Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Hitman's ground

A JOURNALIST colleague plied me with questions a few nights ago. “Is it not a fact that triggermen are a dime a dozen in your home province? The gun-for-hire is a perennial cottage industry in those (accursed) parts, isn’t it?”

He received a death threat. He was apprehensive that a hireling from Nueva Ecija would be sent for him. Oh, not all hired guns come from Nueva Ecija.

Told him the gung-ho protagonist Johnny Rico in the sci-fi classic, “Starship Troopers” hails from those inclement parts-- although I’m told the surname Rico is rooted in Pangasinan. Yes, the devil-may-care butchering man-of-arms celebrated by Robert Heinlein is a Tagal-speaking Novo Ecijano.

So is the patsy hireling Rolando Galman unleashed that fateful August 21, 1983 to do in ex-lawmaker Benigno Aquino, Jr.

So is the ensnared hitman from Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija who, in broad daylight a few weeks back, did in tabloid newsman-broadcaster Arnel Manalo in Bauan, Batangas.

What makes ‘em tick? They’re time bombs, set to blow off at any appointed time. They tick.

Tagalog-speakers aren’t exactly yahoos steeped in the ways of mayhem and murder. Tagalog is short for “taga-ilog,” or river-dweller. Most Central Luzon towns, thanks to springs from the Sierra Madre, are blessedly run through with a snake-writhe of major river systems. Nature’s scheme of things in those more benign parts of Central Luzon allow a seaward route, irrigation water for tilling off-monsoon crops plus generous options at eking a decent livelihood.

Tagal isn’t taga-ilog. Heinlein’s Tagal-speaking hero isn’t exactly a river-dweller who can set out to sea, fatten crabs or groupers in fish cages, angle migrating apahap or large-mouth bass or engage in aquaculture to tide over lean months we groan of as “sayad na banga (empty rice bin)” or “kawit ang palakol (the axe-scythe is about to descend on our necks).”

“Tagal” translates to a protracted length of time that wears human patience to as thin as a razor’s edge. Tagal whispers forbearance. We have too much to endure, too little to enjoy.

So, good things come to those who wait—in ambush.

Central Luzon’s Tagal towns churn off those who wait in such sullen attitude. Why, they plow through paddies when monsoon rains soften the harsh, hard-packed earth; transplant rice seedlings a wee clump at a time in a back-wracking ordeal; then, it’s back to the long wait for the palay crop to bear and fatten their grains. In the 1950s through the ‘60s that can take-- before high-yield early maturing cultivars were plied -- a carabao’s wait of five months. Tagal. Kakapit sa patalim. O sa .45 pistol.

Grub for those lean months is the usual halobaybay (watery fish sauce) as dip for boiled or stewed chilis, eggplants, okra, camote tops. I’ve shared frugal repasts of semi-ripe guavas, rock-salt and rough-milled rice called pinawa with relatives.

Tagal also translates as liwag.

Ah, my forebears on the maternal side are of the Liwag stock—it’s liwanag (light) with the tiger (or seed word han) untucked. Say, there’s a han in gohan or “five tigers”, the original oriental word for rice. As crop geneticists have it, rice of the ancient kind bore five grains per stalk. (I’m probably descended from that late lawmaker-educator Juan R. Liwag, a Tagal.)

So a Tagal is used to the torment of time. Poet-mystic William Blake probably had a Tagal in mind when he wrote about an odd beast—a tiger burning bright in the forests of the night. They can stalk their prey. They can pounce, claw, and rip their way. They can unleash light and burn.

Not all Tagals turn into cold-blooded hired guns or patsies that go gone. Some can emerge as big guns. Sen. Alfredo Siojo Lim, NBI’s Reynaldo Wycoco, Bulgar columnist Pablo Hernandez are of Tagal stock. So are several colleagues in the writing racket—sports editor Joe S. Antonio, real estate whiz Soledad Simbillo-Antonio, and poet Roger M. Mangahas.

Ah, basta may itatagal sila.


A government of laws 18 March, 2004

ERSTWHILE comedian and opposition lawmaker Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III recently stressed before milling hordes in Butuan City that voters elect the person, not his espoused platform of government.

Sotto probably meant voters will choose presidential aspirant Fernando Poe, Jr. based on the sheer force of his celebrity status as a person—never mind if such a person is clueless on what kind of animal a platform of government is.

Sotto may be inadvertently tossing a potshot at a 1780 statement of U.S. President John Adams that point up the distinguishing hallmark of a democratic government: “(Ours is) a government of law and not of men.”

In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court elaborated on the Adams adage citing, “law alone saves a society from being...ruled by mere brute power however disguised.”

Maybe, the Sotto statement was a pining for the distant past—in the so-called grandeur that was Athens , Greece when people used their power any way they wish. Classical Athens became a classic example of a state ruined by its own citizens. Those people became the problem, not the solution.

Thus, tyranny came to be defined as a government of men.

Sotto’s statement must have been mouthed off the cuff. Or it was meant to squash challenges at debate hurled at the Poe camp for their stalwart to come out and lay down his political agenda cards on the table—so people may not be left in the dark about his plans for the country and its citizenry.

Or the Sotto statement probably echoes the confession-quip made by the earnest Bicolano political kingpin Luis Villafuerte— “Before I became a politician, I used to think before saying anything. When I became a politician, I became used to saying anything before thinking.”

Then again, the Sotto statement was probably a deadpan gag which hardly elicited laughter.

Read and weep

YOU can read this, chew through the core of every word, and grasp what’s written, consider yourself blessed. You took choices that accrued some pluck and lots of luck. You just don’t survive—you thrive.

Millions of others aren’t so lucky: 11 million amongst us are left crawling in the dust, hardly knowing what horrible twist and turn may happen in their lives. In today’s knowledge-driven economies in which skills and competencies translate to higher per capita earnings, those millions are virtual lepers.

The lepers multiply like a contagion. The disease neither abates nor ceases.

We may mourn and weep: “11 million Filipinos lack the required literacy skills to provide livelihood for themselves and their families now and in the future, according to the Department of Education (DepEd).”

The findings were gleaned from a 2003 study—that means such millions swelled some more in numbers, the pestilence still spreads, more likely in quantum progression—and who can prevent them from, say, voting a nincompoop into high office?

DepEd elaborates: “This means that over 15 percent of our population (1) does not have the literacy skills they need to communicate effectively, (2) think critically, and (3) develop an appreciation of themselves, their society, and the broader global community.”

Per capita income? That boils down to earnings per head. Give stress on head, maybe whatever gray matter sheltered snugly and thrumming like an indefatigable perpetual motion machine in the cranium.

Capital? It’s a word we take as a sum of money but it’s really not. Capital pertains to the contents between the ears that often bring a measure of contentment.

So think it over. Knowledge doesn’t take up too much space but millions just don’t have the means-- maybe the wrought iron will and steely persistence—to gain access to knowledge and its keen cutting edge.

The DepEd study cites 30.5 percent of children are out of school—dire needs force them to work in menial, low-paying jobs—while about 20 percent can’t afford the high cost of education.

“We can only conquer the tyranny of poverty if we can conquer the tyranny of illiteracy.”

It’s one motherhood statement that has a ring of urgency to it.



Small minds, loud mouths


GOD must have a terrific sense of humor tempered by a twisted sense of irony. Such divine traits are evident in His creation, often in creatures that we live with. Consider the species called militant transport sector blokes that inhabit these islands He has blessed with His humor and irony.

Today, those blokes will lord it over thoroughfares of the metropolis. They’ll be at their menacing worst—usual streamers with usual slogans, usual noisemaking -- to inflict their nuisance on unsuspecting commuters and breadwinners out to earn a living.

They’ll get away with this unwitting sabotage of business opportunities and productive man-hours that can add up to a few dozen millions of pesos. Anyway, no law has been enacted that will allow civil or criminal suits to make those blokes pay for such huge losses. A law like that would be deemed anti-poor and won’t win brownie points with the greater bulk of voters.

The militant transport blokes have vowed to cripple the metropolis—90 percent of the public transport system will be paralyzed. It may take more than crutches and wheel chairs to get the urban sprawl back on its feet, so it is believed.

Such crippling blow against to-be-stranded commuters, hapless breadwinners, daily wage earners and common sense is meant to send a message to oil companies: refrain from price hikes. Umm, quirky oil price hikes happen across the globe but here’s a militant suggestion to insulate this country from mundane reality—ah, ignorance often spawns arrogance.

Somehow, we feel sorry for these poor nuisance-makers. Plying out findings of a 2003 comprehensive study, the Department of Education notes “15% of our population does not have the literacy skills they need to communicate effectively, (2) think critically, and (3) develop an appreciation of themselves, their society, and the broader global community.”

Somehow, such facts allay our pique at those militant blokes who’ll inflict some pain in our ears today. We can only ponder and wonder.

In His infinite wisdom and sense of humor, God saw it apt to fit small minds into loud mouths.

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