Category Archives: Filipino Youth

“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

Tempest at Holy Spirit Laoag

In my senior year in high school, I ran for president of our student government. I knew I was qualified for the post and had all the best intentions. My mind brimming with ideas for programs and projects for my schoolmates, I really tried to campaign hard so I could win. I made very creative and informative flyers, did a room-to-room campaign, and smiled wider and more often than I usually would.

I lost by one vote.

The frustratingly close margin notwithstanding, I was a graceful loser. I conceded defeat, congratulated Henry Barroga—my opponent, winner by a single vote—and pledged him my support.

In high school, Henry smoked, drank frequently, had mediocre grades, and was more passionate as a lover than a leader. But his father, the highly respected Nol Datoc, who served as Laoag City Sangguniang Panlungsod secretary for a long time, talked to me, with his right arm on my teenaged shoulder. “My son is really a good boy deep inside, Herdy. Please help him become a good leader, too.”

I remained active in student organizations and collaborated with Henry on some projects. I still tried to make a difference in my own sphere of influence. I did not need to prove anything; I really just wanted to serve. At the end of the school year, I ended up being chosen over Henry for the prestigious Gerry Roxas Leadership Award.

I would see Henry again after many years. He is now successful in his career and has a happy family life. We had fun reminiscing the past. I was deeply moved by our mutual respect for each other.

Indeed, it is commendable to accept defeat in elections, especially in the Philippine context where most politicians proclaim only two things: either they won or they were cheated. Bowing to the electoral judgment of the majority is one important democratic principle we should thus seriously teach our children.

But what, dear karikna, if the elections were not clean, honest, and orderly? What if this democratic exercise itself casts doubt on the sovereign will?

These questions come to fore as there have been news reports circulating on the tempestuous student elections held last February 8 at the Holy Spirit Academy of Laoag. Continue reading

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Tan-ok ni Edito, Tan-ok ni Vacie: Or why our Festival of Festivals is better off without ‘stage mayors’

Up, Sarrat Mayor Edito Balintona (left); Down, Bangui Mayor Salvacion Cimatu (center)

In her welcome remarks at the phenomenally successful Tan-ok ni Iocano Festival of Festivals, Nov. 17 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City, Governor Imee Marcos noted cheerfully that the delegations were well supported by their respective ‘stage mayors’, using the term in the same context as ‘stage mothers.’ Two mayors, however, went several steps further and took the stage, the center stage no less, and literally.

On a night of splendid dancing, heart-stopping stunts, and an overflow of Ilokano Talent, Honorable Edito Balintona, mayor of Sarrat, was no doubt the lousiest performer. Nearing the climax of his town’s Binakol Festival presentation, Balintona came out seated on top of a huge wooden structure, not unlike a parade float, together with a lady who, I would later learn, is his tourism officer, Dona Siazon. The mayor, who seemed at a loss, was seen being given instructions by Siazon as the performance went on, no doubt an insult to the efforts of dancers who attended painstaking practices for long hours so that they can perfect their act. But there was one thing the mayor did so well… wave at the crowd, a sea of humanity so huge it could have been impossible for him to resist the temptation of appearing on stage …to wave.

“What is their mayor doing there?” asked some spectators who also made comments that are too disrespectful to see print. Judges, sources say, gave Sarrat’s performance one of the lowest scores.

Honorable Salvacion “Vacie” Cimatu, mayor of the windmills town of Bangui, can surely dance. And I know she can sing as well. It was the second time she top-billed her town’s number. She performed, too, in last year’s inaugural edition of Tan-ok. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts, Festivals, Filipino Youth, Tourism, Traditions

On SK absenteeism

At the risk of being suspected once more by Del, a valued blog follower I have not met, as a propagandist of the Fariñases, let me say that I only have respect for my congressman, Rodolfo Fariñas, And this respect extends to his adorable kids.

In the months leading to the 2010 elections, then serving as panelist in a debate-forum participated in by congressional candidates in Ilocos Norte’s first district, I noted that while Fariñas had views totally different from mine regarding two issues I deemed important, namely the Reproductive Health Bill and the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, his brilliance and eloquence make it impossible to ignore his views. Surely, this bar topnotcher, unlike Iskul Bukol alumnus and Philippine Senator Tito Sotto, has a brilliant mind.

Recent developments, however, lead me to write, yet again, about the Sangguniang Kabataan which, incidentally, is headed here in this province by JR (Rodolfo Jr), one of the congressman’s lovely kids.

Based on a report filed by The Ilocos Times staff reporter Leilanie Adriano, JR, the incumbent SK Ilocos Norte Federated president and ex-officio provincial board member, as in the cases of previous youth officials before him, has recorded the most number of absences at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan sessions.

Every Monday afternoon, the young Fariñas’ seat and table at the back row of the session hall is unoccupied, and based on records of the provincial board’s secretariat, the young Farinas has been absent for 42 sessions since he assumed his post in February 2011. The board’s attendance record shows that Farinas has a total of 42 absences (official leaves of absences) and two missed sessions while on official business. Having attended only 38 sessions, he has been more not there than there.

Still according to Leilanie’s report, on several occasions wherein JR was present, like on August 28, his latest attendance at the provincial board, he stayed only for a few minutes and left the session hall while other board members were deliberating for the passage of draft provincial ordinances and resolutions scheduled in the agenda.

Leilanie’s research reveals that, to date, Farinas has so far sponsored at least 12 provincial resolutions, all endorsements for the conversion of roads in various municipalities of the first district of Ilocos Norte, his father’s turf.

JR’s chronic absences prompted Vice Governor Angelo Marcos Barba, the board’s presiding officer, to soon hold a meeting to tackle about Farinas’ absences. “The law is the law. We will adhere to our local government code and act on it,” Barba reportedly said shortly after noticing Farinas’ absence during the September 3 regular session.

However, in the case of the Sangguniang Kabataan, Cong. Farinas, when asked by reporters in his press conference at the Laoag City hall on the same day, argued that the SK is different as they have “autonomy” as provided in their constitution and by-laws. While acknowledging that there is a ground to remove an absentee member of the Sanggunian, Fariñas, who has one of the best attendance records in Congress (a perfect attendance in 2010, only seven absences in 2011), said “this doesn’t apply to the SK as they are merely ex-officio members.”

“The Sangguniang Panlalawigan can only remove regular members, the elected councilors. The SK has its own by-laws. My son is 16 years old. Ana’t trabahona nga SK president ket agbasa met Manila? (What work can he do as SK president when he is studying in Manila?) He is even a minor, he cannot decide without my permission,” the older Fariñas, whose two other sons have likewise previously served as SK Federated presidents of Ilocos Norte and Laoag City, said on record.

The congressman underscored that only the SK members themselves, if they want to, can remove him. “Not even the president or the office of the Department of Interior and Local Government can remove an SK official because it is a violation of their autonomy,” he added.

While referring to the Ilocos Norte board led by the vice governor, Farinas quipped, “Dida koma ammo’t ar-aramidenda no awan tay barok? As youth representative, saling-pusa da lang dagita” (Won’t they know what to do without my son? As youth representatives, they (the SK) are just saling pusa), he said.

Personally, dear karikna, I do not push for JR’s removal from office, and I am not even amenable of having him punished for prioritizing his A.B. Sociology studies at the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila. Indeed, it should make us all proud that this young Ilocano is doing well as a college student and also as a talent of ABS-CBN’s Star Magic.

Still, I am reviving my plea for the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, and the Congressman’s passionate defense of his son may have just strengthened this cause. Continue reading

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Filed under Filipino Youth, Government/Politics, Ilocos

Pax you, fratmen

In San Beda College’s official seal, the Latin word ‘pax’ appears prominently. The word is also engraved in various campus structures as it is supposedly etched in the heart of Bedans who are, as our hymn goes, “men of prayer, work, and peace.”

But my dear Alma Mater shocked the nation last week with reasons other than peace. Marc Andrei Marcos, a freshman law student, died in initiation rites under the bloody hands of men he wanted to be his ‘brods’. The incident, which happened in a farm somewhere in Dasmariñas, Cavite, was believed to have been participated in by over thirty members of the Lex Leonum Fraternity. Marcos, black and blue in various parts of his body, was brought to the hospital not by his would-have-been brods, but by two farm helps.

What aggravates the nation’s grief and fury is that only five months ago, another Bedan law student, Marvin Reglos, suffered the same fate under the Lambda Rho Beta fraternity.

As expected, CHED chair Patricia Licuanan condemned “in the strongest terms” the death of Marcos. She reminded the college of its “heavy responsibilities and duties under RA 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law.” Other schools, particularly the UP and the Ateneo, have also had similar episodes of fraternity violence, each time fueling public uproar but only to be forgotten after the issue subsides, no thanks to the Filipino’s short-term memory coupled with the ningas-cogon vice.

San Beda has responded by saying that it does not recognize fraternities, sororities or similar organizations. Since they are not recognized, the Benedictine-run institution said that it could not submit to CHED a “certified list of officers and members of such organizations.”

Meanwhile, administration lawmakers urged CHED to enforce a strict “no-hazing policy” in schools as the Filipino people mourn for the death of yet another young man who had a full and bright life ahead.

Before admission to San Beda, I had to sign a contract stating that I could be expelled if the college finds out I am a member of any fraternity. I really did not find any need to join one. Among most active student leaders in my batch, I did not lack belongingness nor self-esteem. But then I was in undergraduate San Beda. I knew our law school was different; joining fraternities there are more of norm than exception They hold activities in the open and display banners bearing their groups’ Latin names even in interschool activities like bar operations. Today, San Beda reportedly bans fraternities in law school though I doubt if administrators seriously believe it is possible.

Banning fraternities or hazing, however, is only a part of the solution. Making it less appealing is the more difficult task.

An aspiring lawyer perceives membership in a fraternity as ticket to legal success. The exclusivity and influence of a group proves beneficial not only in ensuring survival in law school but even more when one has become a lawyer who finds connections handy in cases he handles (e.g. when the judge is one’s brod). Having passed the initiation, after risking life and limb, the neophyte becomes a full-fledged member of the fraternity, part of the old boys’ network. “The pain lasts a few days, but the perks are forever,” this explains the resilience of hazing as a law-fraternity practice despite RA 8049.

In 2010, Jejomar Binay credited his vice presidential success to the support he got from the Alpha Phi Omega. In one episode of the impeachment trial of Renato Corona, widely watched by aspiring lawyers, fraternity prestige was proudly displayed by the senate president himself. When Rep. Raul Daza stood up to introduce himself as prosecutor, Presiding Senator-Judge Juan Ponce Enrile formally acknowledged him, and fondly called him “brod.” Enrile then quickly turned to the senior defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, and likewise referred to him as “brod.” Broadly smiling, the venerable defense lawyer impishly nodded to the chair, and forthwith called out the other “brods” among the senator-judges – Senators Edgardo Angara and Franklin Drilon.

Public officials cannot in good conscience condemn fraternity violence while becoming poster boys, wittingly or otherwise, of these barbaric groups. We are in dire need of statesmen like former Senator Jovito Salonga who in 2007 resigned from his fraternity, Sigma Rho, which was implicated in the death by hazing of a UP student. Any politician who does a Salonga today deserves our vote.

Until then, ‘pax’ would remain as elusive as justice is in this country where lawyers turn liars propagating the fraternal mystique.

*****

The first opinion column I ever wrote, and that was in high school, was against fraternities very active then in Northern Christian College. It’s title: “Mga anak ng frating.”

Obviously, fratmen were unhappy with it, and even before the school paper was circulated, the picture in my column was defaced in almost every copy, with the permission of a security guard who turned out to be their supporter. Alarmed, people began warning me about possible danger. But I was not afraid.

Then one afternoon, in a street adjacent to the campus’ main building, four teenage boys suddenly circled me as I was walking home. With my head locked in the muscled arms of a gangster, my face was on the receiving end of powerful jabs. While I tasted blood dripping from my nose, I saw nothing but black, except stars and twittering birds circling my head (the kind of which I thought only appeared in cartoons). I was a helpless punching bag until members of the Samahang Ilocano came to the rescue. They shooed away my attackers.

I was thankful to S.I., of course. God knows what more injuries I could have sustained if they did not come. Yes, I was grateful, but only until I figured that the four action stars were their brods from INNHS, a nearby school. All of them arranged the plan so that I would have a debt of gratitude to them. Bravo.

A couple of months after, a riot erupted in the campus, killing one student and injuring a security guard. Only then did administrators ban fraternities on campus.

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Bar none

What, dear karikna, was your childhood dream?

Did you want to become a doctor, lawyer, priest, artista, or president of the Philippines? What are you today? Have you become what you aspired for when you were innocent and courageous enough to wish for your star? Or did you have to settle for second choices?

Why you settled for second choices, if you did, could be because of various reasons: lack of money, parents who don’t understand, practicality, love, unexpected pregnancy, poor grades, health, or maybe even laziness. But is it ever too late to pursuit a dream?

As a child, I always wanted to be a journalist. For play time, I would sit in front of a cassette recorder and hold my own talk show or stage a radio drama. Inquisitive and analytical, I always searched for answers. At other times, I would gather my friends in our garage and teach them about just anything. In high school, as editor of the student paper, I was fearless. After writing against fraternities, I got my first stars, the type of stars that circle your head after a heavy beating. While my parents feared for me, I had no fear.

But I did not take up journalism, mass communication, or education in college. Instead, I enrolled in philosophy and human resource development. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, and I found it exciting. My parents, who did not go to college, never interfered in my choices and supported me all the way. I did well inside the classroom and did even better outside its walls.

I should be today in the human resources department of a top corporation, and indeed my first job was at Citibank in Libis, but I really just had to teach and write, for these are my two loves, two things thankfully I now get paid enough for, two aspirations that, in my kiddy years, I was willing to do for free.

*****

Yes, childhood dreams do come true.

And this is true for Brian Jay Corpuz, an instructor at the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) College of Industrial Technology, who hurdled the 2011 Bar Examinations conducted in November last year.

Though Corpuz always wanted to be a lawyer, a dream he, as a young leader, started nurturing at Davila Elementary School and the Ilocos Norte Agricultural College where he finished high school, he took a different route before realizing his legal aspirations. Owing to financial difficulty, he grabbed a scholarship from the Department of Science and Technology for a three-year Diploma of Technology at MMSU. After graduating in 2001, he went on to take up Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology. Graduating magna cum laude, he was valedictorian of MMSU Class 2004.

Focused and well-driven, the 29-year old bar passer obtained his law degree from Northwestern University in 2010 and took review classes at the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila, where the bar examination was held. Continue reading

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Boy from Currimao tops fisheries exam

This young man makes me proud to be from Ilocos Norte.

Jerick Christian P. Dagdagan, a cum laude graduate of the BS in Fisheries program at the Mariano Marcos State University, landed at the top spot of the Fisheries Technologist Licensure Examination held last month.

It was not easy for Dagdagan. Unable to find a review center (MMSU and CLSU had none due to lack of registrants), he found himself doing self review. He said he just consulted his teachers at the MMSU College of Aquatic Sciences and Applied Technology when there were items he could not understand.

The difficulty is coupled by the fact that he did not immediately review after graduation. He finished his studies in 2010 but, due to financial constraints, opted to work immediately as a fisheries development advocate at the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Regional Office in San Fernando, April to August.  He would later move to Davao to be assistant manager for technical operations at the Jorona Aquatic Resources and Training Corporation until April this year when he decided to prepare for the board examination.

Eldest of four children of Vicente, a security guard, and Mary Grace, a nurse at the Governor Roque B. Ablan Memorial Hospital, Dagdagan was the typical carefree teenager. In an interview, Dagdagan confessed to your karikna that taking up fisheries was only his last recourse. He would have taken up nursing or chemical engineering but, due to late enrolment, lost a slot in those programs. The reason: he was “nabarkada” and lost track of time. But at CASAT, Jeric did a turnaround. He is described by his teachers as brilliant and determined. He was active in school organizations and was sent to competitions, both academic and cultural. He was also the college’s bet in table tennis.

It is actually a double treat for the family living in Brgy. San Simeon in the coastal town of Currimao as Jerick’s brother Jake Valentin, who graduated last April, also passed the board exam.

The morale of this story: If you want to succeed, pagbabarkada is the key to success. Joke!

Jerick’s story is actually a lesson on the often unappreciated relationship between will and destiny.

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