Priests unhappy with bishop’s project

mayugba Insiders say many priests of the Diocese of Laoag are unhappy with a pet project of Bishop Renato Mayugba who has been in the diocese for only a year.

Although the clergy, especially its senior members, are open to the idea of building a seminary in the diocese, they lament that the 90 to 120 million pesos to be spent for the facility’s construction in Bacarra town is unnecessarily expensive. The priests fear that diocesan programs, particularly those for the poor and marginalized, will be sacrificed because of the ambitious project. “The college seminary is not a pastoral initiative; it’s a project of the bishop,” a senior priest said, thus revealing rocky relations brought about by Mayugba’s construction project.

There have been suggestions to just improve the existing St. Mary’s Minor Seminary in Brgy. Mangato, Laoag City where the college seminary could be housed (high school seminaries are unnecessary anyway and are being closed down elsewhere), but sources say the bishop was cold with the idea. Other priests also opine that building a college seminary should not be a priority because the school only caters to a few. Established in 2011 and currently housed within the Laoag Cathedral Compound, the Mary Cause of Our Joy Seminary produced only six graduates last month while the current batch of freshmen is composed of a mere nine.

The diocese also has the option to continue sending aspiring priests to the San Pablo’s Seminary in Baguio City where most of the diocese’s priests graduated from.

Despite strong opposition, however, Mayugba, according to insiders, seems resolute in constructing a new seminary facility primarily because he wants something that people will remember him for. (“Kayatna nga adda bukodna a pakalaglagipan.”) Continue reading

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Cardinal Quevedo’s questionable loyalty

Orlando Cardinal Quevedo (photo by PGIN)

First, dear karikna, let me let you realize how powerful this man is. In a church of 1.2 billion members, he belongs to the top brass. He is one of only 117 existing cardinal electors (cardinals below 80 who are qualified to elect a pope) of the Roman Catholic Church, and one of only two in this country of almost 80 million Catholics. That makes this man one in many millions. Considered a “Prince of the Church” vested by the Vatican not only with religious powers but also with political might, His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo is definitely an influential man.

Last Sunday, March 31, the 75-year old church leader visited his hometown to the grandest hero’s welcome ever seen in Ilocos, next only to the arrival of President Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in 1993. Quevedo was born in Laoag City in 1939 to parents who are both natives of nearby town Sarrat. The family later on transferred to Marbel, South Cotabato. He makes history as the first cardinal from Mindanao, and the first Ilocano, too.

I must say, however, that though he is a kailian, I was disappointed upon hearing his appointment as Cardinal last January. To explain why, let me refresh your memory. Continue reading

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Filed under Government/Politics, Heroes, Ilocos, Justice, Laoag City, Religion

“Bigti na, friend!”

Each time I lectured in that classroom, I would stare at an empty chair, asking myself if there was something I could have done to save a life.

He was a freshman engineering student from a small town. His classmates said they never noticed anything wrong with him. His parents likewise observed no unusual behavior exhibited by their only child. Everything seemed normal and usual with this boy’s life until he was seen hanging on a nylon rope fastened on a wooden beam.

As a teacher, it was my first encounter with suicide by a student. And it was not to be the last.

By all indicators, suicide cases are on the rise in the Philippines. According to the National Statistics Office, the suicide rate from 1984 to 2005 went up by 1,522% among men (from 0.46 to seven out of every 200,000); and up by 833% among women (from 0.24 to two for every 200,000).

Noticeably, there is an increasing trend of suicide among the youth, particularly in the age group 5 to 14 and 15 to 24. Most of them kill themselves by strangulation. Other means are suffocation, poisoning, and exposure to chemicals and noxious substances. The common causes are depression, love problems, academics, low income, unemployment, and medical conditions.

It is easy to blame suicide victims for being weak. Others may even criticize them for being selfish—thinking only of themselves, and not of those they will leave behind. But what really runs in the mind of a person determined to take his life?

I have some idea, for I too seriously had thoughts of ending my life when I was a teenager. It was the end of my third year in college, and I was at the height of popularity in school. That semester, I was sent to international competitions, became the most awarded student leader, and was recognized as one of the top students. Everyone was so proud of me. People shook my hand to congratulate me for my achievements. I was, to many, a model student.

But something terrible happened, suddenly. I received a failing grade in one of my major subjects. It was unexpected and I was sure I did not deserve it. The professor claimed absolute right to manipulate how grades were to be computed. It was very clear to me that it was unfair.

My world crumbled. Because of the failing mark, I was sure that I would lose my scholarship, and would miss my chance to graduate with honors. Word about my failure spread quickly around the campus, and those who were just congratulating me a few days back began looking at me with pity, if not ridicule. I was up in the clouds one moment, and down to a very dark space the next.

Night and day, I locked up in my room, stared at the ceiling, deeply convinced that life was no longer worth living. I tried to justify suicide with philosophical musings. I also thought of the professor who gave me a failing grade, and imagined how guilty he would feel about my death.

Decided to commit suicide after five days of isolation, I went to Binondo to buy the most toxic substance I could ingest (a powerful pesticide whose mere vapor could make my lungs collapse). Before going home, I dropped by a Chinese restaurant for a last meal. When I arrived at the dorm, I lay down in bed again, stared blankly at the ceiling, and imagined my impending death one last time.

My suicide plan did not materialize, and, obviously, I have lived to tell this story. Three things kept the poison bottle unopened: thoughts of my family, the graphic images of hell on my mind, but what really saved me was a persistent knock on my door by a dormmate. He sensed that something was wrong, and urged me to talk about it. He convinced me not to push through with my plan.

In the next days, I decided to pick up the pieces and live with courage. I filed an appeal for my scholarship, and, after a long process, San Beda (which was apparently more compassionate than Kristel Tejada’s UP) decided not to revoke it. As it turned out, there was no explicit rule that barred those who had failing grades from receiving academic awards. And so I graduated with honors, although they had to change the rules after I graduated, making me the school’s one and only honor graduate with a 5.0 on his transcript.

A few years after graduation, I visited my alma mater and accidentally crossed paths with my professor—that professor who led me to the brink of suicide. He said he was impressed with one of my articles published in a national newspaper, and that he required his students to read my work. He said he heard that I was offered a job in Malacañang, and that he was proud of me. This picture of my professor smiling at me and tapping my shoulder in a show of approval was the exact opposite of what I imagined on my could-have-been death bed: a professor crying in guilt in front of my coffin.

Of course, not only young people commit suicide. Military generals. Politicians. Politician’s wives. Actors. Models. Teachers. Lawyers. Farmers. We hear of them claiming their lives, and the worse part is that we are getting used to it, or, at least, have become insensitive to the suffering of others. Suicide may be a very personal thing and one could even strongly argue that society must respect an individual’s choice to end his life. But what about those who only need a listening ear and some words of hope to make them realize, the way I realized then, that life can still be beautiful?

In social networking sites, the expressions “bigti na” (#bigtina) has become popular. It is offered as an advice, though made in jest, to people who have problems. There are several Facebook “Bigti na” pages, followed by tens of thousands, created for those who are romantically problematic. Thousands of “Magpakamatay ka na lang” memes have also been going around the web.

It is appalling that, to date, there seems to be an absence of a government-sponsored program to avert suicide cases in our country which surprisingly has, according to the World Health Organization, the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia. But it is more appalling that a growing number of our people are making fun of a phenomenon that has caused unspeakable pain to many. Amidst mindless laughter, we might be missing out on the soft voices of suffering around us. Or we might be pushing to total silence those who desperately need to be heard.

Bigti na, friend? That joke is neither friendly nor funny.

pakamatay na cuntapay pakamatay bigti na friend pakamatay bigti na skeleton pakamatay ipis

*****

The Office of Student Affairs ofDe La Salle University has published a suicide first aide guide which helps one notice possible brewing suicide attempts by people around us. It is a helpful guide that could help you save a life. (http://www.dlsu.edu.ph/offices/osa/occs/suicide-1st-aide-guide.pdf)

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Filed under Filipino Youth, Happiness, Health, Personals, Tragedy

Empanademocracy

empanada2

empanada3

With or without egg

Meaty or meatless

Egg half done or fully cooked

Cabbage, papaya, and mongo beans stuffed neatly

Inside a crisp shell made of rice flour.

Orange, yellow, green, brown, white

Burst into flavorful hues

Vinegar or catsup, which condiment would you choose?

Push it with soda, beer or water

But, oh, does it matter?

And even as we enjoy this Ilocano delight

Of, by, and for us

We concede: burgers can be good, too, alright.

With diverse tones, thus.. In God, we trust

Over, Empanada we crave

And, hopefully, burp.

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Filed under Food, Ilocos

Tan-ok ni who?

The Tan-ok ni Ilocano (mini version) Dance Showdown was held tonight at a half-full Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena. ‘Mini’ because, unlike the full version held last December, the number of dancers are limited (only 12-16), performance time is shorter (3-4 minutes), and props are simpler and smaller. The show is also less budgeted.

The idea is to form groups that can be feasibly booked for events, including national and international gatherings held here in Ilocos Norte. All the 21 municipalities and 2 cities were expected to showcase their rich culture through dance. “Tan-ok” means great, so the contingents were tasked to highlight what their respective peoples and places are proud of and known for. All the contingents accomplished that, except one: the champion.

Laoag City’s routine, no doubt, was most entertaining. Thanks to top-caliber choreographer Christian Espiritu—whose talent I personally admire; and who we in The Ilocos Times chose as one of the Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013—the dance was well-executed, lively, and colorful. It portrayed “pallot” (cockfighting), and presented the vivid scenarios inside a cockpit. It was fun to watch.

But beyond fun and entertainment, many viewers—including Prof. Arsenio Gallego, vice president of the Dance Education Association of the Philippines—have raised the following questions: Is cockfighting the pride of Laoag City? And, is there verifiable evidence that Laoageños, or Ilocanos in general, are drawn to cockfighting more than other ethnic groups in the Philippines?

I am not, dear karikna, opposed to cockfighting and neither am I moralizing here. But is this really the story we want to creatively tell people who want to know us more? Is this really our story?

San Nicolas celebrated their pottery; Batac told their folk history; Pinili took garlic to the stage; and Vintar let out their Siwawer bird.

Cockfighting. Tan-ok ni who?

Continue reading

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We elected leaders, not parents

It is fiesta month in Laoag City, and each day is filled with activities initiated by various sectors. Naturally, politicians are everywhere grazing festivities and making themselves more visible than usual to the public eye.

It was in a beauty pageant held a few days ago (I am not, dear karikna, fond of beauty contests but I am fond of my relatives; my cousin’s daughter tried her luck in that competition) that I noticed how our city leaders have decided to package themselves.

Politicians calling themselves father or mother of a town, city, province, or the nation is not exactly unusual in the Philippines, but my city’s case is interesting. Chevylle Fariñas, the first-term mayor, succeeded her husband Michael, who was mayor for nine years and now the vice mayor. In that pageant, the welcome remarks was delivered by their daughter Mikee, the new chair of the Association of Barangay Councils and ex-officio city councilor. In her entire speech, from her customary roll call of the guests to the end, she repeatedly and proudly referred to the mayor and vice mayor, as “Mother of the City” and “Father of the City.” I felt both uncomfortable and saddened listening to that speech. And confused, too… should we now call this young councilor, Ate of the City? What about the other city officials? Do we call them Tito and Tita of the City? Who are our ninongs and ninangs?

Everyone knows that the young Fariñas is in office not really on her own merits, but because of her parents’ impressive achievements. The challenge for Mikee then is to prove that she deserves the position—that she is a good leader who just happens to be the mayor and vice mayor’s daughter. Surely, she deserves a chance to prove herself, but that would only be possible if she restrains from treating public events as family affairs. Continue reading

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Sweet victory for our language

Proud coach here.

Proud coach here.

The biggest story I wrote this 2013 was the dismissal of 3 high school students because they spoke Ilokano on campus. Run by foreign Christan missionaries, the school strictly implements an English-only policy.

As fate would have it (or is it destiny?), that high school’s best bet in oratorical competitions, now a freshman in the university where I teach, became one of my debaters. He is a prized find. Very diligent. Eager to learn. Fun. Charming. And respectful.

Recently, ehem, we emerged as champion in a debate tournament with Ilocano as the main medium.

And guess who was hailed as best debater?

More than the trophy and prize, and the bragging rights that go with it, I am happy that a student, previously barred from speaking his mother tongue on campus, could shine and show the world that wisdom is no monopoly of any language. And that Ilocano could, and, in fact, should, be used for intellectual endeavors.

Congratulations, John Marvin Galat aka Jamjam. We–I, your kuyas and ate in the MMSU Debate Society–are proud of you.

Agbiag ni Ilocano! Narambak a baro a tawentayo, kakabsat.

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Filed under Debate, Ilocos, Iluko, Justice