Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

I have never proposed to my wife, at least not in the usual romantic fashion of kneeling, presenting an engagement ring, and asking “Will you marry me?” — a fact she still teases me about when we see those creative and innovative proposals on Youtube. “Why didn’t I get something like that?” she would say.

The reality of it was that I had always been an idealist about love. I didn’t believe in getting into relationships without seeing the endgame. So I didn’t get a girlfriend for the sake of having a girlfriend but I would go in thinking, “Is this the woman I want to marry someday?”

I was 18 and she was 17 when we officially became a couple and I proposed to her a week after that. I wrote her a letter, telling her that I fully intend to see this relationship all the way to marriage. I shared my plans of being a pastor or missionary one day and if she was okay with that, even if there wasn’t much money in it (at this point, I realize some of my freethinking friends would laugh at my naivete and point to Joel Osteen or the Manalos or to Davao’s own appointed son of God himself — but remember that I was an idealist and I was truly in it because I felt I was “called” by God. Besides, to generalize that the clergy is in it simply for the tax-free tithes is oversimplifying things and a disservice to the many pastors, priests and missionaries I know who are sincere about their vocation and are really not in it for the money).

Anyway, along with those plans, I shared with her this cute little anecdote I had heard about marriage being a three-way relationship between man, woman and God. Imagine a triangle with God at the top and both couples at the left and right points. If both ends move closer to God, then the distance between the couple will be closer, but if both go further from Him, then they will drift apart from each other as well. The geometry of it appealed to my mathematical self and I think it made me look quite godly and spiritual as well.

At the end of the letter, I asked her to think about this relationship (and pray about it), and if she was still okay with us being “us” (and if she felt it was God’s will) then we could go on, otherwise it was best to end it now while it was still early on and when we haven’t invested so much emotionally in it yet.

When she read it and told me that yes, she wanted to go on with the relationship, I took it to mean then that I had already proposed and that she had already said “Yes” and it was just a matter of setting the date. And that is why I didn’t have a fancy or formal proposal 6 years later. It was more like, “So, you think it’s time to get married next year? I think it’s best if we have it on this date so that we can do this and that,” and so on.

In the end, these things do not really matter that much. I don’t believe in gimmicky proposals or ostentatious weddings — I mean, yes, those are nice to have — but what really counts in a relationship is commitment, and your commitment to that commitment. It’s not even about that silly triangle. I have a number of atheist friends who are very committed to their spouses — that soundly debunks the kind of ignorant thinking that goes, “If you don’t believe in God, then what’s to stop you from murdering or raping or having adulterous relationships?”

Those who are mature stand by their word. They are responsible and committed human beings. Only the immature need big brother to always be watching them. And no, I’m not talking about age — many people who should be mature at their age are really just little kids in adult bodies — just look at our politicians and you will see a lot of them, like those involved in the recent Tuwad na Daan scandal.

I myself have been an unbeliever for about 5 years now but I fall more in love with my wife every passing second — not the starry-eyed infatuation most people think is love — but about knowing her vulnerabilities and insecurities, her weaknesses, her dark side, and loving her anyway — as she does with me. I have no need for a threesome. The bond we share is enough.

Tomorrow, we celebrate sixteen years of marriage, and I look forward to many more.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Tolerance and Self-Reflection

Photo Credit: Mostafa Abdel Samie via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Mostafa Abdel Samie via Compfight cc

“We find comfort among those who agree with us — growth among those who don’t.” –Frank A. Clark

Today I want to talk about tolerance and self-reflection.

Tolerance is easy to talk about but difficult to practice. After all, situations that require the most tolerance and understanding are usually tense or carry a lot of emotional weight. For example, when a car blocks your way at an intersection, even if the car in front of him is stuck, and your path was supposedly clear, it is hard to be tolerant. It is much easier to curse, to throw your middle finger, to go down and slap the other guy silly, to bash his brains out, to…oh I’m sorry, I got carried away. Let’s talk about something else.

I am a member of several online forums. Some of them are about religion (or the lack of it). Some are about politics and government. It is common to see a topic thread that starts out with an interesting thought degenerate quickly into name-calling, bashing and insulting replies. Much blood has been spilled on the supposed shallowness of AlDub compared to Heneral Luna, and why our country is in the sinkhole because more people watch the former than the latter (I prefer to use another “s” word in front of “hole” but this article is about tolerance, after all).

Then the bashers and defenders come out and there is this huge war that leads to much blocking and unfriending. There are also those who watch in the sidelines, not participating, but silently taking sides nonetheless. Amidst all the chaos, there are those precious few who try to see the best of both worlds, or at least rationally consider the other’s ideas.

A little tolerance paves the way for self-reflection, something those damned Jesuits (and I mean that in the most affectionate way) have hammered into me so deeply it would take a billion angels and demons working in tandem to dig it out. I am happy when I see others post meaningful syntheses of opposing ideas instead of adding to the hate and the anger, which does nothing but fuel more of the same.

A friend of mine made a comment that AlDub and Heneral Luna are not necessarily opposing genres and that one was necessarily dumb by enjoying the former but not the latter. Nor is one necessarily intelligent and patriotic by enjoying the latter but totally snubbing the former. They are different in nature, in objective and audience. One does not enjoy tea the same way one enjoys wine, but it is possible to enjoy both. A blogger named Dr. Pinky de Leon-Intal has even used the current craze to educate people about taxation and finance with her article, “AlDub and Philippine Tax Reform,” which I think is a great idea — using a popular phenomenon to get people to read what they normally wouldn’t read at all.

Of course, every idea has an exception and there are things one should never be tolerant about — ideas or practices that trample on others rights, corruption of public officials, degrading or abusive acts, and the like. The acts themselves must be condemned outright, but the people who commit those acts must also be understood instead of being condemned outright — to better understand what led them to think or act that way, and to see how the situation can be prevented or avoided next time.

Just because an idea makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because a person is irritating or annoying doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a point. Sometimes, one needs to push beyond the discomfort in order to find growth and learning.

A little tolerance and self-reflection can go a long way.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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We Have Met the Enemy

Photo Credit: irenem13 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: irenem13 via Compfight cc


“Life is not one damn thing after another. It is one damn thing over and over.” — Edna St. Vincent Millay

It was fun to watch Heneral Luna, but it was not easy.

It was fun to watch a Filipino film that did not feature worn and hackneyed plots, screaming drama queens and slapstick comedy. It was fun watching serious acting, witty dialogues, impressive costumes and brilliant cinematography. I never was a history buff. To my shame, I went into the moviehouse not really knowing who Antonio Luna was — except that he was a street name in Davao, and perhaps the brother of the painter, Juan Luna.

But when I came out of the theater, I will never forget who he was.

It was not easy watching the film, though. The enjoyment of watching a well-crafted film carried undercurrents of anger and despair — anger at how people could be so callous, greedy and selfish, and despair that the problems our forefathers faced are still the very same problems we face today. 150 years of history has not done much to eradicate regionalism, political ambition and backstabbing, and abuse of power.

I need not convince you of this. Simply going through the national and local daily news should be enough. It is disheartening to read about the Intellectual Property Office stealing its logo from a design proposal, but it is no longer surprising.  In our country, it seems normal for our lawmakers and law enforcers to be themselves the lawbreakers. How many videos have we seen of kotong cops flagging down vehicles for imaginary violations? How many photos have we seen of police cars turning left with a No Left Turn sign in full view, or of policemen riding motorcycles without helmets? Even a presidentiable was captured in a campaign trail photo driving without a seatbelt.

It is probably only in our country where we have ejected a dictator who has stolen so much from our national coffers, and yet his family has come back, unashamed and unapologetic, and once again occupying key leadership positions. It is only here where we have impeached and imprisoned another president, only to have him released and serving as a mayor of the nation’s capital city a few years later. Like Buencamino, Paterno and Mascardo, these people seem to have an unlimited supply of Get Out of Jail Free cards that they keep playing, and none of the other players seem to mind, and applaud them even.

And what’s worse is that some don’t even need to get out of jail, but win as elected officials while serving time. I mean, seriously, how ridiculous is that? Why hasn’t a law been made against that after all this time? Even a fictionist would be hard-pressed to come up with such an implausible plotline as this.

Yet this is our reality, and this is why the film was so hard to watch.

Since we watched the last full show of the movie, I went to bed with a heavy heart and I woke up still disturbed and perplexed. What can I do, what can we do, to solve the intricate mess that we have put ourselves in? How long must we suffer and be doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers? When will we wake up and realize that it doesn’t really take much to change — just a little more patience at intersections, giving way to others and preventing unnecessary gridlocks; just a little more effort in picking up our own trash — throwing that candy wrapper or cigarette butt in the wastecan instead of the street; just a little more responsibility in doing our jobs properly — showing up to work on time, being courteous and considerate, and finding ways to get things done instead of looking for others to blame; just a little more self-respect — not asking for or giving bribes or taking short cuts,  but taking pride in a job well done; just a little more love for others and for ourselves; just a little more encouragement to others to not give up, to continue fighting the good fight, to press on and not lose heart.

We all need it. I need it. You need it.

It is not easy, but it is a worthy goal.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” — Walt Kelly


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Morality in Two Tablets

Photo Credit: seeingimonkey via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: seeingimonkey via Compfight cc

The story of Moses and the Ten Commandments was drilled to me since early childhood. I remember various picture books of this fierce, bearded man holding two stone tablets. Some of the illustrations had lightning flashing over dark skies behind him.

In my younger years, I believed that these 10 edicts were the highest exemplars of human conduct, the gold standard of morality. Little did I know that I would one day look at these with a more critical frame of mind, discarding some as useless and seemingly the product of an insecure deity (the first through third commandments), while rephrasing others to better emphasize an underlying value.

Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not steal, for example, could be rephrased in a more positive light as Be kind to others. The value of kindness already encompasses the injunction against killing and stealing, but it is also against slavery, rape, torture and other means of unkindness not mentioned in the Ten Commandments and even practiced or tolerated by the Israelites at that time.

Many humanists have thus attempted to rewrite the Ten Commandments. And they sound better even. Let me share some of these with you.

Christopher Hitchens

1. Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or their color.

2. Do not ever even think of using people as private property, or as owned, or as slaves.

3. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations.

4. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child.

5. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature – why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them?

6. Be aware that you, too, are an animal, and dependent on the web of nature. Try and think and act accordingly.

7. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife.

8. Turn off that [expletive deleted] cell phone – you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us.

9. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions. And terrible sexual repressions.

10. Be willing to renounce any god or any faith if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above. In short: Don’t swallow your moral code in tablet form.

AC Grayling

1. Love well

2. Seek the good in all things

3. Harm no others

4. Think for yourself

5. Take responsibility

6. Respect nature

7. Do your utmost

8. Be informed

9. Be kind

10. Be courageous

Bertrand Russell

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2. Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

But perhaps the best rewrite came in the form of a meme I saw the other day, brilliantly compressing the entire Ten Commandments into one sentence: Don’t be a dick.

Originally posted in Sunstar Davao.

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To Vote Or Not To Vote

Photo Credit: bryan thayer via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: bryan thayer via Compfight cc

That is the question. For me, at least.

I don’t remember when I last voted. I do know I was still single at that time. So after around 2 decades of not voting, I was all set to register for the upcoming elections —  but after Digong’s supposedly “final” announcement that he wouldn’t be participating in next year’s race, my interest waned again. If I had to choose between what I perceived to be a shameless thief, a bumbling newbie and an ineffective, obnoxious lapdog, why bother?

On the one hand, I understand the man — the burden and challenge to turn this country around is more than monumental. It is gigantically humongous. And at the twilight of his life and career, it would be much better to sit back and enjoy the benefits of what he has sown, rather than to be in the thick of what would be the biggest battle of his life.

On the other hand, it could be another strategy of his, as they say — to see how much public clamor his refusal to run would raise, and to throw his opponents off guard. It is uncanny to see some of his supporters seeing hidden messages in his words and actions, like conspiracy theorists revealing cryptic communiques in public documents. They post a photo of him and a well-known tycoon and say that he is already pledging his financial support. They post a photo of his aide wearing a shirt with his slogan “tapang at malasakit” (courage and concern) and say he is revealing Digong’s true message.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote that I didn’t think our mayor would make a good president. But given our current choices, what choice do I have? The curse of democracy is that it is a popularity contest, we know all too well that popularity can be unfairly skewed towards those who are more charismatic (even if they do not possess the necessary skill set of leadership) — or worse, popularity can be bought. Therefore, we are simply forced to choose among the most popular. The idealist would say that one should vote for the person who best embodies one’s ideals. The pragmatist, however, simply looks at the most popular choices and makes a decision. In many cases, it is choosing the best among the worst.

But why is it Digong for me? The next three paragraphs will explain why, and they are three paragraphs because each is also an answer against the three other popular presidentiables.

One, he has never been known to enrich himself from public coffers. We Davaoenos know where he lives and what type of vehicle he drives. He does not own multiple SUVs with bodyguards escorting him with umbrellas. He does not live in a posh, gated subdivision nor does he bully their guards. A few years ago, a traffic enforcer flagged him for not wearing a helmet while on a motorcycle. When the fellow realized who it was he had flagged down, he became flustered but the mayor simply told him to “do his job” and write the ticket. All throughout his political career, Digong has never been known to flaunt wealth and power, unlike you-know-who.

Two, he has a proven track record as an executive. He has shown political will to enforce laws, even those that are unpopular — like the 30 kph speed limit (which I personally find ridiculous, especially in wide roads like Dacudao, J.P. Laurel or R. Castillo), or the 12MN liquor ban that many bar owners decry. Unpopular as these laws are, however, I have to grudgingly admit that they have served their purpose. The rate of fatal vehicular accidents have, of course, gone down and citizens can roam the streets at night in relative safety.

Three, he exudes a natural charisma. While this is a double-edged sword, it is still necessary for leadership. You can’t be a leader if nobody follows you, as they say. This charisma is a natural extension of his simplicity, it is who he naturally is and he is not afraid to show that side of his personality in public. He does not have the veneer of a polished politician. He is brash, trash-talking and he speaks his mind often too frankly — but that is part of his charm. He has no need to pretend to be one of the masses, posing for obviously fake photo-ops as a traffic enforcer, carpenter, or pedicab driver. In this regard, there is no hypocrisy between who he is and what he does.

But if he is not running, I do not know who to vote for. Perhaps, it may be, as some suggest, that our elections are criminal activities and we as a people ought to fight against it in one form or another.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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