean stew would smell of meat. Buy a big bagful of mung bean, and let a bowl of it stand overnight in water. The bean sprouts could be cooked the next morning, mixed with garlic, onion, tomatoes, soy sauce and calamansi juice.

5. Look around in your workplace. Check what item was not yet being sold. In my elementary school, almost everything was already being sold: sweet meats of tocino and longganisa, clothes and decorative items of angels painted pink; insurance plans, funeral service and memorial-park lots. I sold Tupperware, like I did in the 1960s. It was like returning to an old love. My sales pitch: these lunchboxes would save you money in terms of cheaper, home-cooked food, in the short run, and hospitalization, in the long run: the canteen sells overpriced slabs of cholesterol.

These plastic glasses could contain calamansi juice you had squeezed right in your very kitchen. No Coke, no false orange flavors, no coffee, no tea: just pure, natural citrus good for bones (ours are beginning to ache from age and this horrible inflation) and teeth (the stronger the better, for the inflation rate would still go up before it went down, and we would need stronger teeth for the chattering to come).

6. On the way home, I would ask for cassava leaves from Mareng Mely who lived around the corner. She thought I would give them to the children in the neighborhood, to play with. They would break the stems into inch-long strips, the tough skin hanging on, and the strips of stem could be turned into instant necklaces, with the star-shaped leaves as pendant. But no, the cassava leaves could be simmered in coconut milk flavored with shrimp paste from Pangasinan. It reminded me of what my parents ate in World War II.

7. Bring home the nutribuns, those bread hard as rocks distributed to school children by the Nutrition Foundation under the sponsorship of the First Lady. Bring these rocks home, use a hammer to break them down into bits, soak them in a basin of water. When sufficiently soft, pour half a small can of Alaska condensed milk, then add sugar. Pour the mixture in your old pans, then steam. After 30 minutes, lift the lid (the steam blurring your very face), set the cans on a basin quarter-filled with water, to cool. Then put in the ref (heaven help us this 15-year-old ref would not break down, not now, Lord), and the morning after, serve as breakfast to your rebellious teenager, in case he has already gotten tired of having fried fish every morning.

8. Night. Draw a deep, deep sigh (a mother is a lifeline and the rope should not break). My husband was working thousands of miles away, in deepest, hottest Riyadh. The distance would spread between us like a desert. My heart would thud heavily in my chest. A stone of pain would fill my throat.

Then I would repeat numbers one to eight when morning comes through, again. I have no choice but to survive.

Campaign coverage mostly on sorties, personalities

Avigail Olarte

(I am reprinting this informative article from pcij to help our readers analyze the 2007 election campaign and results. Please note that Ang Ladlad was the most covered party list with almost 4.28 minutes. If a one-second exposure can be quantified at P10,000, then we got almost P4.28 million of free publicity. And that was only from January to February, 2007. Imagine...)

CAMPAIGN sorties, jingles, slogans, and personalities dominated media’s coverage of the senatorial elections in the first three weeks of the campaign.

This was one of the key findings of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in its initial report on the 2007 elections coverage. From February 13 to March 2, CMFR monitored the coverage of the three major dailies — Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, and Manila Bulletin — and six television news programs on ABS-CBN 2, GMA 7, ABC 5, and NBN 4.

CMFR said readers and viewers were “treated to a daily log of the candidates’ campaign sorties, complete with the usual ‘color’ pieces on who was the most-cheered candidate in an area, or how Team Unity senatorial candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri beat the other candidates in getting a franchise on that insanely infectious ditty, Boom Tarat Tarat.”

CMFR also revealed that television devoted a mere 5.54 percent of its airtime to development and policy issues, while the broadsheets had so far not allotted much space to these issues.

CMFR said these were the very same concerns raised in the coverage of the 2004 presidential elections.

See related post, “Why elections are covered as sport.”
“The first three weeks is the most crucial period of coverage because it will set the tone for the rest of the campaign,” said CMFR deputy director and journalism professor Luis Teodoro. According to Teodoro, media should raise the level of discourse by reporting on more substantive issues.

But the lack of reports on key issues is not entirely the fault of the media, Teodoro said, as the candidates and political parties themselves “are working on the old assumption that the electorate is not interested on issues.”

At the same time, Teodoro said, the media “can help set the agenda,” he said, as can be seen in online news sites like and which strive to report on important issues.

In CMFR’s initial findings, only 11 out of some 101 newspaper reports on the Senate and party-list elections touched on crucial issues. And most of these reports barely explained how the candidates intended to address issues like poverty, education, global warmingLearning-to-Love-Global-Warming , and charter change.

“Most of the articles reported on a candidate’s position on an issue, but did not explain how the candidate planned to translate his views into action. Was it perhaps because the candidates had no idea themselves?” CMFR said. “It would have helped if the reports indicated if this was indeed the case — if, for example, the reporter pressed the candidate to explain how, say, this motherhood statements on ending poverty could be translated into policy through legislation.”

In television, there were more personality-oriented reports — how certain candidates spent their Valentine’s Day with their spouses or how the celebrities were campaigning — than stories on development or policy issues.

“Worse, the TV reports were content to mention that these were the platforms of a certain candidate or his or her stand on a certain issue, with no full-length discussion as to the issues, platforms, or advocacies of the candidates,” CMFR added.

Teodoro also said media should strive to do an in-depth analysis of what’s really at stake in this elections.

“The country is at a crossroads — it can follow the path of restoration or of authoritarian rule. And the outcome of the 2007 elections could lead to the resolution of the legitimacy issue. But I don’t see that kind of analysis anywhere,” he said.

But Teodoro admitted that stories like these do not really sell, despite indications that the electorate is “gaining some wisdom,” as shown in recent surveys where celebrities barely made it to the top senatorial list.

A recent survey also shows that voters are now more aware of party-list groups, Teodoro said, but sadly, the media cover the party-list groups only when there’s controversy involved, as in the case of the gay-lesbian group Ang Ladlad.

Ang Ladlad was the party-list group most covered by all six TV programs, with a total airtime of only 4.28 minutes. It was followed by Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, AnakPawis, and Kabataan Party List. And of the 419 front-page articles published in the broadsheets from February 14 to March 2, only one article was about the party-list elections, CMFR said.

CMFR further reported that the most covered candidates in both print and broadcast came from the administration’s Team Unity. For television, TU’s Cesar Montano had the most combined airtime coverage, followed by partymate Ralph Recto.

In the three newspapers, most reports were on former oppositionists and now administration candidates Vicente Sotto, Tessie Aquino Oerta, and Edgardo Angara. Other reports included the feud between couple Vilma Santos and Ralph Recto with brother Batangas vice governor Ricky Recto, over the gubernatorial contest in Batangas.

Only the Inquirer wrote about the Ang Kapatiran Party, CMFR said, but the reports failed to include the party’s program of action.

Teodoro said CMFR hopes that media organizations will study the results of the study and make adjustments on their coverage.

He said that in 2004, CMFR noticed that newspapers exercised “more restraint” in their reporting than TV news programs, which was evident in their refusal to sensationalize certain issues.

There was also a conscious effort to cover all the 2004 candidates equally, but at the same time, media still tended to focus on political controversies and gave undue prominence to public opinion polls.

“Media exposure and coverage are critical to successful campaigns,” CMFR wrote in its 2004 report. “The performance of the press, the accuracy, fairness and balance of reporting and commentary are significant issues in the projection of a candidate. Media reporting that covers the elections as a circus or just another ‘horse race’ will not help voters weigh their options and their choices seriously.”

Of blogging, the internet, and anonymity

Danton Remoto
Remote Control

Of blogging, the internet, and anonymity

The blog of Brian Gorrell has had 2 million hits, has been written about in the papers and featured on Channel 2, and discussed in radio shows, reunions, e-groups, chatlines and, yes, other blogs.

Since I teach Introduction to Fiction to freshmen students at the Ateneo, when we study character I tell them to look at the motivation. Brian’s motivation here is both a paraphrase and an allusion to a line from Shakespeare: ”Hell hath no fury like a woman [in this case, gay man] scorned.”

Allegedly, Brian, who ran a flower farm in Australia, took a visit to Boracay and, like all of us, fell in love with the island paradise. There, he met a group of high-powered, social butterflies with mega-media visibility. Brian from the boonies was amazed, perhaps titillated, even proud, to have fallen into such a fabulous group.

And he also fell in love with one of them, a guy who, if you believe the blog and the comments it has spawned, used to run a restaurant in Malate that failed, among other unlucky enterprises. But he always survived such financial disasters, simply because it wasn’t his money that funded them.

So the besotted Brian returned to Australia, sold his farm for A $100,000 – and remitted a total of A $70,000 to our Filipino gigolo. They were supposed to fund two businesses – a restaurant and a travel agency – a nest egg for two people who love each other. Brian claims he has the receipts from Western Union to prove his case. But when the Filipino gigolo dumped him and could show no proof of neither a restaurant going or a travel agency booking tickets, Brian began to blog.

The effect was electric. One of my best friends told me about it three weeks ago, telling me to read it before it was shut down.

And so I did. And thus, I need to make a full disclosure, for the sake of journalistic ethics, before I go on. All of the people involved write for the same newspaper as I do, the Philippine Star, but I had only met two of them in a newspaper party. And this opinion piece is neither a beef for – or against them. The other disclosure is that Tim Yap, who invented the word ”eventologist” and was roundly bitched at in some of the unmoderated comments, donated a painting for the Ang Ladlad auction held at the National Museum in October of 2006. Unfortunately, the painting was not sold and after the May 2007 elections, Ang Ladlad chose to donate it to our Secretary, a transgender who is moving to – what a coincidence! – Australia with her boyfriend, to start a new life.

The disclosures having been made, where do we go from here?

When Brian began to blog, he only wanted his A $70,000 returned, to pay for the astronomical costs of his medication for infections arising from HIV-AIDS. He did not know that the blog would take a life – or lives – of its own. The comments are unmoderated, and I read Brian’s entries and the comments for two hours. And then I had to stop. My migraine began to throb, coming from a vein in my left temple. I felt that the unmoderated comments had descended to unmitigated bashing. One guy’s sexual organ was compared to a needle [but not in the haystack]; the other woman’s body – a scion of a former Marcos crony – was ”bigger than a van.” Being just friends of the Filipino Gigolo and having had no direct bearing on the case at hand, I felt the unmoderated comments were way off the line.

And yes, they were anonymous.

I began to wonder what is it about the Internet – and its anonymity – that releases the bestial, the bitter, and the bad in some of us. Four years ago, I helped edit a gay men’s magazine. I charged them half the rate because they promised to include serious gay issues in the magazine. But I had to resign after closing one issue. One of the models complained to me that he was being harassed by an administrator. And when I saw the photos, I nearly fainted. I was talking to my lawyer on the phone every day. He cautioned me that one definition of porn is showing pubic hair, since pubic hair is part of the genitals. So my design director and I had to erase and clean all the hair, cut all the photos from the hip bone down. And then I left.

After I left, the bashing against me started in the gay yahoo groups. Somebody impersonated me, but was found out quickly because, to quote one of my defenders, ”the guy mixed his past tense, his presente tense, and his future tense in one sentence, and Danton does not do that.” Another again impersonated me and sent an appeal for hairy men, who are supposed to be my weaknesses. A Filipino director who was scandalized had to call me up to ask if that was me.

And before the May 2007 elections, one of my friends in the administration party called me up to ask if I was, indeed, that naked guy in the Internet? It turned out that somebody had been spreading my picture in cyberspace. My laughter must have sounded like that of a mad hyena because he added quickly, ”Oh, I was sure it wasn’t you. His body was just too hunky.”

And recently, in another gay site, one guy wrote in Bicolano that ”In the Heart of Summer,” my short story that won third prize int he Philippine Free Press and posted in the site was plagiarized. Another anonymous entry said I was ”delusional” and ”a glamorous mendicant” because I want to run for public office even if I had no money. I like the delusional and the glamorous mendicant, because we all know that even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had to raise funds for their campaigns, But I was cross with the accusation of plagiarism.

I called up my lawyer, who advised me to get the anonymous’ guy’s IP number. The site owner gave it to me. My lawyer wanted to investigate, track down the guy’s real name and address, and file a case. With the cold logic and knife-keen sharpness of a pilot on a carpet-bombing mission, he told me what we would do.

But I had to stop. First, the site owner is in the closet and would be dragged into the case. Second, like UP summa cum laude and Bb, Pilipinas Universe Anna Theresa Licaros who was blasted for competing in the Miss Universe and thinking it was a Quiz Bee, won’t I infringe, somehow, in another person’s right to free expression?

It’s a slippery slope, a dangerous divide. In my heart of hearts, I do hope that, if the blog entries are true, Brian would get back his A $70,000. Having an incurable disease is painful enough to go through. He does not need the deeper pain of a heartbreak, and a betrayal.

Gay universe

LODESTAR By Danton Remoto
Philippine STAR
Monday, April 14, 2008

Aside from Ladlad 3: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing that Neil Garcia and I just published, two new titles show the strength of the gay universe. One comes from the tower of academe; the other from the street corner sangfroid of a beauty parlor.

Ronald Baytan has finally collected his poems in The Queen Sings the Blues (Poems 1992-2002), published by Anvil, the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award winner for Publisher of the Year. In these 47 poems, Baytan show the arc swinging from desire to doom, love to loss, beginning to ending. It is “a decade’s musings on the catwalks of desire . . . from bathhouses to bars, from trains to rooms, from the closet to the stage. . .”

Lest my readers from the Catholic Women’s League and the Opus Dei berate me again for destroying their Monday mornings, let me just quote for you the less “scandalous lines” from this book. For truly, Baytan belongs squarely (pun intended) to that school that produces “raw poetry” as opposed to “cooked,” poetry that is “confessional” as opposed to “cerebralized.” This was a school that gained headway in the 1960s, when the likes of Robert Graves and Philip Booth, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath trawled the subterranean depths of their private pain and private glories to produce gemstones of words that still shimmer to this day.

It’s a word sharp with longing, as in the poem “He Who Sleeps in My Lap,” which was first published in our bestselling and ground-breaking Ladlad 1 anthology. Listen: “My friend/ who sleeps in my lap/ loves someone else./ He says he is a man/ and a man needs a woman/ and I disagree./ We argue until he grows/ tired of talking/ and sleeps in my lap/ on this chilly night./ And I sigh,/ knowing he loves/ someone else/ but still sleeps/ gently in my lap,/ innocent, not knowing/ that I am here/ slaughtering/ one wicked wish/ that when he wakes up/ I shall be his dream.”

Mercifully, our wonderful persona has moved from falling in love with a straight man to falling in love with another gay man. It is a world of plenty, a virtual cornucopia, as in the poem “Seafood.” This luxuriant poem catalogues the many pleasures in a carnal paradise, using the world of the marine kingdom as encompassing metaphor. It’s a poem salty with desire, and it ends like this: “Tonight we go/ Home heavy, and I kinship know:/ Tomorrow will serve another catch/ Of love we could never have enough,/ Of victuals we simply could never love/ Enough.”

To that we say, as the Speedy Gonzales of our childhood TV cartoon days would put it: “Arriva, arriva, andale, andale!”

Pain limns some of the poems, as in “Confession Or, to Mama and Papa Reading Chimera.” In the interest of full disclosure, Chimera was a glossy literary journal that I used to help edit in the late 1990s. One of the controversial works we published was Baytan’s poem, “Bottom.” This new poem was written in reaction to the poet’s parents reading the poem. “As your eyes travel through/ My poem’s pauses, I flinch,/ I swallow/ the hemlock/ of your silence.”

I don’t know how it is now, but during our time in the 1990s, we never told our parents about our gayness. Like many Filipino families, the silence of the lambs was the name of the game. My parents only “knew” when my atrevida sister gave them a copy of Ladlad. My father, who was with the military, said: ‘At least they used white book paper for the book!” And my mother, retired Music teacher, chimed in: “Oo nga!”

In another poem called “Distance,” Baytan writes about an affair that is separated by oceans and time zones. The poet seems to be a non-believer in long-distance relationships. Oh, we have all tried to forge them, to make these long-distance affairs last, but as Baytan wisely observes: “In my mind, you are present/ In all things. But the bed/ Betrays me: It remains half-full./ The quilt of your voice/ Stretches across the continents/ But it cannot keep me warm enough./ Love is all proximity/ And nothing, not even the thought/ You are thinking of me, can/ Equal your return.”

And the silk, satin, and sequins of syllables sparkle in the shimmering poem “Queen,” as well as in an “Elegy for Benjie,” the Queen of Africa. “Yes, Benjie,/ Life is one long drag, one long pageantry,/ But nothing is ever foolish/ Because no queen ever forgets,/ Or is ever forgotten.”

The reigning queen of the beauty parlor is also the topic of Mga Kuwentong Parlor ni Wanda Ilusyonada, published by Psi Com. The writer is anonymous, and it’s a witty and comic romp using gayspeak. “Ang librong ito ay Rated PG. Pa-Gurl. Ito ay koleksyon ng mga kwentong popular tungkol sa pakikipagsapalaran ni Wanda Ilusyonda sa mundong in need for a total makeover. Sa gitna ng mga split ends at patay na kuko ay mga eksenang kabaklaan at paggu-good time, mga pang-o-okray at mga chenelyn bangungot sa buhay. Pwede kang matuwa, pwede ka ring mag-inarte. Pero chikka lang. Ganyan si Wanda, ang pink sheep ng pamilya. Saving the world one chakka at a time bago man lang rumampa.”

The tone is cheeky, the attitude is lighthearted, and the book is funny. It is a far cry from the song “Luhod” of Joey de Leon in his so-called CD that still makes fun of gays as mere denizens of beauty parlors, reducing us to our sexual orientation. I like Joey generally, and once even served as a judge in their Super Sireyna gay beauty contest in Eat Bulaga, but I cannot let pass his recent, condescending attack on gay men. It is just so painfully obsolete. Maybe our good comedian has to overhaul his considerable cache of comic verbal tricks to capture again a younger audience that no longer makes fun of gay me.

Like in this book, whose pulse is set firmly in popular culture and the contemporary world. “Akez si Magdalena, si Mulan. Si Zsa Zsa Zaturnah, si Valentina, si Sailor Moon at lahat ng karakter sa TV, sine, at komiks na pangarap naming magsuot ng costume. . . Akez ay isa sa mga anonymous names sa chatroom, naghahanap ng booking and/or relasyon.”

Or how does one come out to one’s parents? “Sabi daw nung vehykla na bet nang mag-out. ‘Nay, pakiabot naman ng ketchup sa nag-iisang bakla sa mesang it.’ Tapos inabot ng nanay niya ‘yung ketchup . . . sa Tatay nila!

There are many other laugh-out- loud episodes in this book of vignettes, and you’ve got to read them to believe them. Enjoy!

just came back from hanoi

i was in hanoi for a week to attend a microsoft-sponsored conference on asia-pacific teachers. my paper, phil star, sent me there. i did write a blog entry and was about to post it when the internet went dead.

yes, vietnam is like manila. but they have enough rice, less pollution because there are a million motorcycles and bikes on the road. the way they drive is like us, too. pedestrians are seen as nuisance on the road, and have to be flattened.

my heart skipped a beat when i saw from afar the mausoleum for ho chi minh. this poet, president, revolutionary of viet nam speaks to us still, in the burning and beautiful poems he wrote. i teach his works for my asian lit/ third world lit class at ateneo.

hanoi is full of lakes. 130 in all. the newspaper, vietnam times, looks like a high-school paper. coffee is great. we stayed in sheraton hanoi, which is very elegant. i met some filipinos in the hotel (musicians, executives, Ayala Alabang tourists) and yes, they asked me about 2010. i smiled and said everybody is keeping quiet, feigning they are not interested -- but already preparing the ground work for the political marathon. when does the marathon begin? this october of 2008. the last quarter of the year.

the vietnamese thought i was vietnamese. the chinese thought i was chinese. the japanese said i looked like a japanese from their northern regions. even the koreans said i looked like them.

ha? the filipino as the pan-Asian race of the continent.

i will write more about hanoi next time, i just arrived today and have millions of vietnamese dong (money, you silly boy) i have no use for in manila. maybe i can go back to hanoi again?

when i do, i will queue up at 7 am for the ho chi minh mausoleum, buy all his books in the stores, bring home some beautiful vietnamese paintings (they're the rage in all of asia), and talk to some kind friends i had made there.

but first, to sleep. summer classes begin monday, and i have to prepare the syllabi and readings tomorrow. i also have to do last-minute review for my spanish-language exams monday, for my phd in UP. Then, I can do the laundry and pressing the clothes.

and people thought my sundays are extraordinary.

Final exams

It is a week after final exams. I saw my students going to Kantina, the drinking place beside Shakey's, on Katipunan. For them hell week is over. Well, it is still here. I am down to the last section, having checked the three other sections. Grades are due tomorrow, online.

In the midst of these, of course, life moves on. My mother tells me that we will have a super big family reunion in the third week of May, in Albay. So I am having things printed: my photos in pocket size, at the back of which are things helpful for students -- measurements, conversion rates, etc. My former Ateneo teacher, Lou Vidal, is also helping me do a komiks version of my life. How to distill 45 years into four pages of komiks? A friend of mine has offered to print it, for free. I am also gathering lots of used/ second hand books, to be donated to the book-less public libraries of the state colleges in the Bicol Region.

My eyebrows fly when so-called political operators tell me that I need P100 million, or P200 million, for the senatorial race. You need that if you did not start early, or if nobody knows you.

That is why I bank on the kindness of friends, who own printing presses, who design collaterals, who own restaurants and hotels, who have mouths bigger than Tina Turner's. For word of mouth is still the best marketing tool.

In the next few days, some of the young people (between 35-45) running for senator in 2010 will meet, and start a discussion group going. We want to talk and cross party lines, bound only by our love for this crazy and beautiful country. If we do not talk now, in the second quarter of 2008, we will be drowned out by the political noise that will surely start by october of 2008.

lolo pepe rizal said it best: the youth is the hope of the fatherland. should be. still is. all the time.

now time to stop reading other people's controversial blogs, and continue checking papers again. ugh!