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I woke up to the news that the president had just declared martial law in Mindanao because of a band of ISIS sympathizers who had apparently seized control of Marawi City.

Social media was abuzz with different reactions from different friends I had. Since I’ve made it a personal policy not to unfriend real-life friends over differences in religion and politics, I saw all sorts of reactions from left and right and everything in between.

The anti-crowd said  they already saw this coming, that it was staged to pave the way for martial law and authoritarian rule, or that it was not the correct solution.

The pro-crowd said they trusted the president, that it was the right move, and that there is nothing to fear, and that this was different from the Marcos years.

The in-betweeners tended to chastise the bashers on either side and saying why don’t you just find a way to help the victims or pray for them instead.

And then there were the grammar and spelling nazis laughing or mocking those who said “marshall law,” “marshall arts,” and even “marshmallow.”

I honestly don’t know how to express what I am feeling or thinking about this. There is a part of me that sides with those who are thinking that there are better solutions than martial law. Yet, there is also a part of me that accepts the president’s prerogative and decisiveness in this action. Only time will really tell if he was right or wrong.

I am neither a political nor history expert, and I rarely make long commentaries on politics, so whatever I say here I speak for myself only and impose upon no one these beliefs.  I have decided in this matter to simply trust the president I elected. It is not a trust based on empty promises, but a trust based on witnessing how he has led my city for almost 3 decades — a city that has grown to love him.

In my line of work, results matter — not motivations, nor opinions, nor ideologies, but results. And Duterte’s results over the years have compounded to such a degree that I have a huge amount of trust in him — just as that kidnapped businesswoman from Luzon had a few years back when she told her kidnappers to go to Davao, trusting that she would be saved because the city was under Duterte’s care.

It is funny how this trust is bordering on faith — that most freethinkers like me shun.

Although it goes beyond logic, but I’m going with my gut on this one. I hope that the trust I and many other Filipinos have in him is not in vain.

Oh, and don’t just pray for Marawi. Find a way to help. Like I said, results matter.


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Holdap (Part 1)

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I stopped walking for a minute and stood at the spot where it happened 25 years ago.

The Reina Regente Tennis Club was still there, along with the small police precinct in front of it. Up ahead was a dirty plastic sign that said “The Church in Manila.”

I remembered that night, around 9pm, I was walking towards the corner to catch a jeepney for the long ride back to my dormitory. I had a backpack and was carrying my flute in its hard case. It looked like a very small briefcase in my right hand.

A strange feeling of dread that washed over me as I passed the police precinct. The lights were on but the door and windows were shut. I walked on. There was the long wall of a public school that I had to pass before I reached the corner of Jose Abad Santos and C.M. Recto.

There was a man in ragged clothes lying down on the sidewalk to my left. I kept a sharp eye on him as I quickened my pace, unable to shake off the strange feeling. I could feel the hair on my nape standing.

I passed the man and twisted my neck to the left, looking behind me, fully expecting him to jump up and attack me. I didn’t notice the sound of the tricycle motor on my right until it was too late. It made a sharp U-turn beside the sidewalk and out jumped two men. One of them advanced and brandished a knife as he reached for my flute case.

I instinctively twisted to my right and moved my arm backwards to avoid his hand. Then I swung my flute case hard at his temple. His right arm swung to my gut and I felt my stomach muscles tighten, as if I had been punched. His companion went behind me, trying to hold my arms. I tried to break free, then felt a sharp pain and I realized the knife had sliced my left forearm.

After a few more seconds of struggle, the guy at the back suddenly let me go and shouted to his companion, “tara na, tara na!” (“Let’s go!”). They jumped into the waiting tricycle and sped away.

I took out a handkerchief and pressed it to my bleeding arm. I glanced down at my shirt and saw some blood. It was a knife that had hit my belly, not a punch. But it didn’t seem to be bleeding much. The wound in my arm was more painful. I remember thinking that if it wasn’t so deep, I would just go on straight home. I lifted the handkerchief to assess how deep the wound was. It was quite deep so I thought I’d have to go to a hospital.

There was a taxi on the corner, and I immediately climbed in asked the driver to bring me to a hospital. He brought me to the Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital. I went down and the guard asked, “What happened to you?”

“I got stabbed,” I said.

“Ok,” said the guard. “Please sign this logbook here.”

I thought, “What the hell?” but took the pen anyway and tried to sign my name. I didn’t realize how hard it would be as my hand was involuntarily shaking as I wrote.

When I went inside the emergency room, there was a male nurse who looked at me and asked the same question, “What happened to you?”

I said I got stabbed and showed him my arm and pointed to my tummy. He looked at my arm and said, “Please go to that sink and wash that up.”

Again I thought, “What the hell?” but went ahead anyway and put my arm under running water. Then I went back and he had me lie down on the bed.

It was then I noticed the taxi driver standing beside me. He said, “Hey, is there anyone you’d like me to call regarding your condition?” So I thought to give him the number and address of my girlfriend who lived nearby, and from whose house I came from that night.

Continue to Part 2

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Zen Again

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I used to look at zen as my in-between phase when I transitioned from religion to irreligion. But that is somewhat inaccurate as I have never really left it, nor do I think I can.

When some people hear “zen” they think of zen buddhism — of temples and monks, sitting in meditation, the two major schools — Soto and Rinzai, enlightenment, different ceremonies and so on. That is zen buddhism as a religion and an institution. That is not what I am referring to.

Zen can exist without its external trappings, without its ranks or priesthoods, even without its doctrines, because it is ultimately a way of seeing, of being aware of reality as it really is. The zen master D.T. Suzuki said, “Zen opens a man’s eyes to the greatest mystery as it is daily and hourly performed.”

A disciple asked his master, “What do you mean by seeing reality as it really is?”

The master answered, “When some people look at the moon, some might see the face of their lover, or some might see a huge ball of cheese.”

Applied to a local setting, we can say that some see the current president as the country’s savior and some see him as an evil monster. But few really see him for who he is, and yet no one would admit that.

What attracted me to zen was its total irreverence for even its own authority figures. Even Gautama Buddha himself said, “You monks and wise people, do not accept my words merely out of respect or reverence. You must examine and test them just as a goldsmith analyzes gold — by cutting, rubbing, and burning it.”

A student once asked Master Yunmen, “What is the buddha?” The master answered, “Dried dung.”

Buddhahood or enlightenment is often seen as something to achieve, a state of being that people think once attained, will give them endless bliss or contentment, but it’s not. The master breaks that illusion by referring to it as dried dung. It is not some special, spiritual way of life. It is waking up from our illusions of a utopian future and recognizing the miracle of the very life we are already living now.

Linjin said, “Those who are content to be nothing special are noble people. Don’t strive. Be ordinary. Buddhism has no room for special effort. Eat and drink, then move your bowels and piss, and when you’re tired, go to sleep. Fools will find me ridiculous, but the wise will understand.”

Zen masters are famous for not even trying to live up to the image of a master. Those who do are probably fake and after your money or allegiance. The true masters called each other fools, would make fun of their scripture and even burn them. They are often portrayed in paintings as comical and ridiculous.

What they are really trying to do is prevent their followers from idolizing them too much, from thinking that they had to be their master in order to be enlightened. That was not the point. The point was to seek the enlightened being within themselves.

Alan Watts said of these masters, “It amused them to think that they and their wise brothers were supposed by ordinary standards to be especially holy. They realized that everything was holy, even cooking pots and odd leaves blown about by the wind, and that there was nothing particularly venerable about themselves.”

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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It’s All About You

Some time ago, I found myself in the middle of a fight between two friends. Greg was visibly angry because of something Maria had said in a meeting. His face turned red and his eyes blazed as he shouted across the room at Maria. Maria also started to yell back and the rest of us had to keep the two of them from going at each other because they were on their feet and about to advance on each other.

I told the others to take care of Maria while I quickly ushered Greg into an adjoining room.

“Ok, calm down. Breathe,” I said.

“But…” he started.

“Shhh…don’t talk. I’ll give you time to talk. Take a minute to cool your head first,” I said.

After a minute, I said, “Ok, so what happened back there?”

“You know, she’s so careless with her words. She acts like such a know-it-all and says this and that,” Greg goes on and on ranting for a couple of minutes. Then he stops.

“Are you done?” I asked.

He thinks for a minute, then says, “Yeah, I’m done.”

“Can I talk now?” I said.

“Yeah, sure,” he said.

Greg and I had recently attended a seminar and I thought it was quite relevant to remind him of something we learned there.

“Do you remember that talk we attended? Where the speaker talked about being more aware of our own thoughts and feelings, and that when we dislike another person, it’s usually because we dislike the very same thing in ourselves. Well, I’m not going to say who’s wrong or who’s right between the two of you, but why don’t you take this chance to see why you dislike her so much? Maybe it’s not about her at all but about you,” I said.

The speaker was actually drawing on something that German novelist Hermann Hesse said, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

So I talked with Greg for the next 30 minutes or so, and every time he went on a finger-pointing mode, I gently pointed him back to himself. “Look, I said, she has her own issues to deal with. I understand why you don’t like her but it’s a more difficult task to change the way she is. What is more doable is to change the way you look at her and the situation. If you understand what it is about her that you hate about yourself, then you can move forward from there, and perhaps even understand her a bit better.”

His eyes lit up as he slowly understood what I was driving at. After an hour, I had the two of them apologize to each other and they were on more amicable terms after that.

These days, I still see a lot of hate going around on Facebook, Twitter and so on. Why don’t you take some time to ask yourselves — what is it about Rodrigo Duterte that I don’t like in myself? What is it about Leni that I don’t like in myself? What is it about Mocha Uson, Loida Lewis, Tito Sotto, Manny Pacquaio, Edgar Matobato, the Dutertards, the Yellowtards,  and so on and so forth, that I don’t like about myself?

This only works if you take an honest look at yourself. Don’t try to apply this to others. Don’t say, “Oh, so and so should read this and do it.” No, do it yourself.

It’s all about you.


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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