Category Archives: Sociology

Laoag City doctor a veteran abortionist

abortion pic

“Sir, I am in deep trouble.. you’re the one I am sharing this with because I know you are understanding.. I am not yet ready sir,” read the text message my former student Brent (not his real name) sent me.

Sensing what the problem was, I replied with a question, “How many months?” to which the eighteen year old answered, “Two to three, sir… I know it’s my fault, but I am not really ready.”

Then Brent asked me if I know any abortionist they could go to. I was shocked.

Part of the subject Sociology 1, I teach Family Planning to my students, and because I believe in free, informed, and responsible choice, I present both the natural and artificial birth control methods. But never have I encouraged abortion, fully aware of its risks and its ethical and legal implications. In fact, I always tell my students that If anyone of them unwillingly gets pregnant or impregnates anyone by chance, I will take it as my personal failure as a teacher.

I tried to talk to Brent against resorting to abortion, but he was firm and resolute. He and his girlfriend have talked about it seriously and there is really no way, and giving birth to the baby is no longer an option for them. He said they want a medical doctor to perform the procedure to make sure it’s safe, and he asked me again if I can recommend anyone.

I don’t know any doctor who performs abortion, I told him, and even if I do, I would not make any recommendation. And what self-respecting doctor would perform abortion here in Laoag City? But I assured Brent that I am not judging them as persons despite what they were planning to do, for I am sure they have really given the matter a great deal of thought leading to their firm conviction that abortion is the only  solution to the biggest problem they have had to face in their teenage lives. I assured him of my prayers. He reminded me that the matter is confidential.

Two weeks later, Brent texted again. “Successful, sir,” he said, “a doctor performed it.” And when he told me who the doctor was, I was startled. I was in great disbelief. Continue reading

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Filed under Health, Ilocos, Justice, Laoag City, Sex, Sociology

Gloria attends pro-RH gathering in Laoag City

NO, she did not wear a neck brace, and, no, she was not out on bail. It was the better Gloria I have previously written about who joined Ilocanos, mostly young people, at the foot of Gilbert Bridge last August 6 for a candle lighting ceremony in support of the Reproductive Health Bill.

It was a crucial moment for the controversial piece of legislation which has stagnated in Congress in the last one and a half decades, no thanks to the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. (I have to say “hierarchy”, dear karikna as all national surveys say a great majority of Filipinos, the Catholic faithful included, strongly support the RH Bill.) Congress was to vote whether to proceed with the prolonged and circular debates or to terminate the interpellations and push for the bill’s second reading in the Lower House.

It was a crucial moment, and the significance of the activity was not lost on Gloria Portela Valencia, 55. Taking time off from her many chores as a house help in Laoag City, she joined well-meaning citizens, composed mostly of young people, in the silent activity for the RH Bill.

Frail and shy, Gloria came in a red shirt she usually wears when attending mass. She lit a candle, stood there, and joined the group in the brief gathering. But Brigette Mayor, a field reporter of GMA’s Balitang Ilocos noticed Gloria among the crowd and interviewed her. “Manang, apay supsuportam ti RH Bill?” asked the young journalist who may have been expecting a generic answer, but hit a pot of gold in her interviewee’s moving response.

“Agsaksakripisyoak ta kayatko laeng a magun-odda ti ar-arapaapenda ngem saan met ta sabali met ti napaspasamak. Nasakit unay ti nakemmo a nagannak ta kasta met ti nagbanagan dagiti annakko.” (I sacrificed because I wanted my children to realize their dreams, but something else happened. As a parent, I feel sad about what my children had to go through.)

Gloria hails from Barangay Bacsil in Dingras town. Manong Rolando, her “First Gentleman,” is a tobacco farmer who tills less than a hectare of land that is not theirs. The eldest among her siblings, she started working as a kasambahay at age 13. When she got married and bore kids, this devoted mother quit her job and stayed home to take care of her growing family. She gave birth to six kids. Eight years ago, however, when two of her daughters started going to college, Manang Gloria decided to stage a comeback as a househelp so she can help send them to school.

A few years ago, Gloria’s world crumbled when she found out that one of her daughters, already in third year college, got pregnant by a married man. When that happened, she could not sleep at night though tired from the day’s work. She would stare blankly at nothingness, mulling why things went wrong. She did her part, she sacrificed, she prayed hard, but why? Two months after, as if her troubles were not enough, this mother discovered that her other daughter, also in her junior year in college, was pregnant, too. Both of her girls had to quit school to take care of their young, and Gloria was totally devastated.

Don’t get me wrong, dear karikna, Gloria loves her two granddaughters and are proud of them, but she knows that things could have been better. Her apukos could have been born at a better time and under appropriate circumstances. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Family, Ilocos, Reproductive Health Bill, Sociology

Nuestra Señora de la Mantsa: The Case of the Laoag City Bell Tower ‘Apparition’

And we did it again.

Ten years ago, I wondered in an essay why this Catholic Nation has produced only one saint so far while Thailand, Japan and China–all non-Christian countries–have more. Maybe, unlike Filipinos, I said then, people from those nations have more sensible things to do than creating miracles by desperately looking for images in the stains of tree trunks and forcing statues to shed bloody tears.

Recently, an image of a woman, believed by many as Mama Mary, reportedly appeared at the midsection of the Laoag City Sinking Bell Tower. With pictures of the ‘apparition’ circulated on Facebook, the phenomenon generated public interest, especially after it was featured on national television evening news.

Make no mistake, I love Mama Mary, and I always turn to her for guidance and protection, but, on a personal level, and with all due respect to anyone who does, I don’t believe the image is extraordinary. The blurry figure is obviously a product of stain and discoloration which any old structure, such as the 400-year old Laoag Bell Tower, would have. You can find stains anywhere and assume them to be something, anything. My friend Luvee from Pagudpud says there are also a lot of stains in their toilet wall, and, as a child, it was her hobby to spot them and identify certain images, some of them religious. Rizal Javier, a retired philosophy professor from Batac, is obviously no longer a child but he still spots some images in their restroom and has actually considered publishing those in his Facebook account. There was one problem though: he does not have a Facebook account. Continue reading

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Filed under Church, Debate, Ilocos, Media/Journalism, Religion, Sociology, Tourism

The (other) Lady at the Capitol

Nana Gretchen: Homeless in the City

Matilda Ricardo Mandac, 63, is a truly powerful woman, and it’s not because she has stayed and worked at the Ilocos Norte Provincial Capitol, and has seen 5 governors in a span of over three decades.

Nana Gretchen, as Mandac is popularly known (it is said that a tricycle driver named the lady, for reasons unknown to her, after actress Gretchen Barretto), has been selling cigarettes and snacks at the vicinity of the Capitol since 1980, during the term of Governor Elizabeth Marcos Keon. Over the years, she has endeared herself to a lot of people. A former governor once regarded her as “anting-anting ti kapitolyo” (amulet of the capitol).

When she still had a small stall inside the perimeter fence of the Capitol, Nana Gretchen had gross sales of around three hundred pesos a day, from which she had a net income of less than fifty pesos. However, when the Capitol had a major facelift last year, the fence had to go, and she was displaced. Today, she sits in front of the Dap-ayan, a food center near the Capitol. Left without a stall, she carries three bags: one bayong contains a couple of cigarettes packs she sells, another is filled with empty plastic bottles she gathers and later on sells at the junk shop, while a third one—a shoulder bag—contains other personal effects.

But she does not really have a lot. Not now when her daily sales have fallen to below a hundred pesos, as no one, except her old clients, knows that she is selling cigarettes. She brings out her wares when someone buys, and keeps the container immediately after. She scrambles when rain comes as she does not have a shade. She owned a broken umbrella, but lost it.

Nana Gretchen used to live with relatives in Brgy. 4, Laoag City, but was displaced by maternal kins in 2004, leaving her homeless. While she tried to seek help from the Public Attorney’s Office, she could not pursue the claim in the absence of a land title. Efforts to negotiate with her relatives failed.

And so Nana Gretchen stays at the vicinity of the Capitol, whole year round, and that includes cold Christmas Nights and New Year’s eves. She would take daily baths at a faucet in an inconspicuous part of the Capitol garden. Note, dear karikna, that it is not at all a public scandal as she does it at 3:00 a.m., when almost all of us are in deep slumber. And with her clothes on.

A picture of bliss and serenity

Nana Gretchen looks neatly dressed, but don’t get confused. With only two sets of clothes—blouse and slacks—she uses each pair every other day. It is not unusual that her clothes won’t dry enough, so she would end up sporting a wet outfit.

Buying ten pesos worth of Pan de Sal at Town Bakery every morning, the store is kind enough to pour hot water on her coffee cup (actually a reused plastic container of instant noodles). A sachet of instant coffee costs her five bucks. When her purse allows it, she would have budget lunch at a carinderia. For dinner, what dinner? She spends the long nights with an empty stomach eagerly waiting for next morning’s pan de sal.

Living in the streets comes at the cost of safety, but we already know that. And I am not only talking about typhoons and other calamities that she has to contend with. Nana Gretchen has been mauled by a mentally deranged man five times already, and counting. Her head would ache with the man’s powerful jabs, but Nana Gretchen is thankful the injuries she has sustained have not warranted a trip to the hospital.

She has not, in fact, been hospitalized all her life, and thank God. But, at her age, one could not help but worry how she would cope in the face of a serious disease. In the dark corners where she spends the night, mosquitoes abound. And it just takes one bite from a dengue vector to send anyone, rich or poor, to harm’s way.

Meantime, she nurses herself when faced with illness, aided only by a large dose of faith, which she nurtures by attending Sunday services at the Christ the King of Glory Fellowship. Holding no resentment towards God, she says she is just thankful to be alive. While Nana Gretchen admits to occasionally crying in her lonesome, she appears to have a very positive attitude. She tells herself, “saan met siguro kanayon a kastoy.” (Maybe it will not forever be this way.)

Year 1987 was a particularly trying year for Nana Gretchen. In June, she gave birth to her only child Lucky Marjorie. But the baby girl was born prematurely and lived only a few minutes. Three months after, her husband Dominador was murdered. Those two deaths in a year punctuated her chance of belonging to a family. Lone child of Simeon, a farmer, and Guillerma, housewife, Nana Gretchen is a product of a dysfunctional home.  Her parents, now both deceased, parted ways when she was a baby. With her mother suffering from a mental ailment, she was then left in the care of an aunt in Dibua South, a barangay in the outskirts of Laoag City. Her aunt saw her through grade school.

Nana Gretchen has to be strong, and it is not a choice but an imperative in the urban jungle where she lives. Maybe this is the reason why some people get the impression that she is “mataray,” an impression I also had before I talked to her. And so while hers is one of my dream interviews, I dilly-dallied in doing it. But then I finally found myself one afternoon sitting a few meters away from her in front of the Dap-ayan. Looking at her, I felt intimidated. While I have done interviews with people of prominence, I was clueless how to approach the lady. Noticing my stare, she responded with a warm smile. What a joy! It did not take long before I warmed up to the lady, and, before I knew it, she began talking about life.

The reason I am drawn to Nana Grechen is that, unlike Christopher Lao—the bratty UP alumnus who blamed government for his failure to realize that his car is not a submarine that can traverse deep bodies of water—Nana Gretchen does not feel that anyone, her government included, owes her anything. Not demanding help, she just quietly strives to earn a living for herself. All that she has formally claimed from government is a senior citizen’s card that she does not really find any use for. As for Governor Imee Marcos whose renovation project consequently affected her livelihood, Nana Gretchen only has respect and admiration. She concedes that the Capitol lawn, without the fence and her stall in it, looks better. “Personal sacrifice for the public good,” is a principle she understands more than most politicians I know. The Dap-ayan is also expected to be renovated soon, but that is another problem she wants to face on another day.

Her toothless smile may conceal it, but I know how difficult it must be to be in her shoes. My heart breaks when I see old people live in miserable conditions. People who have toiled all their lives deserve the pleasure of simply enjoying the good life—say, play mahjong and bingo while waiting for pension, or, for the religious, like my mom, spend as much time as they want in church. Yet Nana Gretchen harbors neither bitterness nor envy. And no, not pride. While she does not beg, she would not refuse a sandwich when offered by a kind stranger.

“That kind of fulfillment is something that I envy. I wish I have that kind of bliss and serenity,” says my friend Jun during a few rounds of SanMig Light on a Friday night, and I couldn’t agree  more.

Nana Gretchen reminds us of sheer pleasure in little things—of owning an umbrella, of wearing dry clothes, and of simply being able to take a bath in naked glory.

At the end of the interview, I gave her a tight hug, and I felt power and wealth that could only come from the inside.

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Filed under Ilocos, Sociology, The Good Life

Jubileeconomics

St. William Cathedral, Laoag City

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Laoag, established in June 1961, celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, and I should feel excited. This must be something big and meaningful. After all, Ilocanos are a deeply pious lot and we, as with the rest of the nation, are predominantly Catholic. But I feel uneasy, dear karikna, because of certain circumstances that surround the celebrations.

I came to know of the Church’s golden jubilee in a rather odd way. In November last year, Luvee Hazel Calventas-Aquino, a friend and colleague in the university, expressed to me her discomfort over a tarpaulin streamer that was hung very conspicuously near the side entrance of the St. William Cathedral in Laoag.  Most churchgoers take the side entrance, and so it is very difficult to miss the streamer. “Why post it there?” Luvee asked. And it is not only Luvee, many other well-meaning parishioners shared the same sentiment.

Let me describe to you the banner. It is huge, really huge, billboard sized.  Even if you have an eye problem, it would be difficult for you not to notice it. Featuring the latest model of a car brand, it bears an attractive picture and a catchy line which goes, “Find out why 10,000 customers chose the new Honda City.  Honda: forever change the rules.” In the middle of the streamer is an invitation which goes: Inquire Inside. Continue reading

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Filed under Church, Economy, Sociology

Refusing ninonghood

I received today another invitation to a baptism, it reads: “I, Chery May, invite you to come and join me to witness my christening on the 27th day of April, 2011, 10:00 a.m. at Saint William Cathedral, Laoag City.” I am asked to be a godfather to the cute baby whose photo appears in the invitation, together with an image of Hello Kitty.

I have made it clear to my friends that I am uncomfortable being a “ninong,” given the serious responsibilities attached to it. I am not referring, dear karikna, to the customary gifts during Christmases and birthdays, but to the guidance I have to provide, and this is the most important function of a ninong, on how to grow up a good Catholic.

How can I be a credible witness to the Catholic faith when I am in the middle of a campaign for the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill, a vital piece of legislation that the Church, using medieval logic, vigorously opposes? How can I help usher a young soul to a faith that still considers homosexuality as a natural anomaly? And how will I explain to an adult Cherry May all the hypocrisy in an institution rocked with scandals of every kind?

It is not, however, easy to turn down invitations to ninonghood because, in Filipino culture, such has great implications in the social context more than in the spiritual realm. Refusing to be a ninong can be insulting to the refused, and the reluctant godparent may find himself a few friends poorer. Good thing that I am not a politician, and have no intentions of seeking any elective post, not in the near future, and neither in the most distant tomorrow.  And so I can say “no, sorry, can’t be a ninong.” Continue reading

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Filed under Church, Religion, Reproductive Health Bill, Sociology, Traditions

Now, the book

“Since reading Herdz’s 2000 essay on the problem of being ‘Filipino,’ I knew that a progressive radical writer was in the making, someone who would challenge the herd mentality of our time. The essays in this volume attest to a worthy successor of the great subversive Filipino intellectual, Isabelo de los Reyes, also nurtured in Herdz’s homeground. Accessible and provocative, Herdz’s writing is sure to blast open closed minds to the winds of change.  I welcome Yumul’s intervention into the bloody arena of our society undergoing tumultuous upheavals, hopefully advancing toward the day of national-democratic liberation.”  E. San Juan, Jr., Social Philosopher

Herdy Yumul  was one of my students—he is bright, brooding, and sensitive. I can assure you that he is not a fool.  I am glad we have young people like him who can write with tremendous courage. We may disagree with him, but we cannot fault the depth of his feelings.

Is this how we train budding sociologists in UP?  We train our students to be critical of their surroundings as well as to be responsible for their actions.  We want them to live with hope rather than wallow in despair.  If the boldness of our ideas is what it takes to remain hopeful, then I would encourage it – as I would encourage you very much to engage Herdy Yumul’s insights into the Filipino condition.  Randy David, Sociologist

Naghagis si Herdy Yumul ng tanong na ayaw marinig ng lahat.  Nag-umpisa sa isang article sa dyaryo, umikot sa Internet, umabot sa isang programa sa TV, at ngayon nasa libro. Binagabag ng simpleng tanong ang mga Pilipino.  Baka gusto mo ring itanong sa sarili mo.  Bob Ong, author, Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?

Komiks at mga tabloid lang dati ang binabasa ko, pero nang makabasa ako ng essay ni Herdy La. Yumul, naging fan niya ako kaagad. Seryoso ang mga topic niya pero nakakaaliw ang pagtatalakay.  Malalim ang mga kaisipan ngunit simple ang lenggwahe. Hindi man mataas ang pinag-aralan mo, puwede mo siyang basahin. Mararamdaman mong may paggalang at malasakit siya sa’yo. Para lang siyang nakikipagkuwentuhan sa isang kaibigan.  Feeling ko nga, bespren ko na siya.  Boy de Jesus, security guard

Herdy fits into the whole continuum from cool as in “Provincial Bliss” where he details his decision to come home to Ilocos, to furious as in “Brilliant Agca, Stupid Quezon” where he rescues a fledgling affronted.  Straightforward and unabashed, he shows unflinching courage to challenge authority and conventions, but within the parameters of dignity and taste.  The motorcycling Herdy with the mandatory helmet has, in the past ten years, hit the road to becoming the young Ilokano blood who wields trilingual writing prowess and finesse.  With The He(a)rd Mentality, he arrives, and with much success.  Alegria Tan Visaya, Chief, Center for Ilokano-Amianan Studies, Mariano Marcos State University

He was not simply teaching you the works of his idols, he was showing you what he thought about them. He was not only asking you questions on how much you know about the topic, but he also wanted to see how much you’ve thought about it. He thrived on thoughts and ideas, not only those of his inception, but also from everyone around him. He magnifies even the simplest of ideas, scrutinizes it, then arpeggiates it to the point where all nuances are validated or rejected, never shelved. That is his profound effect on me. That is the power the immutable Sir Herdy so generously brings to the He(a)rd.  Marc delos Reyes, an “immensely cheesy, beer-loving” former student of La. Yumul

I first took note of Herdy Yumul when someone forwarded a blog he wrote for the Internet, questioning the value of being a Filipino, and the logic of believing in God.  I was fascinated by the way he wrote, having journeyed along the same path during the early course of my life.  In a way I considered him a twin-soul.  Of him may be said, as Carlos P. Romulo once said of me when I was his age, “In the manner of the celebrated dramatist, Eugene Ionesco, he does not stop asking questions, a supreme quality which is characteristic of an engaging and living mind.  And in the questions he asks, we are able to perceive the glimmer of the significance of the human effort in our own society and time.”

I valued the quality of his mind enough to devote a series of broadcasts to answer the questions he asked, all in all, in 24 pages of text and three weeks of daily broadcasts on radio DWBR-fm and television UNTV, recently included in Chapter 8 of my latest book, Make My Day Book 25, Heaven and Hell.

I know for a fact that our dialogue which continued in subsequent telephone conversations, has profoundly influenced his mind (and mine) and made him a true believer in the destiny of the Filipino people, and in the existence and goodness of God. Hilarion “Larry” Henares, Jr., past chairman, National Museum of the Philippines

Sana’y puwede ako–at ang marami pang iba–na mag-enrol sa Herdiology–mukhang maraming mapupulot sa kursong iyon.  Jess Santiago, poet and songwriter

Yosi. Laklak. SanMig.  Epal.  Astig. Dedma.  As a Filipino living in the states for the past forty years, I would not have known what these words meant if not for one writer I have followed more than any other. Herdy Yumul—an eclectic mix of spunk and diplomacy, of the profound and of the profane—educates and reeducates me on my noble roots.  Lolita Chestnut, New Hampshire, USA

It is in his seemingly mundane everyday experiences that Herdy draws out a treasure trove of discussion points about Filipinoness. He needs no complicated quantitative analysis to draw out certain realities that make us who we are. His life is the big social experiment where what is commonsensical to many of us (in our haste to escape the moment) is magnified under his sociologist’s eye and stripped layer after layer to expose what kind of social animals we are. And in so doing, to render who he is in a dignified attempt at self-reflexivity.  Alona Ureta Guevarra, Department of English, Ateneo de Manila University

As a writer, Herdy’s loyalty is to writing itself.  The 55 essays in The He(a)rd Mentality will comfort and unsettle the author’s readers, order and re-order their beliefs and advocacies, and offer them a tentative perspective while they’re looking for one.  I expect the readers to find in his humor the highest level of thinking (In Herdy’s San Beda College it was called philosophizing) that is written in excellent prose.  Jose Ma. Arcadio Malbarosa, Department of Political Science, De La Salle University

Pinilit ako ng mga magulang ko na mag-enrol ng Nursing.  Ayaw ko talaga ng kursong ‘yun pero wala akong magawa.  Naging magulo ang utak ko at tinangka ko pang magpakamatay. Nu’ng mabasa ko ang mga sanaysay ni Sir Herdy, nabigyan ako ng lakas at pag-asa, sinunod ko ang tibok ng aking puso at nagpasyang maging malaya.  Naglayas ako at pumasok sa isang paaralan ng musika.  Op kors, nagalit at nag-alala sina ermats, pero naunawaan din nila ako, at ibinilhan pa nila ako ng astig na gitara. Sana’y marami pang mga kabataang tulad ko ang maalalayan ni Sir Herdy, and idolo kong bagama’t hindi tumutugtog, ay isang tunay na rakista.   Power to the pipol, mga kuto!  Rock and roll!  Vincent Jose, Musikero

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Filed under Book, Books, Sociology