Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Remains of the Day

My phone rang at 6:00 p.m.

It was Roman, my friend and one of my ex-business partners.

I winced and debated about taking the call or not. The last time I had spoken to Roman, he was still going on about the non-existent division of final profits from our unfortunate business venture that shut down two years ago. An unpleasantness  beyond remedy that I had already decided to bury in the past, but which he seemed determined to keep alive.

I bit the bullet and pressed Answer. I heard the discordant noise of what seemed like a child singing, so I thought he'd just butt-dialed me when his voice, full of his trademark happy grin, came on.

"Asan ka?"

"Ha?" I yelled over the din of what was clearly a videoke in the background.

"Asan ka? Punta ka dito."


"Birthday ko."


It should be abundantly clear to anyone who's read this blog that I am hopeless when it comes to significant dates like birthdays and anniversaries. My success as a producer would be impossible were it not for the existence of PMs and PAs to constantly remind me of meetings and bookings and other schedules.

And of course, I have friends like Roman who thoughtfully remind me of their birthdays, like an annual tradition.

"Deretso lang ito, sa Intramuros golf club. Andito rin si Kiko, hintayin ka namin."

Kiko is another mutual friend. Roman's lieutenant, and another business partner in the failed venture.

I normally bail on birthday celebrations - particularly ones that feature live, tuneless singing as the primary entertainment - but it is a testament to how highly I value Roman's friendship that I managed to drag myself out of bed. Sure, it took three hours later, and fifteen minutes more debating whether to drive or take a cab to Intramuros.

Laziness won out, as usual, and another ten minutes were spent waiting for a cab.

And then it was off to see old friends.


The undeniable sound of a live band - not a videoke machine, as I had surmised - was the only sign of life in the darkened fortress called the Intramuros Golf Club. I fumbled my way along the unlit, abandoned back entrance and eventually emerged at the roofdeck, awash in stage lights. 

"Asan si Major?" I asked the maitre d'.

"Who, sir?"

"Major Roman, the celebrant."

"Oh, si Colonel? This way, sir."

So it's Colonel, now. It really HAD been a long time.


Roman was in his cups, but looking precisely the same. The unflappable smile, the boyish bonhomie was still there.

He bounced his 9-year old son off his lap as he got up to hug me.

"Is that your kid?" I asked, incredulously. "Grabe, ang laki na!"

My colleagues' children have had, of late, the annoying habit of turning into adolescents and worse, teenagers.

I've burned them into children in the CD-RW of my brain, but overwrites are as insistent and annoying as prompts for system updates.


Bottles of San Mig Light instantly appeared and I leaned over.

"Halos one year na 'ko di umiinom!" I yelled at Roman over the din of the band.


"Sumakit tagiliran ko, eh. Yoko malaman. Para surprise."

Roman just grinned and, ever hospitable, had his minions produce a bottle of white wine, and graciously poured me a glass.

Kiko, still the irrepressible party boy - if getting a little thick in the middle - was the de facto Master of Ceremonies, alternating between plying everyone with drinks and harassing the female band singers.

It seemed just like old times - with the conspicuous absence of my ex-bff, Vincent.


"Any news from Vincent?" I inquired as I tentatively sipped my first taste of alcohol.

"Ayun, nasa Vegas pa din."

"His press releases on FB say he's in Spain," I snickered. "Nice to see he hasn't changed."

"May bago siyang lover," Roman grinned. "Purong Pinoy."

I am perplexed. Then I figure the white guy he had been with shortly after his flight to exile was ancient history.

"Why is he with a brown boy when he could be swindling the locals instead?"

Roman grinned wider.

"Lahat ng credit card, nakapangalan sa boyfriend."

I'd forgotten that Pinoys are even easier to grift - especially when they're star-struck and madly in love.

And Vincent is an unchangeable aspect of nature, just like gravity, and just as irresistible. He sucks people in, and then they fall hard.

Nevertheless, I find myself slightly missing him, on this night so reminiscent of countless other nights when we'd drink ourselves stupid while lackeys and toadies of all stripes attended to us like kings. The promise of easy, casual sexual adventures ever-present in the air, the arrogance of our handsome youth, the oyster that was the world.

I blame the wine, then one of Roman's boys pours me a second glass as I try to recall the moment when I turned into the immovable object to Vincent's irresistible force.


"Speaking of swindling," I segued into the inevitable. "How are our Chinese friends?"

Roman made a face.

"They stole P200,000.00 from us."

"Did the bank verify?"

Roman swigged his drink and poured out another.

"Sarado na yung account."

I'd long accepted my share of P200,000.00 as a very small price to pay for not choosing business partners more wisely, but it had rubbed Roman like a pebble in his shoe and he had been bruising for two years now.

"Nakita ko nga yung isang mokong sa taxi one time. Kinawayan pa ako."

"Why didn't you just shoot him on the spot? You do control Chinatown, after all."

Roman grinned.

I always did say "Kung hindi mo kayang ibaon sa limot, ibaon mo na lang sa lupa."


But I'd long gotten over the bitter truth that the Chinese partners in our doomed enterprise had swindled us out of profit. Roman is a trusting guy - well, we all were - but the fact that Vincent was the most vocal proponent of that consortium should've rung alarm bells like Balangiga.

Because trusting Vincent with money is like trusting a fox with chicks. And he has a head for business the same way a mudfish has an aptitude for applied chemistry.

Nevertheless, even Vincent, shifty as he is, got shafted in the end, so I guess there's always a bigger crook.

We should've just burned the place down when we had the chance.

Still - it no longer really bugs me the way it did. We were stupid, the Chinese confirmed a stereotype and got the better of us, end of story.

I'd still dance on their graves, though. It's one of the few things that keep me alive.


Kiko came over and whispered that the band was about to end its final set. But Roman was just getting started, and decreed that he would just pay the band for an extension.

Kiko scampered off to take care of matters, and the music switched to 80s hits as the band broke for dinner.

Roman and I both grinned like idiots as Seona Dancing's "More To Lose" came on.


He grinned even more.

"So, kumusta naman si Colonel?" he asked.


We used to cry
About the day when one of us might fall
Weak and blindly
Into another's arms
Demands all gained from jealousies
Would flow like water, drowning us
But leaving us with just another
Lover's false alarm


I have too many Colonels in my life. Maybe I'm impressed by rank too much. Or conflating it with accomplishment, which I in turn conflate with worthiness.

Then again, I am the son of a military man, and grew up thinking we were the Von fucking Trapps.

Must be them goddamned daddy issues.

I shrug.

"Why don't you ask him? We never talk anymore."

Roman looked deep in thought, and for a moment seemed about to disclose a confidence to me. But I'd long learned not to ask too many questions, especially if there was a clear and present danger I wouldn't like the answers.

The moment passed.

"Tell him to go talk to General Trias," he finally said.


A thousand tortured lives have fallen
Wounded, dying, cut down by the
Questions that we'd sharpened 
Just to save our losing days

We thought with nothing more to lose
We'd tear our hearts with jagged truths 
And everything we'd hung to for so long
Just slipped away


But the wine had gone to my head by that time.

Used to be we'd drink people under the table. I remember the infamous Jagermeister launch, open bar. The first and last time I touched that German abomination. The first time I blacked out due to alcohol, the first time I had to leave my car behind out of sheer full-on plasteredness.

From the few flashbacks I recall, the night ended with me being asked by Vincent not to puke in his mom's brand-new car as he brought me home, where I would hug the downstairs toilet bowl praying for death to come.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of EDSA, Roman and Kiko, in a haze of digestif-induced mania, were peppering the pre-dawn air with semi-automatics.

Clearly, one of the few times Vincent was the lesser evil.


And now it's over
Both of us through
And I feel older


But now, years later, two glasses of wine and I am undone.

Vincent in exile. No more private club to call our own little playground.

At least Roman's career seems to have recovered. Colonel Roman, now. He's a good guy and a decent man, and deserves it.

Some other officers arrive at the party - senior ones, from the way Roman greets them - and I take the opportunity to sneak off to the restroom.

And from there, tipsy with memories, I slip away into the night.


And now we're moving to new beginnings
But as we move we look once behind
To see what we might find of
Lost loves and old thoughts 
Of our nights of winnings
That lunge, tear and grasp
At lost wanting minds

last post for the year.

I hated you 2013.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Bare Bones of Andrew Good Fate.

I'm not big on Philippine history and national heroes, but for some reason I felt like observing Andres Bonifacio's 150th birth anniversary by watching San Andres B. A new opera boasting of a pedigreed line-up, from librettist and National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario; Prof. Chino Toledo, composer and musical director; and esteemed director Floy Quintos.

In his production notes, Quintos candidly states that San Andres B. 

"is not opera in the classical mode, nor is it a pop or rock opera. Rather, in Chino Toledo's words: it is a new new opera."

"Toledo's score captures the conflict, the struggle, the dilemma with unrelentingly jagged and edgy musical lines," he added.


I thought it was a jangly mess. The music was unmelodious, the libretto unmemorable, and there were no outstanding set pieces that, imho, immortalized what the opus was trying to say. And as a casting aside, the guy portraying Emilio Jacinto had more physical presence and stronger vocals than the one playing the eponymous lead.

Sorry, Floy. Then again: 

"In the local art scene, it is time for something unfamiliar, disturbing, strange. It is time to hear something new. I told the singers na ang dream ko for San Andres B. is, well, remember how Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' was first greeted by the audience during its premiere? Riots. Hisses. Boos and bravos! Ganun ang gusto ko mangyari,' he said."

But it's an ill wind that blows nobody good. Because I could barely make heads nor tails of what was going on in Bonifacio's life from the goings-on onstage, in between the orchestra often drowning out the singers and me nodding off like a peasant (horrors!) at the opera, I promptly researched the next day on the life of Gat Andres de Castro Bonifacio. The man who, for some people, should rightfully be regarded as the First President of the Philippine Republic.


From what little I can recall from school, I remember Bonifacio was the Great Plebeian hero, who ultimately got the short shrift and was murdered on the orders of a treacherous, power-hungry Emilio Aguinaldo. Even as a child I could not comprehend the injustice of a cold-blooded, calculating turncoat becoming President of the Republic. But since then, local history has abundantly shown that any son of a bitch (or simply a bitch, ain't it so, Madame?) can sit and lay waste to the land from the throne of Malacañang.

And if it is the victors who truly write history, then the story of Bonifacio is truly Filipino, and truly one of woe.

Unlike his illustrado counterpart Rizal, Bonifacio was a true picture of the Filipino masses. Even his life story reads like a telenovela. Born of a working-class father and a mestiza mother, young Andres had to stop schooling when his parents both died from illness. He supported his younger siblings by making canes and paper fans,as well as posters for business firms.

Bereft of further formal education, he was largely self-taught. He avoided ignorance by becoming a voracious reader, devouring anything from Victor Hugo's Les Miserablés, to his own countryman Rizal's Noli and Fili. Doubtless these novels influenced his later political and social leanings.

When he grew older, Bonifacio became a bodeguero, while acting on the side in moro-moro plays. Continuing the theme of a storied life, he was married twice: first to a woman who contracted leprosy and died. And then the second time, to Gregoria de Jesus, who bore him a son, Andres, who soon died of smallpox in infancy. This was after their house burned down during Holy Week of 1896, of course.

Needless to say, the etymology of the name "Bonifacio" is "good fate."

Bonifacio joined Rizal's short-lived La Liga Filipina, an organization which called for political reforms in the Spanish colonial government. The league was disbanded after just one meeting due to Rizal's arrest and deportation to Dapitan. On the day of Rizal's arrest - 7 July  1892 - Bonifacio and others founded the Katipunan

The Kataas-taasan Kagalang-galangan Katipunan was a secret society with links to Freemasonry, that advocated armed struggle against Spanish colonial rule. The Katipunan was composed largely of lower and middle class men, but later opened its membership to include women, as well. It was within this society that Bonifacio formed a lasting friendship with Emilio Jacinto, who would become his adviser and confidante.

Even after founding the KKK, Bonifacio continued working simultaneously with La Liga Filipina, which eventually fractured along socio-economic lines as much as ideological ones. The more conservative, wealthier members opted to support the Cuerpo des Compromisarios - political reformists located in Spain. "Radicals" from La Liga, like Bonifacio, were subsumed into the KKK.

The KKK grew so rapidly, from 300 members in January of 1896, to 30,000 by August, that it was inevitable that the Spaniards would eventually learn of the existence of the secret, seditious society. It's sad to note that it was a disgruntled Katipunero, Teodoro Patiño, who confessed to a Fr. Mariano Gil about the existence of the secret, sacrilegious Freemason-like society. 

Bonifacio wanted to launch an armed revolt as soon as possible, but Aguinaldo demurred, citing a lack of available firearms. The decision was made to consult Rizal in Dapitan, who also advised against a premature revolution and recommended more preparation.

But events soon overtook everyone, as history happens, and the Spaniards cracked down on hundreds of Filipinos - Katipunan members and innocent non-members alike. Bonifacio, Jacinto, and Guillermo Masangkay disguised themselves as sailors and boarded a ship where Rizal was being held, awaiting to sail to Cuba, where he had agreed to work as a doctor for the Spanish colonial forces in exchange for his release from Dapitan.

Bonifacio and company had wanted to rescue Rizal so he could join the revolution, but Rizal rejected their offer. Eventually, he, too would be arrested, tried and executed.•

After eluding a massive manhunt, Bonifacio called for a massing at Caloocan, where the Philippine uprising was to be launched. The "Cry of Balintawak/Pugad-Lawin" opened with a symbolic gesture of the tearing of community tax certificates: the infamous cedulas. Bonifacio reorganized the KKK into a de facto revolutionary government, with himself as President and Commander-in-Chief.

The rest, as they say, is history. But what's far more interesting to me are the footnotes, rather than the Big Picture.


There's Bonifacio's little-known National Anthem: a hymn he commissioned from Julio Nakpil entitled Marangal Na Dalit Ng Katagalugan.** Aguinaldo later rejected it in favor of an anthem he in turn had commissioned: the Marcha Nacional Filipina, which was to become the basis of the Lupang Hinirang we know today.

Then there was the infamous fracturing of the Katipunan chapters. The Magdalo, headed by Aguinaldo's cousin Baldomero Aguinaldo, and the Magdiwang, headed by Mariano Alvarez,the uncle of Bonifacio's wife, Gregoria. In time the friction between the nepotistic factions would result in a chasm that would eventually engulf Bonifacio.

There were also the shady elections at the Tejeros Convention, assembled to determine once and for all who was in charge of the fledgling Philippine government. While Bonifacio received the second highest number of votes next to Aguinaldo, the suggestion to proclaim him as Vice-President of the Biak-Na-Bato Republic was ignored, and elections proceeded. Instead, he was nominated Director of the Interior, a move contested by eternal malcontent Daniel Tirona on the grounds that Bonifacio was not a lawyer and thus could not hold that office.

So fraudulent were these elections, so marred with whispers of cheating that Bonifacio declared them null and void in his Acta de Tejeros. His rejection of the election results and his accusations of treason against its hastily-inducted President (for negotiating with the Spaniards) led to Aguinaldo promptly consolidating his power and ordering the arrest of Bonifacio.

Leading us, of course, to the infamous trial of the Bonifacio brothers, a mockery of justice resulting in their execution (some say legal murder). Prompting Mabini to declare it as criminal and the "assassination …the first victory of personal ambition over true patriotism." (Interestingly, one of Bonifacio's supposed murderers was Gen. Lazaro Macapagal, grandfather to Gloria Arroyo.)


In San Andres B., the Greek chorus repeatedly warns Andres that "Mahirap maging bayani."

They predict the future, with its treachery, disappointments, and Bonifacio's own ignoble end. And when they ask if he is willing to accept these as the price of freedom, he immediately, defiantly proclaims "Yes!"

Nothing seems to have changed much since then, from where I stand.

Which kind of makes you wonder if our heroes only die in vain. Or whether the Filipino - in his great unwillingness and/or inability to learn from history - is truly worth dying for.

And then, there's this: Police, soldiers dismantle parts of photo exhibit about Bonifacio.

Footnotes from Wikipedia:

* José Rizal is generally considered the National hero, but Bonifacio has been suggested as a more worthy candidate on the grounds of having started the Philippine Revolution. Teodoro Agoncillo writes that Rizal is a "United States-sponsored hero" who was promoted as the greatest Filipino hero during the American colonial period of the Philippines - after Aguinaldo lost the Philippine-American War. The United States promoted Rizal, who was taken to represent peaceful political advocacy, instead of more radical figures whose ideas could inspire resistance against American rule. Specifically, Rizal was selected over Bonifacio who was viewed as "too radical" and Apolinario Mabini who was "unregenerate."

** The term Tagalog historically refers to an ethnic group, their language, and script. While historians have thus tended to view Bonifacio's concept of the Philippine nation as restricted to the Tagalog regions of Luzon, as compared to Aguinaldo's view of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao (comprising the modern Philippines), Guerrero writes that Bonifacio and the Katipunan in fact already had an all-encompassing view. The Kartilya defines "tagalog" as " all those born in this archipelago; therefore, though Visayan, Ilocano, Pampango, etc. they are all Tagalogs."