My photo
ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

CA. 2010 --- ARE YOU HAPPY?

The moving Finger writes, and having writ, moves on;

Neither love, nor piety, nor wit, can cancel half a line.

---Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat

Have a Merry New Year!
* * *
FYI: Unique traditions and practices to ring in the New Year: Scotland, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Denmark, China, Mexico @ Gimundo -- Good News, Served Daily.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Are you happy? The double-edged question can only lead to a constant resolve: I resolve to be happy, this year, and the many years hereafter.

Here are some of the reasons:

Happy just being happy, Louie asks: Are you Happy?

Have a happy happy hug! Are you happy?

Happy on Parliament Hill. The future PM?

Happy with their own paddles. On the wrong boat though.

Happy emptying the lake on the shore. Eat your heart out, St. Augustine!

Happy on the lake. On high tide, you would see him walking on the water!

"Lola, are you happy?”

Louis Martin, the littlest one of the nine grandchildren we dote on, has this failsafe question to ask his grandmother when she as much as raises her voice to keep him from executing his daily mayhem --- throwing the toys all over the kitchen, clambering on a table he invariably falls from to suffer a tell-tale welt on his forehead, terrorizing his sister, Chloe, by grabbing toys she manages to play with without her brother claiming the toy in her hands is his --- (“Mine! Mine!” --- Remonstrating, the abuela urges: “Louie, share! You have to share! Want a Time Out? (The riot act.) See Lola’s face? Lola is not happy. “(Argumentum ad misericordiam), and the like.

Are you happy? A double-edged question, if there was one. If you are not, there is trouble. If you are, then there will be more mayhem. Right? But to Louie, it means the world to have a happy abuela right next to him, to shield him from harm, from all quarters, man-made or all and sundry (including the disciplinarians called Mama and Papa. And don’t forget the fearsome Big-Bad-Wolf abuelo who would not brook foolishness during lunch and Do-Do-time – naptime to you, cher ami.

Are you happy? This, however, is the one question most humans are afraid to ask themselves, fearful that one’s response would expose a swept-under-the-rug disappointment, a searing hurt, a cankering injurious memory…

Are you happy? To answer this would, nevertheless, force one to reach deep down into one’s soul. If one were not happy, why would existence be of any value?

There are myriad ways and probably strategies to be happy, but one must be happy, somehow, somewhat. Otherwise, why would one struggle to stay alive?

It should probably be one’s business then to find out if one is happy. If one is not, then every effort should be channelled to making that happen. Be happy. Strive to be happy. Learn to be happy.

This is, after all, the ultimate desideratum of a life worth living. Are you happy?

What does it mean to be happy?

Now, that is the more difficult question. When one finds out, it ought to be shared with the rest of mankind. For too long now, since we lost our primordial Paradise, we have not been happy. Testaments to this are our interminable wars, terrorism, prejudice, Holocausts, apartheids, genocides, ad nauseam.

One, therefore, must resolve, for yet another year in our inexorable calendars of dolours and fearsome anxieties, to know that one can be happy, strive to be happy, learn to be happy, and stay happy.

Look into the eyes of every Louie on earth and find there---with God’s grace---that the answer to the question is as simple as: Love is what makes us all happy. Are you happy?.

“Even if I throw another potentially-accident-causing toy truck in the kitchen where you are cooking, Lola?”

What I’d give to hear him say this in a wickedly innocent-sounding Anglais and French soon enough, and her unwitting Lola would still be reassuring the be-dimpled garcon that she is absolutely happy, indeed.

"I am happy, Louie. Merci."

* * *

One strategy for a happy day that works for me is reading through Gimundo: Good News, Served Daily on The papers thrive on bad news daily; why cultivate a milieu of great dolour? Whose life is it, anyway?

And the happy pictures of happy times? Those albums should help. Vita brevis.

For all the years: Be Happy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009



She looks for Dad most of the nights now.

The flannel blanket was an armour:
it shielded me through nights I needed you
to defend me against the onslaught of day
when I had to rise to know
that the children were all in bed last night
dreaming their dreams or fleeing nightmares
where flailing they fall from precipices
and you were no longer there to catch them
nor were they there to fall in your arms.

Even the sunrise assails me.

I beg for sunsets now and nights to hide me
from the rush of day when finally I ache to see
them home and you beside me asking
how I made it through my day.

When will you come to take me home?

The flannels have shrunk and, threadbare,
They could no longer keep the intruding light away.

Mississauga, December 29, 2009

(*All alone always)

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Three decades of Canadian Christmas --- that should be enough of White Christmas, shouldn't it? But we did not have one this time. Green was more like it. It rained instead and the streets are clean. One can also see the bare trees lining the avenues, most homes lit with an arrantly scandalous disregard for the city's energy-saving programmes --- the birches shorn of their leaves, the maple leaf trees bald and supplicating with their bare branches to a grey sky sans the stars one would have seen in the old country, coming out of church after the Misa de Gallo.

(The CCC on Christmas Day, 2009)

(Below, the Kwan-Casugas, left, and the Casuga-Ocampos, right)

(Below, the Dy-Casugas and Lalonde-Casugas)

Our CCC (Casuga Clan in Canada) celebrated Christmas eve and Christmas Day pretty much the same way we have had as émigrés of some three decades: trek to the family host’s house (this time, the House of the Dy’s) on the eve of Christmas, drop off the pot-luck assignment, go to the nearest church (almost an hour early so we could get us a pew for the now 20 members of the clan --- we should plan to donate enough for a pew permanently reserved for us in the three Catholic parishes where we find our homes distributed (St. Francis of Assisi for the Padre y Madre de Familia, the eldest --- still efficiently soltera and solicitously Tia Grande, grand aunt to the four sobrinos and five sobrinas --- and the runt of the brood of five whose family spent this Christmas in Ottawa with her Lalonde in-laws; St. Francis Xavier Parish for daughters number 2 and 4, and Church of the Merciful Redeemer for the unico hijo (only son) who was host three Christmases ago), retreat to the Christmas host’s home for Noche Buena dinner, open the gifts at the stroke of midnight (thanks to the preponderance of gift cards, I did not have to suffer through the crush of shopping for gifts or shelling out crass cash in holiday envelopes), and spend the rest of the Visperas de Navidad evening catching up on facts and fancy on the state of the family union and the hopes and dreams of each child, in-law, and grandchild, and staying out of harm’s way while grandpa and grandma and the bansheeing grandkids whip and whack virtual bowling balls on the Wii and the family techno-geniuses hectoring everyone on how to wield those infernal batons for a basketball goal, baseball swing, tennis lob, ski-jump, boxing jabs, and screaming matches on who is killing who on the violence-ridden videos on the X-packs, only to find gratuitous relief when all the grandchildren and their Tias and Tios settle down to an eerie silence while they wrangle with their invidividual DS’s (“Double Screens, Lolo”, one gets a primer from the nerdy nieta with the coke-bottle-bottom eyeglasses when one wonders what the devil is a DS and all the abbreviations they use to describe their new-fangled gizmos and games) and Ipods, Blackberries, cellphones, and heaven-knows what contraptions Microsoft and the tele-digital world has introduced, and take leave at dawn with assurances to be back bright-and-early on Christmas Day for “brunch-lunch-dinner-snacks-more-games-and-don’t-forget-the-karaoke-sessions-so we could-get-abuelo-to-croon-like-Sinatra-and-abuela- tremolo-like-the-Carpenters”, and one finally settles on the sofa for a snooze after a late lunch and drift in-and-out of the charivari. This is my Christmas Gift --- the sound of my family being happy. The one touch of novelty this Christmastime is my introduction of a “new” tradition --- the Pater Familias (that’s me), as long as he remains alive for the Pascuas to come, will bring a Belen (the Nativity Scene) or the replica of the Child on the Manger to the home of the host on Christmas Day. The Child must find an inn in the hearts of our homes.

The Melvillean paragraph above might have blinded you by this time, so let me hasten to recall a Christmas in my youth. Quite another Christmas. My pascuas pasadas.

My dearly missed and cherished abuela, Senora Sotera Martinez de Buenaventura, on her annual visit to our home, would dress me up in my best short pants and newest shirts and spiffiest socks and shoes, slip into her grandest-looking terna (celebratory attire), and we would walk to the San Fernando, La Union, Cathedral of San Guillermo, attend the midnight mass (for her, snore through it all for 6-year-old me), and walk back home for the Noche Buena of arroz caldo (rice gruel with chicken), then my three sisters and I would open our gifts. I would be deliriously happy to find a box of raisins, a toy pistol, a wrapped-in-banana-leaf suman (rice-cake), and a panuelito (little hanky from abuela). We would stay up for the itinerant carollers who would sing for a coin to make their Christmas merry. We would make sure the light inside the farol (bamboo-and-paper lanterns shaped like the Bethlehem Star) would be out before we went to sleep, and wake up on Christmas Day to steaming chocolate, pan de sal (salted bread) or pan de limon (lemon bread) with a small plate of fried rice and tapa (fried beef slice), and a slice of mango or papaya. Breakfast done, father and mother, on matriarchal-edict from my abuela, would bring us to church on Christmas Day and eat an exotic lunch at the town’s only Chinese restaurant. Dad would have a beer, mom a crème de cacao, and we walk back home to dream of the next Christmas with grandmothers, Sotera, and the story-telling abuela, Teodora Flores de Casuga.

After Christmas Day, outside in my grandmother Teodora’s orchard of chicos, guavas, papaya, and guayabano, we would help her dismantle her Belen constructed in the banana grove, some manger made of dried banana leaves and hay, a Santo Nino (image of the baby Jesus) brought by my abuela Sotera from Baguio City, and the wooden images of Mary and Joseph artfully designed by my late Uncle Joe, a jack-of-all –trades Tio who strangely refrained from drinking alcoholic libations or getting drunk only on Christmas.

A tale of two Christmases.

Today, December 26, being the Feast Day of the Holy Family (La Sagrada Familia) --- and was only reminded by the sermon of the priest in this afternoon's Mass --- I consider it serendipitous that I should be "blogging" on my family. Taking off from the Gospel on the finding of Jesus who got lost in the Temple, the priest acrostically defined the family thus: F (father), A (and), M (mother), I (I for all the children) L (love), Y (you). "Love one another, as I love you," the Teacher counselled his disciples. Indeed, it is love in the family that, when extrapolated universally, binds all humanity together in hope, faith, or in adversity. Man shall prevail because Love has its seed in the invidividual. E pluribus unum (from the many comes One) et vice versa (and the other way around). From the acorn seed sprouts the majestic oak.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009



The Toronto Star’s star columnist --- sports, warzones, courts, trends, life, living, death, the lot of intriguing human condition (you name it, she’s written about it ) --- Rosie Dimanno (Star, Wednesday, December 23, pg. 3) did not need to use The Holy Innocents archetype to mark what this Christian Holiday is for.

Christmas is for children, as the Son of God and the son of Man came to us as a Child who survived hypothermia in a freezing manger so that all children might live in the warmth of love, hope, faith, and gleeful wonderment at the splendour of the universe which is his realm, his habitat, his eternal reserve. All the earth is for His children.

There is still no room at the inn. Not for Jesus of Nazareth. Not for God’s children.

“There have been so many acts of staggering, abominable cruelty committed against children that I often despair for the human species,” she said in her Page 2 column. To this day, she still shudders to look at grainy security camera images of Liverpool’s 2-year old James Bulger who trustingly held the hand of a 10-year old lad who police said would later beat the little boy to death using bricks, stones, and iron bar. A wizened journalist, who has seen the horrors of war and the murderous mayhem of humans, Ms. Dimaano still weeps.

“...Disastrous harm comes to youngsters at the hands of people they trust most --- parents, step-parents, guardians, the adults they can’t escape, individuals morally and legally responsible for a child’s welfare,” Dimaano laments.

But today, the eve of Christmas:

“Today, in a Brazilian hospital, a 2-year-old toddler is scheduled for a second round of surgery to remove more of the 5-cm-long sewing needles allegedly plunged into his little body by his stepfather, while the man’s current lover held the child down. Needles were detected in the boy’s spine and abdomen. An operation last week removed four life-threatening needles from around his heart and in his lungs.

”Original reports said the needles had been inserted over a month, perhaps as part of a bizarre black magic ritual, urged by the lover while in episodic ‘trances.’

“But this past weekend, in an interview with Brazilian TV from prison, the stepfather said he’d inflicted this torture on the toddler --- anaesthetizing him first with wine --- as revenge against the child’s mother. She took the boy to hospital when he complained of pain. Doctors estimate the youngster had 38 needles embedded in his body.

“It was truly an unbearable suffering,” the stepfather is quoted as admitting.”

Suffer not the little children to come unto me, for they are truly what the Kingdom of God is made of, the holy book tells us.

Jesus was crucified for advocating human rights for the meek, the poor, and the defenceless, and for inviting followers to recognize that there is one abiding kingdom and authority – not of the empire, but of the Empire of God, where all men are created equal.

But the Crucifixion comes as a culmination of some three decades of rebellion against a social order that subverted human dignity and ascendancy over oppression and manipulative governance.

For Bulger in 1993 and this Brazilian boy in 2009 --- why would their brief, brief life also be their Calvary?

Christ is in the manger, with Bulger and the Brazilian boy “tortured” with the devious needles. Some 2000 years ago, there was no room in the Inn for this Galilean who was unceremoniously born during a tax-census decreed by the empire. There is still no room at the inn for these innocents.

Christ preached forgiveness for all the “fallen” who know not what they do. This crime demands the Second Coming to happen soonest. It cries for punishment to the heavens.

I look at the faces of my grandchildren, and I humbly accept: His Will be done.

On Christmas day, I ask difficult questions about these crimes against the innocent. I pray that they would be answered. I am full of anger. But the intensity of this irascible emotion could never match that of its opposite “concupiscible emotion that leads toward the good at all times” ---- love --- for all these little faces bidding me a blessed and happy Christmas.


Our little home has been devoid for some time now of all the irrelevant buntings those yesteryears held as symbols of Christmas.

A priest in our parish once asked us to bring Christ back to Christmas by leaving that Child in the Manger symbol on top of the living room table the whole year-round. No Christmas trees. No bells, no expensive buntings from our commercial geniuses. It is not Rudolf’s day; not Santa’s day; not Yuletide Carols. No White Christmas. No Blue, blue Christmas.

It is the Day that Jesus Christ was born to save man from his unstinting, inexorable foolishness. The Child in the Manger (in our language, “Belen”) is the palpable reminder for humility, the Christian’s primary virtue.

At this writing, we have received and adorned our door with the best gift from our parish priest, Joseph Grima of Saint Francis of Assisi parish --- a small wooden carving from Jerusalem showing the Child with Joseph and Mary in the Bethlehem barn. Atop the carving, I appended a little star engraved for all St. Ignatius of Loyola graduates (one of my schools when I served as a Trustee of the Catholic School Board) with the words: “I Make a Difference.”

What a difference Jesus Christ made.

If only there is a room in our inns for Him, the one they called Emmanuel.


Amidst the frenzied flurry of Gift-buying, we offer the following to form part of the sobering "conscience" for the season.

Carol Goar's Toronto Star column and Juan L Mercado's Philippine Inquirer column are pundits' views we could not do without on Christmas day and the days to come.

Philippine and internationally recognized, award-winning journalist Johnny Mercado sent us a copy of his Chistmas eve column at that country's Philippine Inquirer, and we are gratefully publishing it as part of our monitoring of human rights and issues affecting the human condition which could no longer be ignored --- holiday, holy days, or some such celebrations notwithstanding.

If Christmas is not the one sterling chance for human rights to be focused, since "it is the season for giving," I do not know any better time.

It is also apropos to think in terms of "traditions" we could adapt during this Christian Holy Day which has been secularized by global trade and the almighty dollar. We publish in tandem Toronto Star's column Carol Goar, since Mercado and Goar talk about human rights that are overlooked, but revisited every so often on Christmas time.

If for no other reason but to re-focus human attention on the meaning of this Christian holiday, pundits would always find this issue a good material to write on.

Here then is Mercado's column, and click on Goar's column to zoom on the text.


by Juan L. Mercado

The Philippine Inquirer , 24 Dec 2009

At the Redemptorist church door, the beggar lifted up her infant, swaddled in a thin sheet, as the wife and I passed by. Misa de Gallo ended earlier. “He’s two weeks old,” she said.

What was her name again, this lady in faded hand-me-downs? She shared rice packets that the wife brought periodically. Without fail, she’d trudge back to say: Salamat. (Thank you.) The other 31 would vamoose without a word

The ancient text, meanwhile, echoed in our minds: “She wrapped her child in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn.”

What is the future for this mother and child?

The most fractured human right here is that of an infant to celebrate his first birthday. Infant death rates have dipped to 20 per thousand live births. That improves the 35 deaths tally in 1997. But that’s far behind Malaysia’s 10.

This kid and her mother are the faces of over 4.7 million households locked into a penury-hunger treadmill.

In “Poverty in the Philippines”, Asian Development Bank notes: “Hunger has now been at double digits for more than four years since June…: Poverty reduction has been much slower than in neighbouring countries like China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.”

Causes of poverty interlock. They range from piddling economic growth, over four decades, lag in agriculture, rapid population growth, armed conflict, “natural disasters” like today’s Mount Mayon explosion --- to old fashioned graft.

“About 13 percent of the government’s annual budget is lost to corruption,” ADB notes. “(This) weakens national institutions, results in inequitable social services, judicial ‘injustice, economic inefficiencies and unchecked environmental exploitation.”

The elite get access to health services. But only three out of ten, among the poorest, will be as lucky. Less than 55 percent of the poorest get thru primary grades. Will this kid ever read “Hamlet”? "That season comes wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated / The bird of dawning singeth all night long"

Can this infant survive the thievery to become a five year old?.

Many don’t. Death among children, aged under five years, today stands at 33 per 1,000 births—down from 40 per thousand in 2003. At the UN Millennium Development conference, we pledged to whittle that down to 18 deaths by 2015.

We’ll flub that pledge, given how slow reforms have shaped up. Mindanao was this country’s “breadbasket.” Today, more than half of the 20 poorest provinces are from Mindanao. The “proportion of families experiencing hunger is now highest in Mindanao”

Here are the country’s 10 poorest provinces:. Tawi-Tawi; Zamaboanga del Norte; Maguindanao; Apayao; Surigao del Norte; Lanao del Sur; Northern Samar; Masbate; Abra and Misamis Occidental.”

“Hunger is a wanderer.” Thus, migrants stream towards better off provinces. They swap rural indigence for urban poverty. The five provinces today with the largest number of impoverished people are: Negros Occidental, Cebu, National Capital Region, Pangasinan and Leyte.

Chronic hunger opens doors for disease. It narrows options, for this mother and child, just as it did for a pauper we met in 1982.

The grime-streaked beggar, at the Redemptorist church door, wouldn’t budge. Mass had ended. If delayed, I'd miss that overbooked flight for Bangkok. As a "martial law refugee", Thailand was my UN duty station for 17 years. Four of the five kids were flying in from US schools for Christmas.

"Don't you remember me?” the beggar persisted. Seeing the blank look in my eyes, he murmured: "We were classmates in elementary grades. I am Candido….."

Memory scraped away the wrinkles, the dirt and in-between years. We played patintiro and other games of childhood. Together, we built model airplanes and sailed toy boats. Vacations, we'd swim in nearby pools.


Tiene cara de hambre. "You have the face of hunger," the orphan boy tells the Crucified in the film classic: “Marcelino, Pan y Vino.”

We managed snatches of conversation. Airline schedules are unyielding. Couldn't I have dropped, into his tin cup, more than what was hurriedly fished out of a shirt pocket? I fretted even as the immigration officer waved us on.

We're all invited to journey to Bethlehem.

For some, like Imelda Marcos, the invitation comes, as the Guardian of London notes, while she “clicks a button for servants in a Manila penthouse cluttered with masterpieces by Picasso, Michelangelo, Gaugin, and priceless antique statues of Buddha and gold, gold, gold.”

Others, like my beggared-classmate and lady in hand-me down, with child, wearily limp to "the City of David" with empty tin cans. Billionaires here lodge in "gated enclaves" while many lack frugal livelihoods.

Yet, "Christmas is the only time I know of when men and women seem, by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely," Charles Dickens wrote in 1843. Like the re-engineered Ebenezer Scrooge, they "think of people below them, not as another race of creatures bound on other journeys, but as fellow passengers to the grave."

There is, we're told, geography of the heart. Like the Magi, we travel its byways, not merely from place to place, but from grace to grace. It is a search for what endures amid the transient. Without fail, we find it in those with cara de hambre.

"They found the Child with Mary his mother," the story goes. Venite adoremus.



We're back. But I left my sangfroid in Saint Lucia.

(St. Lucia's twin peaks, Piton Gross and Piton Petite. And that stretch of blue? That's the sea, the sounding sea. And the sky. And sunshine. Our meteorologists here say the nasty storm that buried Washington on our way back home, is scheduled to give us either a White Christmas or a Wet, freezing rain, Green Christmas. And nasty cold cold windy days.

That's why I left my sangfroid in St. Lucia)

"How are you feeling today, Du du?"

That's St. Lucia Creole for darling. The French patois serves me well these mornings (coming back from the restful and pined-for-again-and-again break in that Caribbean Island) -- it brings a smile on the love-goddess's lips and a crack of laughter worth a million these days. After that last-minute frenzied shopping yesterday for the traditional stocking-stuffers (from THE GRAMPS), she would not, could not be in the best of humour. Two days left.

But there it is: "Good morning to you, Du du. I trust your aches and pains have not come back yet?" What a come back.

If there was anything I came back with worth all that touristic expense, it should be this word: Du du.

No! Not that kind of American doo-doo from man's best beast-friend, poochie, biggie, chi-hua-hua or whathaveyou. That's how Spencer, our private tour guide, hastened to allay our scatological fears should we choose to include that in our now almost-cosmopolitan vocabulary.

No, not merde, nor mierda, nor dog pooh, he said, facile in the languages left as colonial residue in St. Lucia (found by storm-aided accident by Spanish galleon traders, coveted and wrested away by French tripolantes, and finally annexed by the British armada for the Queen of the Empire that knew no sunset, until the modern St. Lucian politicians declared independence in 1979, and offered this sunset to the British colonial rule.).

"Mon Dieu, it means darling, honey, lovebird, sweetheart, whathaveyou," he said.

"It sounds like the French slang Do-do" ( that we use to put our Francophone nieto y nieta to their noon-time, after-lunch nap. ) French siesta.

"That, too. Do-do (pronounced doh-doh) now, dearest Du du!" Spencer chuckled with his now, in-hindsight, reverberating Will-Smith cackle.

Then he guided us through Soufriere, a rainforest country town about a 20-minute roller-coaster ride from our Coconut Bay Resort and Spa (former Club Med, which was bought by an undisclosed Jamaican tai pan (Chinese for rich man). Yes, that kind of cosmopolitan, I warned you.

He brought us to the place where that rotten-egg smell was coming from.

"Mon Dieu, signeur, I did not blow wind, I promise you," he protested in the Lexus he drove us in. This in response to a farting -- Philippine-Commonwealth-President-Manuel-Quezonian pointing-of-finger-escape-and-save-the-president-from-eternal-shame-gambit at his secretary -- "Punieta, Nieto (Primary Secretary Manuel Nieto)"-- query ("What is THAT smell, Spencer?")

That was the sulphur-steam emitting volcano crater which is why the place is called Soufriere (creole for sulphur here -- "sulfur ici").

"How on earth can that St. Lucian rich man with a mansion astride the crater ridges stand this," I asked Spencer incredulously.

"He is an absentee landowner-cum-homeowner. A foreigner. American probably. Or a celebrity like Ophra Winfrey who built her mansion between the twin peaks Gross Piton and Petite Piton (Big bear and small bear), and proclaimed Saint Lucia and the Piton peaks and its Atlantic-gulf beaches as the "best place out of the ten best places on earth."

Spencer is the epitome of the enterprising Saint Lucian who chuckles through most of his colonial-laden past, preferring to speak creole patois when confronted by a Brit with a stentorian demand for directions or a French-nasal twang or German-guttural grunt for Piton beer from a roadhouse along the way (Spencer said, there is a bar in every house along the way to the tourist areas; secondary income, eh wot? -- besides, while he understands their street-speak, they in turn will always think his creole patois is "interestingly exotic" even when he is calling them names or just "jerking" them around. Classic defence mechanism and vengeful tomfoolery for the freed colonial, for you.)

In that half-day tour, our St. Lucian 25-mile-an-hour driver-guide has pointed to flora and fauna that is so redolent of the disappearing tropical rainforests of the old country. Instead of goats grazing on the turf, though, there were lambs ready for the cauldron baa-baaing their last gasps away from underneath the concrete-stilted roadside bungalows that hid backyard stilts supporting them from unforgiving ravines that could crumble during any old landslide (except that would not happen here, because there are stones buttressing clay ravines, stone quarries, and all types of bamboo trees, mango trees, sturdy brambles, buenavista plants, bandera Espanola flowering shrubs, coffee trees, cinnamon trees, cacao trees, fire trees (the arbol de fuego -- fire trees along Roxas boulevard in the Old Manila), O, God's orchard really, where any type of plant or weed could grow quickly because of the nourishing early morning and late-evening rains, and astoundingly-bright sunshine through out the day.

Spencer was not afraid to ask us "if we knew how to pray" when he negotiated the mountain-side alleys up to Jade Mountain (a fantasy resort-spa where clients are ferried from the sea and up by helicopter to sanctuaries (not suites, please) that sported their own pools that flowed out into an infinite vista of the sea, and a stellar view of the skies at night where "one can almost touch God, or at least his outstretched fingers" while meditating and lazing about serenely because there are no televisions here, no internet connections, no computers, nothing to suggest there is a job to go back to after this week or at least a $1700-a-night stay, with all the amenities of a 5-star hotel.)

Nor was this young father of two -- who did not look like his 30-years -- afraid to bring us to a roadhouse where one could order barbecued chicken or pork-to-end all barbeques and munch on them by the marina (my Du-du thought the food on this roadside honky-tonk was a lot better than the all-inclusive resort we were quartered in -- same food day-in-day-out, even in the reserve-only Italian and Asian restaurants they maintained -- nothing adventurous in cuisine. Or they may be afraid of sushi or sashimi -- this island of teeming sea life, because raw fish may not settle well with those American clientele. Or you could take that hour-ride to Rodney Bay up north to eat in those Japanese-theme restaurants which do not employ Nippon chefs.

St. Lucia as a tourist haven is still a colony of the French, British, and Spanish. Sorry, their Prime Minister, a namesake of the horror-novel author Stephen King (PM Stepehnson King, esq.) could not imagine a horror-filled tourist industry that will not be supported by its former colonizers. Pity.

Come Christmas eve, we can gorge ourselves with our traditional family feasts; we did not see any poor or malnourished children or homeless citizens in St. Lucia. No guilty conscience. I pray.

While I brought home our treasured "Du-du" term of endearment, I must have left my sangfroid in that sunshine place of the deities, because now I am grumpy and feeling all the aches and pains of an ageing senior citizen, where I did not have a single headache, backache, or heartache in St. Lucia (or as the French colonizers still call her: La Belle Helene).

You know, like the Quebeckers still call their Quebec "La Belle Provence". Well, Ontario is still the province of the Hog Town called Toronto, and French-manque City of Ottawa, seats of provincial and federal Parliaments respectively. A tale of two colonizers struggling to exist in multicultural, diverse Canada.

We are back, indeed. But I left my sangfroid in Saint Lucia. Above the blue...and endless skies...

Oh shut up, Du-du; you don't want it to rain, do you? {:)]

(St. Lucia sunset is a staple at Jade Mountain [a sanctuary resort], where serene lazing could be interrupted by an arresting bravura of colours rivalled only by a sunset in Manila Bay, the Philippines.)

My Du du is now looking at a Cruise on the Oasis (the largest cruise ship in the world, complete with its sand beaches, pools, spas, casinos, restaurants galore. The only damper is that the next openings will probably be in late 2010 or mid 2011.)

Happy Christmas, Du-du.

Muchisimas gracias. Hasta la vacacion grande que viene.

* * *

(Now to the real issues of Human Rights and Christmas, Poverty and Christmas, New Traditions for Christmas. Bah, Humbug!)

Friday, December 11, 2009


Avoiding the frenzied buying for Christmas Gifts. Off to where the sun still shines.

Christmas Gifts
“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans--and all that lives and move upon them.
“He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused.
“And to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself."
— Sigrid Undset, Nobel Laureate (1928)

Philippine veteran journalist Juan L. Mercado sent me an early wish for a Happy Christmas and clipped this Undset quote together with his much appreciated greetings for the Christian holiday.
I could not have expressed my best wishes for this Christmas to all friends and loved ones better. If this does not crystallize for us the meaning of love, hope, and charity, I regret that I do not know how else I would say it.

Have a blessed Christmas one and all!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


(The Maguindanao, southern Philippines, massacre
of some 57 journalists and civilians: victims were brutally gunned down and mutilated, some shown covered with banana leaves in inset photo. The Philippine Government's announcement of its intention to proclaim Martial Law in the region has excited debates particularly centering on human rights which are feared to be the first to perish under such regimes.)

IN LIGHT of human rights violations all over the world, the issue is certainly one of the most pressing concerns of all men who respect their humanity.

In the southern Philippines, in Maguindanao, recent killings of journalists and civilians attributed to political groups have reached a point of brutality and meanness that the country's leadership is considering the imposition of Martial Law purportedly to stem the tide of a "rebellion" that threatens civilian society thereat.

Martial Law regimes, however, have been known to have sponsored the violation of human rights to "correct" another evil. Must another evil be invoked to rectify another evil? Does this qualify as one of those described by quite a number of people (even by the oppresssed themselves) as a case of "grandes malos, grandes remedios" (great wrongs require great remedies)?

How must human rights be regarded? Is it inherent in man to have rights? Why must these rights be defended even unto death? Why should it even be considered heroic to defend that which is man's right in the first place?

A philosophical and theological perspective on the concept of human rights is presented here by Philippine poet and scholar Francisco R. Albano , who runs a seminary for the Catholic priesthood in the Northern Philippines, so that the sturdy underpinnings of human rights may be better understood and defended by all men as the ultimate legacy that comes down from God, and as old as Creation.

Albano's persuasion is felicitously un-parochial; it speaks of universal human rights, and we are the richer for knowing and understanding his position.

As a monitor of human rights, I am proud to publish Albano's essay in this blog of issues "that deserve spending precious lifetime on." --- ALBERT B. CASUGA

* * *


By Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano
Diocese of Ilagan

My task is to share with you some philosophico-theological reflections on human rights. From the point of view of my Catholic faith and what I consider sound humanist philosophical tenets, I would like discuss here the issue of human rights as asserted, promoted, violated or denied.

My philosophical point of departure is Robert M. Pirsig’s metaphysics of value, some of Jacques Maritain’s insights on human rights, and Emmanuel Levinas’ discourse on the Other. My faith reflections are based on the Bible and my personal and ecclesial commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord God and Savior. My reflections focus on values which determine the exercise of human rights and not on particular human rights.

Philosopher Robert M. Pirsig reminds us that we live in a world of values and that these values are graduated from lowest to highest. Thus:

 Inorganic value – the value/worth/quality of inanimate objects such as atoms, molecules, elements, basic compounds, arms, robots and so on, and their relationships
 Biological value – the value/worth/quality of flora and fauna and their relationships
 Social value – the value/worth/quality of human persons and their relationships (including those with the inanimate and biological world) according to law or to custom and other forms of social contract
 Intellectual value – value/worth/quality of ideas and principles based on reason produced by human persons
I think that to these four kinds of values must be added a fifth:
 Spiritual/transcendental – the values/worth/quality of ideas, principles, insights, including relationships, based on faith in a Supreme Being.; and, for Christians, the Good News of revelation. These ideas, principles, insights, truths are derived through personal and/or collective (specially ecclesial) prayer (meditation/ contemplation).

Before inorganic value is chaos.

Value is synonymous with worth and quality, and one can say there are five grades of quality. Christians would perhaps call the highest Quality God, but it is not necessary to do so. The human person knows how to judge “subjects, objects, data, values”, in terms of quality, even if unable to define quality. Everything has quality, worth or value of whatever kind. And when we speak of value we speak of morals/ ethics. The issue of human rights in all its aspects is therefore essentially one of values/ethics.

But why are we concerned with human rights today? We are concerned because human rights is/must be a basis for the establishment of a just social order. In a world where God, King, Pope, the Goddess of Reason, Political Parties are no longer at the center of social life; in a world characterized by differences of all sorts -- economic, political, cultural, ideological and religious – nations have agreed on human rights as practical conclusions for the establishment of a just social order despite respective differences on rational justifications. As Jacques Maritain has pointed out, we agree for different reasons and this is enough for now for joint action and solidarity among peoples. Arguably, by common consensus, human rights today has become the universal judge of the quality of law, power and public opinion in society – these three separate but interrelated essential dynamics of the social order.

I say outright that human rights conclusions as enunciated by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966/76) as well as the UN Universal Declaration of Women’s Rights as Human rights (1991) are of high social, intellectual and spiritual value. However, they are not of the quality of principles. They are, says Maritain, practical formulations and may be considered the collective highest achievement of nations to date. National constitutional formulations or particularizations of human rights are also practical conclusions themselves and are in the main judged in relation to the UN statements. For the Christian, however, this is not enough. A fuller richer understanding of human rights must take into consideration rational and faith dimensions that make it different from lower modes of understanding.

The issue with regard to human rights as practical conclusions has to do with praxis -- the exercise of human rights. Even as big business, government, civil society celebrate the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Women’s Rights, they differ on how human rights are respected, promoted, violated or even denied. The differences are determined and explained by the predominant value/s or value systems permeating the praxis, or the point of view of value from which one regards human rights. Let us look at the value patterns of big business, government and civil society of present day social (dis)order.

By big business I mean big monopoly capitalist business (and its allies of big merchants and landlords) determining contemporary globalization and regionalization. Have you ever heard of big business denouncing human rights violations by the government, the military establishment and by big business itself? It would of course denounce alleged human rights violations by civil society, specially by radical movements for social change. Does it view trade liberalization, deregulation, privatization and de-nationalization of industries as human rights violations responsible for so much human suffering? No, it would use these as arguments that it upholds human rights.

Its justifications aside, big business engages in this nefarious quaternity of evils because in truth it views human rights from the point of view of chaos-inorganic values of technology and economic profit. Inorganic values are the center of gravity of all other values. Higher values are brought down and humiliated. And so we understand that, for big business, peasants and workers are mere cogs of machines. Or if the toiling masses are considered alive, they are regarded as purely biological specimens deserving not living family wages but only minimum wages for biological survival and preservation of labor power. Perhaps the middle classes are treated a little better?

Government with its bodyguard of armed forces and police share the chaos-inorganic values of big business. Many of the human rights violations hurled by civil society against government and its military arm are politico-military aggressions against the people. They are an abuse of power entrusted by the people where people can be maltreated, tortured, maimed, harassed or killed to preserve the power structures of government, the military and big business. People are regarded not as human beings but as mere biological cells or tissues that can be excised if judged cancerous to established power. The dominant inorganic-biological value patterns of government are the center of gravity pulling down higher values and humiliating these.

The military has a low regard for even biological life. For the military the inorganic value of gun and bullet is supreme. Its favorite programs are “total war”, militarization of the countryside, and violent dispersal of mass actions and peaceful assemblies. It deems it impossible that the “enemy” can be made to surrender without firing a single shot, and that peace can be forged at the negotiating table and not in the battlefield. For it there is no such thing as “reasonable force’, only sheer violent inorganic force.

However, when they become the targets of legitimate legal and paralegal protest by the people, by civil society, big business, the government and the military are quick to shout that their human rights are being violated. Their technocrats would manipulate interpretations of law and UN protocols to serve their vested interests.

The value patterns of civil society in general are different from that of big business, the government cum military establishment. The dominant value patterns of civil society since the 18th century or since the French formulated the “Rights of Man and the Citizen” in 1789, are of high social-intellectual quality. The UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are today a center of gravity that pulls up lower values, including that of ethnocentricity, to higher levels of integrative human quality life. The Bill of Rights of national constitutions participate in the quality of the UN Declaration even if the Bill is not respected in social practice and, ironically, constitutional provisions contradict it.

Certainly different in value patterns from present day conventional establishment are civil society’s NGOs at the forefront of the human rights movement in the Philippines: Karapatan, the Promotion of Church People’s Response, the Ecumenical Bishops’ Conference, and of course the Isabela Ecumenical Conference.

The philosophical foundation of the high patterns of value of civil society (comprising free and voluntary associations including non-government organizations, people’s organizations and Church groups) and its formulations of human rights is unwritten Natural Law, the basic premise of which is “do good and avoid evil”, intuited by human beings as their law and applicable to them. There is of course in the universe natural law for other things, and which may be defined, according to Maritain, as the “normality of functioning.” Men and women do not know Natural Law in the same way and in the same degree, but the basic premise is common to all. They know it through “the inclinations of human nature,” as Thomas Aquinas would put it. It is the Natural Law of human dignity; of people as human and civic persons. It is for all. Natural human rights grounded on the normal functioning of human nature are inalienable.

Now, where does the faith of the Christian believer as part of civil society come in? It must come in, be part of the pattern of values of the human person. The faith foundation of patterns of value of the Christian believer is of course the Word of God in the Bible and as incarnated as Jesus Christ. Spiritual transcendental values of faith are value added to the social-intellectual values discerned by philosophy and the other human sciences and raise all values to the level of the human person as “unto God’s image”; the human person as, in Trinitarian language, created by the Father, redeemed by the Son and sanctified and blessed by the Holy Spirit. Human rights conclusions are therefore imaged differently from the point of value of the Christian believer. The center of gravity is faith. His anger, unleashed because of human rights violations, is called prophetic according to the normality of his functioning as Child of God.

My faith reflection takes off from Genesis 1:26-27.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Here is faith justification of human rights: man and woman are unto the image not only of God but also of the whole of creation. Male and female contain all values including participatory divine value. They are precious in the sight of God; they are good. The divine value beyond intellectual values and beyond natural law is the center of gravity of man and woman’s pattern of values. Man and woman are of high value because they are capable of producing ideas and, above all, because they reflect supreme divinity. Therefore are they empowered to rule over creation. Therefore man and woman are value judgments against all perpetrators of human rights violations. Therefore the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Women’s Rights are of great value and are basis for sound social order because to a great extent they are in accord with man and woman of the first creation.

If the fact that man and woman in the image of creation and of God is not enough, then one must view human rights in the light of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). The first three govern our duties to reverence God, while the last seven command respect for others and oneself in social relationships. Jesus gestalts all into two. The first and greatest commandment, he says, is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And another like it is: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39). One is commanded to love neighbor as himself; and to love others as the Lord Jesus loves. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 16:12). Man and woman are lovable and must be loved because the Lord loves them. Loves us. Are not love of God and love of neighbor then faith justifications of human rights? And it is love that must take many forms – economic, political, cultural, and social. Love imaged as light, leaven, salt. Love as living and life-giving bread and wine for all; as Jesus Christ himself. Again it is divine value that is crucial.

It is interesting to note that Jesus uses the word “neighbor” in the singular. It would seem that he wants to inculcate in us all the fact that not only must each person in himself or herself be loved but also the fact that all persons must be loved in each one. Each one carries the world; this enables us to say that the martial law regime of President Marcos, the total war campaign of President Aquino, the low intensity conflict of President Ramos and the war against terrorism of President Arroyo did not kill thousands of Filipinos but killed a Filipino a thousand and more times; just as the great Emmanuel Levinas could say that Hitler did not kill six million Jews but killed a Jew six million times.

The neighbor who is himself and all of us philosophy calls the “Other”, with a capital “O”. He/she is not abstract, Levinas reminds us, but pure signification. The Jewish philosopher explains that the “Other” is “Face” present, undefined by shape of nose, thickness of lips or color of eyes; naked, vulnerable, commanding you, me: “Thou shalt not kill.” To which in the normality of my functions, through the inclinations of my human nature I respond, must respond: “I am answerable, I am responsible for you! I shall not violate your rights but shall uphold, protect and promote them.” With Levinas I acknowledge that “the rights of Man are the rights of the Other.” They are the rights of neighbor.

A concrete sign of one’s responsibility for the Other, for neighbor, God’s beloved, is respect for and promotion and defense human rights. Another sign, Levinas and the compassionate Jesus would surely point out, is acknowledgement of “guilt without fault and without debt” by survivors (the “nakaligtas”) if human rights of people, of the Other, are violated by oppressors and exploiters and criminals whether these be persons or institutions which, of course, would have a totally different kind of guilt. I take responsibility for what is not my deed; for human rights violations anywhere, not of my making!

A conclusion must be made at this point. It is immoral for big business and government and the military establishment determined and dominated by chaos-inorganic-biological values to dominate civil society possessed of higher social-intellectual-spiritual / transcendental values. It is moral for such civil society to subdue the unholy trinity.

Levinas does not say so, but I’d like to believe that the face of the Other is my face before I was born; what God saw and knew before I was conceived, when he looked at the goodness of himself. (Jeremiah 1.5) If this is so, then indeed the whole issue of human rights is about holiness; about being holy “for I, Yahweh, your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19.2)

Be holy, uphold human rights. #

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Sharing a brotherhood not only in spirit but most importantly in poetry, Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano and I have had numerous exchanges through the years, and I am delighted to share these Christmas Poems he sent me in 2007 while he served in the Ilagan Diocese in Isabela, Northern Philippines.

Through the eyes and heart of Philippine poet Francisco R. Albano, let me extend my Christmas greetings to one and all. God bless.



By Francisco R. Albano

Open windows

Let midnight in
Starlight moonlight and lamplight
Sunlight and mindlight

Let nothing be
Open bone flesh and blood

Let flow life-force
Of earth and water fire and air
Let stone flower and bird be

Before names and labels
Open Mind

Let rise untrammelled
Thought metaphor and word
Happenings of song and silence

Let utterance be
Open Spirit

Of knowledge spread like its sky
Of action transformative like its oceans
Of being like its rooted mountains

Open nothing
Frameless all

That He may enter
Word made Flesh


(After Mategna’s “Night”)

Claim this night,
The silent night, holy night of Christmas that pierces through
The noisy night, unholy night of Empire.
The night of Empire is darkness of capitalist globalization;
Its voice, the loud lies of big business, the jingles of its ads,
Fascist bombs and the shrieks of torture in prison camps.
Its night of unholiness envelops factories and slums and war-torn countries;
Denuded forests and unfriendly genetically modified farms;
Hungry children and refugees and the unemployed;
The sick and the lonely; you and me.

The silent night, holy night of Christmas breaks through the night of Empire
And births light from light for us to see:
A Mother fascinated by new-born revelation cradled in her arms;
And a donkey of burden playfully displaying its profile for the Child of promise.
The night frames hope and joy for eyes long violated by imperialist media.
The deep silence sounds the song of Word-made-flesh
And Woman’s heartbeat of life and love.
The night is a placard of prophetic protest and good news of future.
Enter the glow. Will it so.
Claim this night.


When the desaparecidos
Are no longer just individuals
But crowds of protest;
When villages are razed to the ground
And communities are scattered to the winds,
And the ruling classes boast and jeer;
When the heart falters
In dark forests of fascist violence,
The tendency of the rates of profit to fall
Merely consoles the mind;
Lends fleeting sparkle to the sky. It is
A hobbled horse unable to carry the load.
In the year of Caesar
One seeks not only light but also a clearing,
Even if just a dewdrop of morning
But filled with a world and a face.
In this season of unrest and discontent
Grow strong on great stories of earth and sky
Recovered from the enemy:
Of collectives formed from underestimated
Forces of peasants and workers and allies,
Of martyrs reborn in the tide
Of new comrades of hill and plain.
And recall in song
The flower of Jesse in the harsh desert,
The barren and the virgin heavy with life,
Cold stars transformed into angelic hosts,
A magus lost but still on hand
For God broken and Man open.


Slay Zacharias, kill the buddha on the road!
Go beyond heart-heart relations,
Go beyond mind-mind bonding,
Go for spirit-spirit-Spirit communion,
And in your silence of time and space
Be led by a guardian angel of your name
Into your temple of decentered prayer
Devoid of altar and candles and incense.
Simply stand present before the Mystery
Of the Word-Made-Flesh and wonder how
Is it a Child resolves the contradictions
Between the shadow of who we are not
And the light of who we are -- in the past,
The present and future of his becoming.


So hallowed and so gracious is the time (Hamlet, I, ii, 157)

Quickly now, the fullness of time.
Let us consecrate ourselves
To one another and to peoples of the world
In struggles for justice and peace:
Pronounce the Word over our
Broken bodies and lifeblood violated:
This is my Bread given up for you;
This is my Wine of covenant with you:
That we may become Bethlehems
Where He would be born;
That we may become His jars of sacred drink
Gladdening the hearts of heaven and earth.
The spirits of doubt and cynicism draw back,
So hallowed and so gracious is His time.


Think of it this way:
Though the revolution be at an ebb,
The lighthouse is well tended.
The shore flows to the sea.

In the middle of the dark ocean
There is a vision
Of stars and moon descending,
Heaven seeping into the earth.

And there be people declaring
That the spirit shall prevail,
The forces of history work unto good.
There be music and poetry.

In ebbtime was a Child of Promise
Born. And Herod was sore afraid.

A footnote to Emmanuel Levinas

Unto his image
Unto the image and likeness
Of spirit earth flora and fauna
From the first sight in darkness
God created the Other
Man-Woman he created them
The Other not other sans another
And God became no longer God
Without the Other
Without you without me
Descendants of the Other
So now I too am not I
Am no one without the Other
For which reason
Am I responsible for him
For her who keeps me
In knowing doing being
For which reason
Am I to give life to him
To her who gives me life
Being beyond being
God sealed the ethic
Covenant of the way it is
Sent his only begotten Son
His Other to the Other
In the night of Empire
Light to night of fasces
Swords prisons gibbets
Hunger thirst and loneliness
That he she might have life
And have it abundantly
Again and again he sends
His Son in the night
Of empire after empire
Of guns gas-chambers cartels
To confirm the ethic
Thou shalt not kill
Torture once a thousand times
Thou shalt not waste the earth
Thou shalt end purges and war
Thou shalt give bread and fish
Not to appease the stomach
But to be savored and enjoyed
Today he comes bearing
The gift of a commandment
Who showed how it was done
How it ought to be done as
Responsible One to his Father his Other

O the primal holon!

May the Word-Made-Flesh, Light and Life of the world be yours and mine -- that we may be his Flesh become his word of justice, love and peace. That we may bring light and life to dark times and places of heart, mind and spirit. That we may enable people to care for one another and for the earth. That in all things God may be glorified.

---Francisco R. Albano
Ilagan, Isabela, Philippines


Next: Fr. Albano just sent me at this writing a Philosophico-Theological Reflection on Human Rights which I plan to publish in this blog.

The issue of Human Rights is critical not only in the Philippines at this time when journalists and civilians alike are being killed in political vendettas but also throughout the world. -- A. B. Casuga

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Four decades and seven years ago, Veronica and I embarked on a journey that we are happy to look back at. The journey goes on. In these poems, milestones mark our way. We will remember.

1. Growing Old Together


--- The female carries the male butterfly on her back while they reproduce, and then the female eats the male while waiting for the pupa to become another butterfly, and then she dies shortly after. --- Bohol Butterfly Farm Guide Felix.


How a butterfly farm can turn
an upside down imitation of life,
haunts me still this side of art as life
or life as art as transfixed visions
of what we must be now:
like the gravid mariposa luring its mate
in a flight of duty -– she must bear
the male of her specie on her back
while they consummate a dance on air
not unlike our act of mating ---
she enamouring her mate
with scents purloined from blossoms
as, conjoined, they flit from flower to leaf
tumbling on air in ecstasy
not unknown to us when wild and young
and brave with joie de vivre,
for they must breed their kind
in a chrysalis of quiescence hurriedly,
urgently, before an inexorable end
where the male must be consumed
as her victual while clinging
to bramble branches bearing her pupa
seen to us now, voyeurs of unfolding
beauty and arresting splendour,
as the preening papillon bestirring
the dry air into a flutter of magic
sprung from throes of death and dying,
for she, too, must soon perish
after this function of issuing
a magnificence that for us can only be
borne of love and loving, yes,
perhaps also onto death and dying.


The poet’s refrain, “how do I love thee”,
is supercilious here, cher ami,
it cannot match the male butterfly’s sacrifice,
nor this mariposa’s dying
to bear life, beauty, and splendour.
Alas, beauty is an omen here.

2. Coming Full Circle


--On a cruise along Lachine, Quebec

It is the river as mother to the sea
Entraps us into this womblike feeling of ease;
It is the river draws us to this discovery
Of need, our quiet helplessness.
We are the river ran its course
Into an engulfment of restless sea.
How far have we gone from our rivered Nara?
Or how long have we gone astray?
Does the river current come full circle
From the breaking waves of sea?
Do we meet each other, dreamlike,
In the endless stream of the world’s Lachines?
When do we come back as rivulets
In some hidden rock spring?
The river runs full circle, and we discover
We have not even halfway met.
When will my currents break into your rocks,
You distant sea, you entrapment of need
And engulfment of ease?
When will the sea create the river?
When will the river create the sea?
Where they meet in the trickle of a little garden,
Who laves the riverstones?
Who laps the greening shores?
The river’s rush is also our question.

3. The Dreaded Maelstrom

DIES IRAE (1970)


Halfway, between this river stone and many rocks after,
Nara shall have gone from our echoes-call.
We have wandered into a sunken mangrove and wonder:
Is it as silent there? Are there crabs there?
What quiet mood is pinching bloodless our spleens?
This is another pool –-- navel upon the earth.
Always, always, we cannot be grown men here.

After the white rocks, after the riverbend,
Nara becomes the dreaded dream.
We have put off many plans of soulful revisiting ---
We will go on re-stepping beyond the white stones,
Each step becoming the startled rising
Into a darkened city farther downstream
Where we once resolved never to die in.


Do we wake up then afraid of Nara?
But rising here is the nightmare come so soon,
Treason in the daytime, maelstrom at night:

The nightmare was of cackling frogs
And serpents rending skulls and cerebrae
Of kitemakers who sing while termite logs
Burn and children, chanting the Dies Irae,
Mush brainmatter, pulling out allegory
Like unwanted white hair, stuffing black grass
Where brain was, casting tired similes
Into dirty tin cans where earthworm wastage was:

River swells drown us where, surfacing,
We wake up knowing our days have become
Termite nights and decaying metaphors.

4. Kite Seasons We Remember


(For Lourdes Veronica Lim, University of Santo Tomas, Manila, 1962)


There is an old haunt, Im-nas,
Where I am singer and kite-maker emeritus
Trumpeting reed laughter after the wind
On the rib of delivered rice:

It is the kite season in Narra, remember?
Time for the kite-song, remember?
Blow, Apo Angin, blow,
We whistle for the wind.

For us, sky-struck or one with this bird
Loving mate and leaving earth on the wind,
Winged: ravishing the sun, unblinded,
We wingless and simple wait for the wind.

We while kiting comatose away lifting crags
That room the secrecies of mating frogs.
They hop with surprised grace angered by
Blushing by.


Veronica, you and I, child and kite,
We shall wait for the wind:
If I were the kite, fly me to the sky,
To the bird on wing.

Should I, descending, rip my fibre
On the thorns of a fig tree
Or the curse of its flower,
Do not abduct me: I perish there.

Thinking of you: Veronica-Im-nas,
And I am kite now, inured and waiting
For the wind to ravish me free.
It is the kite season in Narra. Remember?

Mississauga, 2009

*(From "Narra Quartet", Narra Poems and Others, 1968)
Im-nas is Ilocano for Beloved
Apo Angin is Ilocano for O Wind

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Today’s Toronto Star bannered a curious – even startling – headline: “Schools plan leaner lessons.”

It is not meant to dumb down lessons, but Ontario’s government seeks to review curricula from Grades 1 to 8 to “fix what educators charge is an overcrowding jumble of disconnected facts that fail to prepare the province’s 1.4 million students for the future.”

“The curriculum does not engage students within their own realities, or does it integrate the skills society hopes to see in a 21st century learner,” posits a recent submission by a group of principals, teachers, superintendents and trustees.

“Our kids live in a world where they are immersed in content through things like Twitter and Google, so we don’t want them memorizing facts they can access easily, but we want them to think about how to apply that knowledge, and how it affects how they live as citizens and workers,” Karen Grose, Toronto District School Board system superintendent summarized the intention of the submission.

What were the planners thinking of in the first place? What future did they have in mind when they set up the curricular expectations? Were they napping when futurists like Alvin Toffler, Daniel Bell, and John Naisbitt were postulating that this future (21st century) revolved around an “information age”?

When did the expectations of education veer away from the acquisition of knowledge and skills that would serve as equipment of the citizen to participate productively in a democratic society? When was education ever merely the acquisition of inert information? Education has always been “educare” and “educire” – an enterprise to “educate” in order to make one “educable”.

At no time in human history has education been merely the amassing of information or even knowledge. Education has always been geared toward the development of an equipment to make man capable of adopting and adapting to his chosen habitat and milieu.

It is foolhardy to premise educational efforts in pursuit of shibboleths like “education for education’s sake,” or “art for art’s sake”, or “knowledge for knowledge‘s sake.” There is always a purpose behind these human activities --- to prepare the individual to live as comfortably as he could a life of dignity and achievement.

Alvin Toffler, author of the futuristic trilogy Future Shock (1970), The Third Wave (1980), and Power Shift (1990), situates this future in what he terms the “Third Wave,” which is broadly the era after the 19th century’s age of industrialization preceded by the “agricultural age” in the 18th century. Toffler himself called it “super industrialization”; Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell termed it “post industrial society,” and John Naisbitt (publisher of the quarterly Trends Report) called it the “new information society.”
This is the advent of the electronic technology and information economy.

“In the information society, we have systematized the production of knowledge and simplified our brainpower...we now mass-produce knowledge and this knowledge is the driving force of our economy,” Naisbitt wrote in his book, Megatrends, in 1982. A decade later, the knowledge industry was upon us.

Education --- which should foster skills of learning how to learn, relating, and critical selection ---- prepares one for this and the next century.

Naisbitt expresses the urgency of preparing for this future when he wrote: “while the shift from an agricultural to an industrial society took 100 years, the present restructuring from an industrial to an information society took only two decades (20 years). Change is occurring so rapidly that there is no time to react; instead, we must anticipate the future.”

In Toffler’s terms, “the curriculum of tomorrow must. . . include not only an extremely wide range of data-oriented courses, but a strong emphasis on future-relevant behaviour skills.”

Even as early as the 1920s, educator-scholars like Will Durant have warned: “Human knowledge had become unmanageably vast; every science had begotten a dozen more, each subtler than the rest...Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind.

“All that remained was the scientific specialist, who knew ‘more and more about less and less’, and the philosophical speculator, who knew less and less about more and more. The specialist put on blinders in order to shut out from his vision all the world but one little spot, to which he glued his nose. Perspective was lost. “Facts” replaced understanding; and knowledge, split into a thousand isolated fragments, no longer generated wisdom. Every science, every branch of philosophy, developed a technical terminology intelligible only to its exclusive devotees; as men learned more about the world, they found themselves ever less capable of expressing to their educated fellowmen what it was that they had learned. The gap between life and knowledge grew wider and wider; those who governed could not understand those who thought, and those who wanted to know could not understand those who knew. In the midst of unprecedented learning popular ignorance flourished...

“In this situation the function of the professional teacher was clear. It should have been to mediate between the specialist and the nation; to learn the specialist’s language, as the specialist had learned nature’s, in order to break down the barriers between knowledge and need, and find for new truths old terms that all literate people might understand.”

This called for the humanization of modern knowledge.

Lest it be muddled once again in this effort to review the curricula, perspectives for learning must not be lost. Facts must not replace understanding, and knowledge must generate wisdom.

In this scheme, the classroom teacher is and has always been the primary and major instrument of education as mediators between the expectations of education and the pupils.