Divide, and Conquer

Leftist youth group Anakbayan assaulted the corporate headquarters of oil giant Petron last week throwing used diesel fuel at the building (how crude.) Also-leftist-but-of-a-different-age-bracket organization Bayan swept down on the offices of Pilipinas Shell today, vandalizing the place with red paint and rhetoric. With the price of pretty much everything going through the roof, more protest actions are expected in the next few days.

Government has little to worry about, though. We Filipinos have never been much into organizing. Consider all the little revolts and petty rebellions that we’ve had over the centuries and try to find one conflict where there was an organized network of Filipinos who had an actual strategy and not just random slogans and mission/vision statements.

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Walk This Way

Not that we really need to explain ourselves to the rest of the world, but the slow pace of life on these islands is as much an accident of geography as it is of the climate.

On the island of Palawan, as is probably the case in many others, the trip from one end of the island to the other takes as long, if not longer, than the voyage from the mainland.  Geographically, it is easier to travel between islands than within them, what with mountain passes, river crossings, wild pigs and tribal wars barring your way.  More often than not, it is too much of a hassle to go anywhere.

Because local horses are laughably small, travel during our ancestors’ times was either by river, but most often by foot. The particularly rich could get other people to use their feet, riding in baskets and hammocks carried by servants. Thus was Filipino time just another turn of phrase for I’ll get there when I get there.

With fuel prices out of control, and everyone rushing to get on the trains making it look like World Youth Days ’95 to ’97 every day, the Filipino might have to start walking again. Fares on all public-utility vehicles are about go up, if they haven’t already, and trying to get a ride in rush-hour Manila will be even harder with less people able to afford to drive. In this heat, late is about to become the new early.

(cue title music, roll credits)


Happy Birthday, Philippines

Today is Philippine Independence Day, not three days ago. It was 110 years ago that the Philippine nation was born. There was no such thing as holiday economics back then, or even a government to declare holidays, truth be told.

Independence from what, naysayers may ask after they say their prerequisite nays. Our economy is tied to the dollar and is shit, our policies are dictated to us by the US, UK, Japan, Korea or whoever is the foreign investor flavor of the month. There are American and Australian troops running around in Mindanao, and Chinese overlords have our government by the balls as well as our Kalayaan Island Group by default.

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Top 5 Things To Thank Spain For

Let’s face it. Bad as they were, our Spanish conquerors did not spend all day dreaming up ways to make us miserable. They made us miserable by their very existence, milking our labor and resources to feed their empire. Still, we have to admit that their centuries as our overlords left us some good things too.

Here are five things that may just wash the bitter taste of subjugation from our mouths.

5. The Battle of Mactan

Alright, they didn’t really give this to us, per se, but it’s on the list anyway because it’s one of the few military victories we have.

Our war chiefs were not the best in the world, relying more on passion than any actual strategy or tactics, but this time, natives armed with spears, blades and bows won the day against one of the most formidable fighting forces of the age. Sure, they raped us for the next few hundred years,but on that day, we laid the smack down and made the Spanish our bitches.

4. Education

Spain did not really feel the need to educate us indios, but they did need to teach our elites a bit of literacy. After all, there was no sense in having collaborators who couldn’t send you written reports of native uprisings and friar gossip, or couldn’t read orders demanding more slave labor.

This came back to bite them in the ass when our educated elites started the propaganda movement, and began agitating for equal rights and representation in the Cortes. It was all done politely, to be sure, but it planted the seeds of revolution, and taught us to write the Spanish equivalent of fuck you.

3. Beer

Fermentation is a natural process, and it doesn’t really take a rocket science to make hooch: our ancestors were getting drunk on rice wine and coconut toddy long before Magellan’s dad had his first wet dream. Anyone who has had tapuy, lambanog or basi knows, though, that novelty aside, they’re pretty vile drinks that trade potency for flavor.

Beer brought us to the threshold of civilization when the first brewery in Southeast Asia was established 1890, promptly taking us away again within hours. If there’s any doubt that beer is the manly man’s drink, consider that Bonifacio and his band of brawlers ignited the Philippine Revolution six years later.

2. Siesta

Come on, it’s a cultural excuse to be unproductive after lunch. What’s not to like?

This Spanish habit of taking a midday nap is such a part of our psyche that parents enforce it every afternoon, threatening their children with spankings with various implements like rubber slippers and leather belts.

Nobody ever whipped a kid to force him to attend Sunday Mass, but parents will readily flay a child within an inch of his life if he doesn’t lie down and pretend to be asleep for at least an hour after lunch. That is how important siesta is.

1. Puta

Not prostitution, obviously. We’d have figured that out for ourselves, but the word itself is a thing of beauty.

No word can resonate across our hundreds of ethno-linguistic groups and convey so many different emotions than puta. It’s the glue that holds our society together. When at a loss for words or unsure how to react, this is generally a safe route to go (in terms of expressing emotion, though, and not actual safety.)

Veneration Without

Every settlement in this country that rates a paved main street has a street named after Dr. Jose Rizal. This is less out of respect for our national hero, whose shoes (though small) are impossible to fill, than out of a national guilt at having only read his works in school, and doing it cursorily while picking out the details that would probably come up on the exam. (That Fr. Damaso was served a chicken neck in his tinola, say.)

Never mind that he was a doctor, historian, philosopher, artist, polyglot and a hundred other things that we will never be, to most Filipinos, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are the end all and be all of Rizal.

To keep his spirit from turning into a hungry ghost and haunting us with aphorisms and snippets of his correspondence with everyone from the women of Malolos to Blumentritt to the Rajah of Madripoor, we’ve named our streets after him. “See?,” we can say with a clean conscience, “we remember.” What it is exactly that we remember must give us pause, but we do remember.

Elsewhere on the bastardization of history: the monument to Apolinario Mabini in Mabini, Batangas shows the hero on his feet in direct contempt of the one thing we all know about the Sublime Paralytic.

Game Over. Continue?

Most of you are probably too young to remember this, but video game arcades used to be a lot more Darwinian than they are now.

The amusement megaplexes that we have now are very heaven compared to the noisy, dingy holes-in-the-wall that we had in the nasty nineties.

Back then, if you were:

a. a scrawny kid

b. a newbie

c. both,

there were scores of bigger (less polite, less wealthy) older boys ready to help you out, and guide you through the intricacies of each game from start to (often premature) finish free of charge. If they were particularly friendly, and you were particularly scrawny, you’d get the privilege of watching them play your character “through the difficult bits,” which was pretty much everything from the word Play.

You don’t see that now in places like Timezone and Tom’s World because of the bright lights and tighter security, but the practice is probably alive in lesser malls and darker video game corners.

The bigger, older boys of our generation have also probably outgrown video games, but their kind is still around in every LTO fixer and MMDA traffic cop that you meet.

Rice and Revolution

“How can an agricultural country not have enough rice?”-Mikonawa, Eater of Moons

We don’t feel it yet, but there is a shortage of rice in this country. The government has resorted to rationing inexpensive NFA rice, and lines form before dawn as the poor and hungry prepare to stand for hours for the chance to buy a few kilograms of rice. In case you doubt the seriousness of the situation, consider that people are now actually falling in line, something that we are not genetically predisposed to do.

It sounds almost absurd, this shortage of rice. Like something from Gabriel Garcia Marquez or the Bible or some other work of magical realism. After all, shouldn’t the Philippines, being an agricultural nation, not have enough food for its people?

But then again, we’re not really an agricultural nation anymore. Not since the Thomasites came over on the good ship USS Thomas armed with their education and civilization and toothpaste, and perhaps not even before that. We’ve all learned to better ourselves through education to escape the drudgery of agriculture. We’ve become doctors and lawyers and such. Nurses and physical therapists and dancers and caregivers and armchair intellectuals.

The Banaue rice terraces are falling into disrepair because the Ifugao youth are not interested in farming and preserving the old ways of life. Terraces or no, this is a phenomenon that has been happening in rural areas all over the country for decades. Probinsiyanos flock to the cities to get an education and a piece of the action, often ending up in slums, destitute and despondent. It’s like England during the Industrial Revolution only with a lot less industry.

The government started by denying that there was a rice shortage, then upped the importation of rice from other rice-producing nations while appealing to dealers not to hoard rice or manipulate prices. Now, a few weeks later, they’ve resorted to rationing, supplies often running out before  those in line get their alloted two to four kilograms of rice. With the Arroyo administration’s penchant for knee-jerk solutions and its callous disregard for human rights, the next step is inevitable: the Pol Pot Solution. Food self-sufficiency at all costs.

Through an all-powerful but legally-questionable Executive Order, We’ll all be rounded up to take part in this new Green Revolution either as a farmer or as fertilizer. We’ll be brought to what idle tracts of arable land have not been planted with export crops like sugar and jatropha, and forced to plant potatoes and rice (though not together) while reciting Joyce Kilmer’s Trees from start of day to set of sun. Peasants who refuse or recite their own favorite poetry will be shot on the spot.

Any form of independent or critical thought will be severely punished, generally by being shot on the spot. Sarcasm, dry humor, non sequiturs and silliness will be outlawed.  As new peasants, we will only be allowed to think about crops, the weather, harvest season, and the inherent goodness of our infallible and infinitely-just government and the President for which it stands.

It will be difficult, at first, but eventually, the scarcity of food crops will be solved. Of course, we will then have the problem of having a scarcity of people, but with the number of Korean tourists arriving daily, who’ll notice, really?

Fighting Spirit Award

“If it will be down to hand-to-hand combat, why not?”

–AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. on the defense of the Kalayaan Island Group


Meaning no disrespect to the Filipino soldier, probably among the hardiest and fiercest warriors that any fighting force in the world can muster, but this will never happen.


We’re not even talking about the impossible logistics of arranging a brawl with Chinese soldiers on islands that are closer to being reefs than actual land masses. Just finding someone to referee it would be a pain, and then there’d be the question of rules: will it be a square-off between an equal number of combatants, a large-scale version of the classic high school 10 Seconds? Will punches to the face be allowed? What about low blows?


These are just details, and do not really matter in the face of the fact that we Filipinos do not have a warrior culture. Sure, we’re effective, even fearsome fighters judging from the abundance of Weapons of Moroland plaques and the variety of weapons our warriors have wielded from the kris to the kampilan to the korambit to the sansibar to the pillbox to the lead pipe.


The head hunters of the mountains to the North were feared by colonists and settlers. Our Sulu pirates terrorized shipping along the straits of Basilan for centuries. Our hot Malay blood is quick to anger and demand blood for the slightest, sometimes imagined, insult, but it is not in our genetic code to wish that the Emperor reign ten thousand years, and then charge pell-mell to certain death. It is not even in our genetic code to have an Emperor or any other infallible despot whose word is the law.


Decisive set-piece battles are not in the Filipino subconscious. When we say patay kung patay, we mean our willingness to kill, not to die. Aguinaldo went into talks with Spain barely a year into the 1896 Revolution, fleeing to Hong Kong when no decisive military solution seemed possible. He returned, of course, to wage war again and to carry the fight to our new masters, the Americans. He then surrendered again, as did every other revolutionary with the possible exception of Artemio Ricarte who refused to pledge allegiance to America.


The defense of the Philippines collapsed within five months despite the presence of the admittedly ill-equipped USAFFE. Soon after, a puppet government was formed and positions were filled by collaborators. Artemio Ricarte, our hero who refused to pledge to the American flag promptly bowed to the Japanese one, helping found the KALIBAPI, the Japanese-sponsored political party that remained unopposed throughout the war years. When the war ended, most collaborators were pardoned since they were badly needed to get our war-torn country running again. And why not? We are masters of the long view, after all.


The long view does not favor massive forces annihilating each other, does not see the quixotic and bloody defense of one’s homeland as a virtue. Massacres and burning down villages in long campaigns of attrition will do nobody any good. Much better to catipulate now, or pretend to, at any rate, and resort to guerilla everything later. Sure, we’ll sing our heavily-accented Star-Spangled Banner and bow to you all you want, but the moment you turn your back, we’ll raid your armories, attack you while you breakfast, ambush your supply trains, pee on your walls, spit in public, flood you with illegal immigrants, etc.


Some may refuse to surrender, swear death before dishonor, but there will always be someone higher up who, thinking in the long term, will willingly turn over our territory. In the interest of the people’s safety and for regional stability, no doubt. And this is why if push comes to shove, we’ll lose the Kalayaan Island Group. We do not have the hive-mind of our neighbors, the ethnocentric certainty that conquest is their right, the conviction that they would rather fall first before their country does.


Sure, we’ll fight for our country, but we won’t be able to defend it.