Monday, June 25, 2007

A Touch Of Old

One of the things that a visitor notices immediately when setting foot in Lianga for the first time is the fact that the town is dotted by many old houses and residences, some of them dating back to the early years of the last century.

None of them, of course, are in any way similar to the stately, palatial and well preserved, Spanish-inspired mansions of many Philippine towns that were already flourishing during the Spanish colonial period. Instead, the ones in Lianga are large, squat and box-like structures of weathered wood, almost always two stories high and having huge open windows with sliding panels of wood and glass. Most of these houses now sport corrugated, sheet metal roofs but decades ago nipa was the roofing material of choice.

Entrances to the two floors of the typical house are usually separate since two more more families live in it. An imposing staircase, often accessible from the outside, provides access to the upper level which typically is the main residence and which usually has a huge living room ventilated and lighted by gaping, open windows that overlook highly polished, dark colored, wooden floors and heavy, imposing and uncomfortable-looking, antique furniture.

If there is a feudal aristocracy in Lianga (some say there was and there is still indeed one) then these old houses are the castles and palaces. And from within their wood walls the questions involving the political, social and economic life of the town were discussed and decided upon by those who considered themselves its resident movers and shakers.

A lot of Lianga's history is etched and written upon the walls and pillars of these houses and, in many ways, they are witnesses and guardians of of its checkered past. The weathering and patina of age that cling to these structures speak of the relentless march of time and how, from one perspective, the structures that man builds often outlives him and acquire a presence and existence separate from the person or persons who created them.

Inside their walls I am humbled by the weight of the ages past and I am aware of a feeling of awe, a reverence for the memories, impressions and echoes of the past. The ghosts of the lives lived within seem to flit to and fro, from room to room, never malignant and somehow benign yet vaguely reeking sometimes of sorrow, despair and regret probably for lost opportunities and unfulfilled dreams. A lot of melancholy there or was it just my own feelings and thoughts they were simply feeding on?

What is true is that Lianga is an old town. In the beginning of the last century while the other surrounding municipalities were either none existent or just mere hamlets, it was already a bustling trading center. It was also a transportation hub for those who had to travel by sea to the other coastal communities in the immediate area since there were still no roads connecting the towns and settlements.

The construction of these big houses at around that time was a measure of the then relative importance of the town as a population center and a magnet for trade and commerce. Over the years, particularly in the decades following the Second World War, the town grew and flourished. Lumber from the area's virgin forests became a major source of income and the revenues made Lianga relatively rich and its people complacent.

The bubble finally burst in the 1980's and 90's after years of economic decline. Peace and order problems brought about by general lawlessness and a rapidly growing Communist insurgency merely aggravated the situation and the town has since then stagnated and became moribund.

But it could and would not die. Like an aged yet stubborn crone recovering from a supposedly terminal illness and refusing to give in to the disease, it clings desperately to life and draws strength and the will to continue from the memories of a glorious past and the desperate hope for a better future.

The old houses best symbolize this obstinate refusal to surrender. Year after year, decade after decade, they still stand, worn out and tired but still gamely standing, no longer pretty and showing plainly to the naked eye the rigors and scars of the hard years that have come and have stayed. And seemingly waiting for the day when they can be again witnesses to momentous events, history unfolding and the chance to relive the glories of the past in the face of an unknown, uncertain future.

The soul of Lianga is very much alive in these structures and for that reason alone I am partial to them. I wish they would always be there to stay. They may be weakened and battered by time as well as becoming drab, dull and spiritless. Yet they remain defiant, obstinately stubborn and continually defying all odds.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Hundred Posts Ago

I remembered what it was like.

It was early afternoon in late August of last year and my internet connection was just over a week old. Lianga was sweltering hot and the local people were desperate for even the touch of rain.

From my bedroom window on the second floor of the family house, I could see the deserted streets and the heat haze shimmering as the relentless sun baked the roof of the houses and the concrete pavements.

I remember staring at my computer monitor and doing a web search on Google for anything about Lianga. After a quarter of an hour of restless browsing and finding very little to be relevant let alone interesting, a wild idea in my mind began to take wing.

I could do a blog about Lianga and my life here. It was on my part, a decision that would take a huge leap of faith and plenty of hard work. For I did not know anything about internet blogging and, more so, I am largely an indifferent and undisciplined writer. But I wanted to try and making a go at it became an obsession with me.

An English literature professor in college once told me that writing was, in essence, therapy for him. It enabled him, by jotting down his thoughts on paper, to reflect on the things happening in his life and put them in the proper perspective. Confessions on paper, that was what he called his scribblings which he never intended for publication anyway.

I decided that my blogging was going to be my therapy, my way of making sense of my life here in Lianga. They will also be confessions of a sort, the written ruminations and reflections of a one whose life has become, in one sense, intertwined with the fate and destiny of this town and its people.

The past 100 posts have not been easy for me. They are crafted at great cost and with much effort and toil. In the real sense, they are the often confused and distracted offspring of a disorderly and rambling mind trying to tell the stories and impressions it has had of life in this small corner of the universe.

That the posts and the stories will continue is clear, for this blog is, in the very sense of it, a diary of life. And as my life in Lianga continues, so will the events, stories and reflections that have to be recorded and then told.

After all, as mentioned here before, life in Lianga can be boring as hell. But it can also be occasionally meaningful, beautiful and profound. It is for those occasions, and the boring times as well, that this blog is dedicated to.

Who cares what happens in Lianga? I was once asked this by local resident who had come across this blog while surfing the Web. The answer was clear in my head then as it is now and I told it to him straight.

I did and I still do.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Spicy Yet Sometimes Nice

It is said that little girls are made of spice and everything nice. Yet in her case, someone tampered with the formula or perhaps misjudged the proportion of the ingredients. For she can be spicier than a plate of red-hot habanero chili peppers and just as deadly.

She can throw tantrums like a cantankerous harridan on testosterone, scream with rage at some imagined slight with the racket of a hundred avenging Furies and even throw fists and bolo punches like a professional wrestler running amok.

When she feels like it, she can be obnoxious, overbearing, inconsiderate , argumentative and downright mean. Truly a spiteful and absolutely detestable little devil disguised as a chubby, cuddly and cute girl with chinky eyes, bushy black hair and an impish smile.

But she can also be, perhaps when the stars are right and the heavenly portents favorable (who knows?), sweet as pure sugar, soft as creamy marshmallows and warm and caressing like a summer rain on a hot, sunny day. Then her kisses would be sweet, her embrace intoxicating and her smile bright and sincere, a joy to behold.

Perhaps this duality of extremes that is in the nature of the female species is simply more pronounced in her. Perhaps also in time she will outgrow and learn to harmonize this dichotomy and learn to accentuate the positive rather than the negative aspects of her being and psyche.

But she is who and what she is now. That fact is undeniable. And since variety is what makes us humans interesting and fascinating then I suppose one must be able to accept her for what she is and love her just the same.

Muriel: (howling and crying): "Josh hit me! He hit me, Uncle!"
Me: (irritated): "Josh! Did you just punch your sister?"
Josh (contrite): "Sorry, but she started the fight. I was watching the TV when she came in, grabbed the remote control and changed the channel."
Me (exasperated): "What did you do?"
Josh: "I snatched it back."
Me: "Why did you hit her then?"
Josh (teary-eyed): "She bit me on the arm."

It is said that you can't live with women or live without them. That applies to little girls too as well, at least to some of them. They can be such a joy to have, but then they can also be such a pain in the neck.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Summer's End

Yesterday, Iam, my 13 year old nephew, said goodbye to me and Mama. He was leaving Lianga after spending the summer vacation here and going back with his brother to Butuan City in Agusan del Norte where both of them go to school.

When he did that there were tears his eyes and I was deeply touched. He clearly did not want to go. I made no comment and kept silent. For more than anyone else I understood what was going on in his mind. Because many, many years ago I was just like him and I too felt as he had felt. So I just hugged him, turned and walked away.

A week before, his two other cousins, both of them younger than him, also left town after spending weeks in Lianga. All four of them were very close and inseparable and when Josh and Muriel left, it was also a rather emotional and reluctant departure.

How does one make the transition from almost two months of an idyllic summer vacation to the hectic, harried life of being a student in the city? Of waking up again to the shrill, rude and insistent ringing of an alarm clock rather than to the soft murmur of a household greeting the new day or the warmth of the sun on one's face as the morning sun starts peeping through your bedroom window?

No assignments, no homework and no projects to complete. Just the whole day to do whatever you like. No schedules to keep and hard rules to abide by. Just living, day in and day out.

One can take a bath in the sea on a whim any time or go strolling or bicycling through town or spend time visiting neighbors. One can also play with friends in the streets and alleyways in the coolness of the morning and evening and in the shade of the houses in the heat of the day. Or one can just laze the day away in front of the TV set and not feel guilty at doing so.

Then there is having the real time to spend with your family and the people you love, time to share jokes and stories, time to reconnect and simply enjoy the pleasure of their company.

So when Mama's grandchildren do express sadness and shed more than a few tears at leaving Lianga when they have to go back to school, I do understand and sympathize with them. After all this town is their real home, where their roots are and where they will always be loved and cherished.

I was once young like them and I too, like them had to leave Lianga for the city when the hot and sunny days of May gave way to the dreary and often wet days of June. I too felt sad and wept a little bit. And like them, I too wished for the one thing that, even in my childhood innocence, I knew was a wish that could never be granted.

I wished then as I wished now for a summer that would never end.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

For Maricor

It is always a great surprise to get comments or e-mail from friends and classmates I have lost contact with over the years, especially from those who were part of the university gang I used to hang around with decades ago. They sure bring back a lot of memories, memories of a time of great innocence and an excess of youthful idealism, of good friends and comrades when the world seemed in great ferment and all we wanted to do was jump in, join up and take an active part in the excitement of those times.

Yes I do remember you and I do remember the others. It has been almost two decades already yet the memories and impressions are still fresh in my mind. They are that because I remember those times with great fondness and nostalgia, for they were fun, happy and productive years. We were the cream of the crop, the best of the best then and even now many of those who were on the university faculty and school administration then and who I have talked to over the years still shudder and smile wryly when remembering all the controversy and trouble we caused back then.

I have lost contact with most of the old gang. I reside now in Lianga and seldom have the opportunity to visit the USJ-R campus or our old haunts in Cebu City. But I have heard from a couple of our friends and classmates and most of them are doing quite well with their lives.

I look forward to the day when we all can get together and just reminisce about old times. Thanks for the heads up and the best wishes. I wish you and your husband the best of luck.

Do drop me a line from time to time. My e-mail address is on my profile page.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Post-Election Day Blues

May 14, 2007 was an unreasonably hot and muggy day and to avoid the last minute crowd, I went early to my voting precinct to cast my vote.

The mood at the Lianga elementary school grounds where the town folk always cast their votes was sober, subdued and little of the expected electric excitement of the closing days of the campaign period was in the air. The mood was resigned and a matter of fact.

I had expected the situation to be more hectic if not chaotic and, for a moment, I thought if I should wonder why that was so. You see, the reason was already clear and obvious in my mind.

Elections under a democratic system of government are exercises anchored in a people's hopes and aspirations for a better and kinder future. They are based on one premise, that the ordinary citizen and man on the street has the power, collectively together with his peers, to shape and determine the future of his community and country by the right to choose the leaders who will be serving in his government. This right of suffrage is a fundamental cornerstone of the democratic way of life.

When such right becomes perverted and usurped by a corrupt political culture and a political system that is rife with selfish personal interests and greed, then the premise of public accountability on which democracy must stand in order to be viable and effective becomes merely a slogan or catch phrase that has no meaning or real substance anymore. And when that happens, what follows is a widespread disillusionment with the whole democratic process. If ignored and allowed to fester, such disillusionment may start to erode the democratic framework from within and the democracy we are supposedly living under is eventually doomed to certain destruction.

It is patently clear and obvious that that there was rampant vote buying and electoral fraud in the last elections. In Lianga in particular, most, if not all, of the political candidates and parties engaged in the massive buying of votes. There were reports too of voter intimidation, ballot tampering and other forms of electoral cheating.

This is, of course, not something new. In fact, the practice of vote buying, for example, in Lianga has become so commonplace during elections that it has become elaborately systematized and tolerated by all, even by those who consider themselves ardent moralists and believers in the democratic ideal.

The fact is that the majority of the electorate in Lianga are fast losing hope in the electoral process as a means of effecting positive change in their local and national political leadership. They are now seeing the elections as mostly a parody of the real thing, a lie that seeks to hide the sobering fact that the electorate have become merely impotent tools of entrenched political forces and interests whose goal is simply to achieve political power to protect and promote their own agenda.

What is encouraging is that there is indeed a growing segment of the local electorate that is slowly realizing that if this depressing situation is to be remedied, and corrected it must be at the soonest possible time, they must themselves take action. I have to talked to many of the ordinary townspeople and there is a strong prevailing sentiment that something must be done to reform the electoral process and really return the power of the ballot to the people to whom it should belong.

But the obstacles are formidable and there are still many of those among the common folk who, though they favor immediate change, simply feel impotent and insignificant in the face of the powerfully entrenched political and economic forces that favor and promote the prevailing social and political order. The end result is the apathy and resigned indifference that continues to plague the fragile democracy we have struggled and sacrificed so much to establish.

After voting I wandered around the voting precincts for a while. I watch the voters come and go. That the people are voting in an environment seemingly free for fear and intimidation is, I supposed, something to be thankful for. In many ways, the scene before me that day was reassuring and reminiscent of a democracy in action. If there is something wrong in the process going on that day it was not visible or even immediately palpable.

But the rot in the system is there beneath the facade of normalcy and the people know and feel it in their hearts. They have been taken for a ride again at their own expense and, worst than that, they know it but have no choice but to play along and pretend the process is really working.

Perhaps there is some degree of comfort and bliss in such pretension and indifference. The question is for how much longer they can feign such indifference without paying the ultimate cost for their complacency and suffering the consequences of their lack of vigilance.

Or perhaps, maybe they are already paying the price without knowing it.