Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Devil and Daniel Webster | Stephen Vincent Benet

Follow this link to the Project Gutenburg site to read an awesome story about an awesome lawyer--with a Faustian twist! 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

In A Grove | Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Translated by Takashi Kojima

The Testimony of a Woodcutter Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

Yes, sir. Certainly, it was I who found the body. This morning, as usual, I went to cut my daily quota of cedars, when I found the body in a grove in a hollow in the mountains. The exact location? About 150 meters off the Yamashina stage road. It's an out-of-the-way grove of bamboo and cedars.

The body was lying flat on its back dressed in a bluish silk kimono and a wrinkled head-dress of the Kyoto style. A single sword-stroke had pierced the breast. The fallen bamboo-blades around it were stained with bloody blossoms. No, the blood was no longer running. The wound had dried up, I believe. And also, a gad-fly was stuck fast there, hardly noticing my footsteps.

You ask me if I saw a sword or any such thing?

No, nothing, sir. I found only a rope at the root of a cedar near by. And . . . well, in addition to a rope, I found a comb. That was all. Apparently he must have made a battle of it before he was murdered, because the grass and fallen bamboo-blades had been trampled down all around.

"A horse was nearby?"

No, sir. It's hard enough for a man to enter, let alone a horse.

The Testimony of a Traveling Buddhist PriestQuestioned by a High Police Commissioner

The time? Certainly, it was about noon yesterday, sir. The unfortunate man was on the road from Sekiyama to Yamashina. He was walking toward Sekiyama with a woman accompanying him on horseback, who I have since learned was his wife. A scarf hanging from her head hid her face from view. All I saw was the color of her clothes, a lilac-colored suit. Her horse was a sorrel with a fine mane. The lady's height? Oh, about four feet five inches. Since I am a Buddhist priest, I took little notice about her details. Well, the man was armed with a sword as well as a bow and arrows. And I remember that he carried some twenty odd arrows in his quiver.

Little did I expect that he would meet such a fate. Truly human life is as evanescent as the morning dew or a flash of lightning. My words are inadequate to express my sympathy for him.

The Testimony of a Policeman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

The man that I arrested? He is a notorious brigand called Tajomaru. When I arrested him, he had fallen off his horse. He was groaning on the bridge at Awataguchi. The time? It was in the early hours of last night. For the record, I might say that the other day I tried to arrest him, but unfortunately he escaped. He was wearing a dark blue silk kimono and a large plain sword. And, as you see, he got a bow and arrows somewhere. You say that this bow and these arrows look like the ones owned by the dead man? Then Tajomaru must be the murderer. The bow wound with leather strips, the black lacquered quiver, the seventeen arrows with hawk feathers—these were all in his possession I believe. Yes, Sir, the horse is, as you say, a sorrel with a fine mane. A little beyond the stone bridge I found the horse grazing by the roadside, with his long rein dangling. Surely there is some providence in his having been thrown by the horse.

Of all the robbers prowling around Kyoto, this Tajomaru has given the most grief to the women in town. Last autumn a wife who came to the mountain back of the Pindora of the Toribe Temple, presumably to pay a visit, was murdered, along with a girl. It has been suspected that it was his doing. If this criminal murdered the man, you cannot tell what he may have done with the man's wife. May it please your honor to look into this problem as well.

The Testimony of an Old Woman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

Yes, sir, that corpse is the man who married my daughter. He does not come from Kyoto. He was a samurai in the town of Kokufu in the province of Wakasa. His name was Kanazawa no Takehiko, and his age was twenty-six. He was of a gentle disposition, so I am sure he did nothing to provoke the anger of others.

My daughter? Her name is Masago, and her age is nineteen. She is a spirited, fun-loving girl, but I am sure she has never known any man except Takehiko. She has a small, oval, dark-complected face with a mole at the corner of her left eye.

Yesterday Takehiko left for Wakasa with my daughter. What bad luck it is that things should have come to such a sad end! What has become of my daughter? I am resigned to giving up my son-in-law as lost, but the fate of my daughter worries me sick. For heaven's sake leave no stone unturned to find her. I hate that robber Tajomaru, or whatever his name is. Not only my son-in-law, but my daughter . . . (Her later words were drowned in tears.)

Tajomaru's Confession

I killed him, but not her. Where's she gone? I can't tell. Oh, wait a minute. No torture can make me confess what I don't know. Now things have come to such a head, I won't keep anything from you.

Yesterday a little past noon I met that couple. Just then a puff of wind blew, and raised her hanging scarf, so that I caught a glimpse of her face. Instantly it was again covered from my view. That may have been one reason; she looked like a Bodhisattva. At that moment I made up my mind to capture her even if I had to kill her man.
Why? To me killing isn't a matter of such great consequence as you might think. When a woman is captured, her man has to be killed anyway. In killing, I use the sword I wear at my side. Am I the only one who kills people? You, you don't use your swords. You kill people with your power, with your money. Sometimes you kill them on the pretext of working for their good. It's true they don't bleed. They are in the best of health, but all the same you've killed them. It's hard to say who is a greater sinner, you or me. (An ironical smile.)

But it would be good if I could capture a woman without killing her man. So, I made up my mind to capture her, and do my best not to kill him. But it's out of the question on the Yamashina stage road. So I managed to lure the couple into the mountains.

It was quite easy. I became their traveling companion, and I told them there was an old mound in the mountain over there, and that I had dug it open and found many mirrors and swords. I went on to tell them I'd buried the things in a grove behind the mountain, and that I'd like to sell them at a low price to anyone who would care to have them. Then... you see, isn't greed terrible? He was beginning to be moved by my talk before he knew it. In less than half an hour they were driving their horse toward the mountain with me.

When he came in front of the grove, I told them that the treasures were buried in it, and I asked them to come and see. The man had no objection—he was blinded by greed. The woman said she would wait on horseback. It was natural for her to say so, at the sight of a thick grove. To tell you the truth, my plan worked just as I wished, so I went into the grove with him, leaving her behind alone.

The grove is only bamboo for some distance. About fifty yards ahead there's a rather open clump of cedars. It was a convenient spot for my purpose. Pushing my way through the grove, I told him a plausible lie that the treasures were buried under the cedars. When I told him this, he pushed his laborious way toward the slender cedar visible through the grove. After a while the bamboo thinned out, and we came to where a number of cedars grew in a row. As soon as we got there, I seized him from behind. Because he was a trained, sword-bearing warrior, he was quite strong, but he was taken by surprise, so there was no help for him. I soon tied him up to the root of a cedar. Where did I get a rope? Thank heaven, being a robber, I had a rope with me, since I might have to scale a wall at any moment. Of course it was easy to stop him from calling out by gagging his mouth with fallen bamboo leaves.

When I disposed of him, I went to his woman and asked her to come and see him, because he seemed to have been suddenly taken sick. It's needless to say that this plan also worked well. The woman, her sedge hat off, came into the depths of the grove, where I led her by the hand. The instant she caught sight of her husband, she drew a small sword. I've never seen a woman of such violent temper. If I'd been off guard, I'd have got a thrust in my side. I dodged, but she kept on slashing at me. She might have wounded me deeply or killed me. But I'm Tajomaru. I managed to strike down her small sword without drawing my own. The most spirited woman is defenseless without a weapon. At least I could satisfy my desire for her without taking her husband's life.

Yes... without taking his life. I had no wish to kill him. I was about to run away from the grove, leaving the woman behind in tears, when she frantically clung to my arm. In broken fragments of words, she asked that either her husband or I die. She said it was more trying than death to have her shame known to two men. She gasped out that she wanted to be the wife of whichever survived. Then a furious desire to kill him seized me. (Gloomy excitement.)

Telling you in this way, no doubt I seem a crueler man than you. But that's because you didn't see her face. Especially her burning eyes at that moment. As I saw her eye to eye, I wanted to make her my wife even if I were to be struck by lightning. I wanted to make her my wife... this single desire filled my mind. This was not only lust, as you might think. At that time if I'd had no other desire than lust, I'd surely not have minded knocking her down and running away. Then I wouldn't have stained my sword with his blood. But the moment I gazed at her face in the dark grove, I decided not to leave there without killing him.

But I didn't like to resort to unfair means to kill him. I untied him and told him to cross swords with me. (The rope that was found at the root of the cedar is the rope I dropped at the time.) Furious with anger, he drew his thick sword. And quick as thought, he sprang at me ferociously, without speaking a word. I needn't tell you how our fight turned out. The twenty-third stroke... please remember this. I'm impressed with this fact still. Nobody under the sun has ever clashed swords with me twenty strokes. (A cheerful smile.)

When he fell, I turned toward her, lowering my blood-stained sword. But to my great astonishment she was gone. I wondered to where she had run away. I looked for her in the clump of cedars. I listened, but heard only a groaning sound from the throat of the dying man.

As soon as we started to cross swords, she may have run away through the grove to call for help. When I thought of that, I decided it was a matter of life and death to me. So, robbing him of his sword, and bow and arrows, I ran out to the mountain road. There I found her horse still grazing quietly. It would be a mere waste of words to tell you the later details, but before I entered town I had already parted with the sword. That's all my confession. I know that my head will be hung in chains anyway, so put me down for the maximum penalty. (A defiant attitude.)

The Confession of a Woman Who Has Come to the Shimizu Temple

That man in the blue silk kimono, after forcing me to yield to him, laughed mockingly as he looked at my bound husband. How horrified my husband must have been! But no matter how hard he struggled in agony, the rope cut into him all the more tightly. In spite of myself I ran stumblingly toward his side. Or rather I tried to run toward him, but the man instantly knocked me down. Just at that moment I saw an indescribable light in my husband's eyes. Something beyond expression... his eyes make me shudder even now. That instantaneous look of my husband, who couldn't speak a word, told me all his heart. The flash in his eyes was neither anger nor sorrow... only a cold light, a look of loathing. More struck by the look in his eyes than by the blow of the thief, I called out in spite of myself and fell unconscious.
In the course of time I came to, and found that the man in blue silk was gone. I saw only my husband still bound to the root of the cedar. I raised myself from the bamboo-blades with difficulty, and looked into his face; but the expression in his eyes was just the same as before.

Beneath the cold contempt in his eyes, there was hatred. Shame, grief, and anger... I don't know how to express my heart at that time. Reeling to my feet, I went up to my husband.

"Takejiro," I said to him, "since things have come to this pass, I cannot live with you. I'm determined to die... but you must die, too. You saw my shame. I can't leave you alive as you are."

This was all I could say. Still he went on gazing at me with loathing and contempt. My heart breaking, I looked for his sword. It must have been taken by the robber. Neither his sword nor his bow and arrows were to be seen in the grove. But fortunately my small sword was lying at my feet. Raising it over head, once more I said, "Now give me your life. I'll follow you right away."

When he heard these words, he moved his lips with difficulty. Since his mouth was stuffed with leaves, of course his voice could not be heard at all. But at a glance I understood his words. Despising me, his look said only, "Kill me." Neither conscious nor unconscious, I stabbed the small sword through the lilac-colored kimono into his breast.

Again at this time I must have fainted. By the time I managed to look up, he had already breathed his last—still in bonds. A streak of sinking sunlight streamed through the clump of cedars and bamboos, and shone on his pale face. Gulping down my sobs, I untied the rope from his dead body. And... and what has become of me since I have no more strength to tell you. Anyway I hadn't the strength to die. I stabbed my own throat with the small sword, I threw myself into a pond at the foot of the mountain, and I tried to kill myself in many ways. Unable to end my life, I am still living in dishonor. (A lonely smile.) Worthless as I am, I must have been forsaken even by the most merciful Kwannon. I killed my own husband. I was violated by the robber. Whatever can I do? Whatever can I... I... (Gradually, violent sobbing.)

The Story of the Murdered Man, as Told Through a Medium

After violating my wife, the robber, sitting there, began to speak comforting words to her. Of course I couldn't speak. My whole body was tied fast to the root of a cedar. But meanwhile I winked at her many times, as much as to say "Don't believe the robber." I wanted to convey some such meaning to her. But my wife, sitting dejectedly on the bamboo leaves, was looking hard at her lap. To all appearance, she was listening to his words. I was agonized by jealousy. In the meantime the robber went on with his clever talk, from one subject to another. The robber finally made his bold brazen proposal. "Once your virtue is stained, you won't get along well with your husband, so won't you be my wife instead? It's my love for you that made me be violent toward you."

While the criminal talked, my wife raised her face as if in a trance. She had never looked so beautiful as at that moment. What did my beautiful wife say in answer to him while I was sitting bound there? I am lost in space, but I have never thought of her answer without burning with anger and jealousy. Truly she said, “Then take me away with you wherever you go."

This is not the whole of her sin. If that were all, I would not be tormented so much in the dark. When she was going out of the grove as if in a dream, her hand in the robber's, she suddenly turned pale, and pointed at me tied to the root of the cedar, and said, "Kill him! I cannot marry you as long as he lives." "Kill him!" she cried many times, as if she had gone crazy. Even now these words threaten to blow me headlong into the bottomless abyss of darkness. Has such a hateful thing come out of a human mouth ever before? Have such cursed words ever struck a human ear, even once? Even once such a... (A sudden cry of scorn.) At these words the robber himself turned pale. "Kill him," she cried, clinging to his arms. Looking hard at her, he answered neither yes nor no... but hardly had I thought about his answer before she had been knocked down into the bamboo leaves. (Again a cry of scorn.) Quietly folding his arms, he looked at me and said, "What will you do with her? Kill her or save her? You have only to nod. Kill her?" For these words alone I would like to pardon his crime.

While I hesitated, she shrieked and ran into the depths of the grove. The robber instantly snatched at her, but he failed even to grasp her sleeve.

After she ran away, he took up my sword, and my bow and arrows. With a single stroke he cut one of my bonds. I remember his mumbling, "My fate is next." Then he disappeared from the grove. All was silent after that. No, I heard someone crying. Untying the rest of my bonds, I listened carefully, and I noticed that it was my own crying. (Long silence.)

I raised my exhausted body from the foot of the cedar. In front of me there was shining the small sword which my wife had dropped. I took it up and stabbed it into my breast. A bloody lump rose to my mouth, but I didn't feel any pain. When my breast grew cold, everything was as silent as the dead in their graves. What profound silence! Not a single bird-note was heard in the sky over this grave in the hollow of the mountains. Only a lonely light lingered on the cedars and mountains. By and by the light gradually grew fainter, till the cedars and bamboo were lost to view. Lying there, I was enveloped in deep silence.

Then someone crept up to me. I tried to see who it was. But darkness had already been gathering round me. Someone... that someone drew the small sword softly out of my breast in its invisible hand. At the same time once more blood flowed into my mouth. And once and for all I sank down into the darkness of space.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

of language and other arguments

The past few days have been a real linguistic treat for me--a chance to look at the way language works in the minds of people. Well, people within my online sphere, which is admittedly rather large (I am a very dutiful netizen). This week saw the conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, and twenty-three reasons by twenty-three senators for their respective decisions; I've also held converse with a couple of interesting enough people to bolster my thesis statement, which is this: people will likely favor an argument delivered through a more formal variety of language even if such argument lacks substance, over an argument delivered through more informal varieties of language despite the credibility of the message itself.

Let us take, for example, the very masa delivery of Mr Representative Rudy Farinas' closing argument before the Senate sitting as impeachment court. He used the vernacular language instead of straight Legalese English, employing such terms as 'palusot' which has no real equivalent in either English or Legalese, the language of oh-so-lofty lawyers. But did law students buy his argument? No, or at least, this writer saw negative comments, in guise of jokes,  such as 'kinda want him cited for contempt... [for] [o]ffending the intelligence of the judges.' The writer of this comment is a classmate of the writer of this note in the San Beda College of Law, and reflects the views of majority of the views of the freshmen students of said college. But if one is to look, indiscriminately and sans all political and ideological colors, Mr Farinas' argument is quite tenable. Sure, he may not have used straight Legalese like most other lawyers, defense and prosecution panels included, but he did make valid points in his speech and backed said valid points with evidence presented prior by the prosecution panel, and common sense. Take for example the way he rebutted Mr Former Chief Justice Corona's assertion that he had started saving dollars in the late sixties. Mr Farinas explained, in the vernacular language of the streets, that Mr Corona is his academic senior by one year, and if Mr Corona's explanation regarding his dollar accounts is to be believed, then he must have been saving dollars during their elementary schoool years. But why didn't the law students I know who have reacted violently against Mr Farinas acknowledge this very simple, albeit very streetwise and 'pilosopo' but otherwise valid, argument?

And then there is Ms Brilliant Senator Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who is ready to leave at the end of the year the Senate of the Republic of the Philippines for her post in the International Criminal Court in Den Haag, Nederland. She is hailed, rightly in this writer's opinion, as one of the brightest legal minds of this country, albeit a little cracked as seen both inthe media and jurisprudence like Pobre v. Defensor-Santiago. There have been serious doubts about her sanity, the most recent manifestation of which is an online petition to have her removed from the ICC. Whatever the merits of that petition are, the main idea of this paragraph about Sen. Santiago is her explanation of her acquit-vote viz. Rep. Farinas' closing argument. The good lady senator at the end of her stint in the impeachment court however, chose not to pursue either the defense or the prosecution's arguments, but instead attacked the prosecution, the House of Representatives, and her fellow Senators in asking, as I paraphrase, how many of you filed your SALNs, as if pursiung an argument of he-who-is-without-sin-cast-the-first-stone. In short, an argumentum ad hominem--but this has escaped the intelligence of many law students because the good senator and seasoned lawyer. She could still have cast her vote of an acquittal and demanded transparency in all branches of government and still not resorted to ad hominem but rather her own reading and construction of relevant laws in the matter of the impeachment. And however this may be, what was the ace up her sleeve? She is Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a Senator of the Republic of the Philippines, a seasoned lawyer, law professor and former RTC judge, and soon-to-be judge at the International Criminal Court. She can afford to have her personal political vendettas and keep her place in the hearts of conservative law students.

Such is the power of language--that even without substance, an argument, if delivered by a credible and dauntingly powerful enough figure, trumps another with powerful substance but delivered in the more informal and vulgar varieties of language. That truly, English reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of the educated middle classes over our native Filipino. That Filipino is seen as the language of the streets and the 'pilosopo,' the masses and on occasion, the despots who exploit the masses. But Filipino, for the conservative educated middle classes, is not a respectable enough language for courtroom and law classroom debates.

And it's not just Filipino that's looked down by the conservative educated middle classes. There are other varieties of language in this country, some of which the writer of this note is very fond of. The writer refers to her own sociolect--a variety of language peculiar to one individual--which, as a classmate once described, a lovely hybrid of English, Filipino, Legalese, and gay lingo. The writer uses this sociolect in her 'off' and 'chillax' moments--meaning, when she is not writing her legal memoranda, law papers, academic treatises, and other formal write-ups. The use of this sociolect in her Facebook and other social media however does not in any way diminish her intellectual capacity or the sharp wit she employs when conjuring arguments for the same formal papers. Indeed, it can be said the writer of this note does not stop thinking even in her sleep. She merely has a fondness for the more fun varieties of language, she having had a long-term fascination with linguistics and the way language works. She has developed the slow art of divorcing arguments from those who deliver them; the subtle technique of looking beyond the written or the spoken word; and the skill of placing arguments, with all language and the person delivering the same, into their proper historical-materialist contexts. That being said, she deems it a very sad thing indeed that most of the conservative educated middle classes often ignore these factors and look only at the packaging and form of arguments, not the arguments and the messages they convey.

It shouldn't surprise you, dear reader, that despite my ideology, fluency and not-so-humble proficiency in both English and Filipino and all the popular varities of these languages in this country, I chose to write this note in formal English. So that you'd respect my argument and not dismiss me as some kanto-aktibista. (And oh, by the way, and this is not relevant to the body of the text, I am a believer of Socialism, but I am not a Communist. There is helluva difference between the two, and it'll take another note for me to explain that. Rawr.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

notes on the translation | mga muni-muni sa pagkakasalin

Ang pagsasalin ng The Hobbit mula sa wikang Ingles tungo sa wikang Filipino ay isang masaya ngunit mahirap na proseso. Naging mahalaga sa akin ang pagiging matapat sa orihinal na texto, at para dito kinailangan kong aralin hindi lamang ang semantiko ng dalawang wika kung hindi ang mga mitolohiya ng dalawang kulturang ito. Mas naging hamon rin na ang mitolohiyang sinusunod ni Tolkien sa kanyang Legendarium ay hindi ang karaniwang mga supernatural na mga nilalang sa tradisyong Amerikano, specifically ang Hollywood traditions ng mga bampira, taong-lobo, at multo. Sa mundong ginawa ni Tolkien mas madarama ang impluwensya ng mga Scandinavian, Icelandic at Finnish na aaminin kong halos walang kapareho sa kulturang Filipino kahit na may malaki tayong impluwensyang nakuha sa Amerika. 

Sa pagsasalin ko, pinilit kong gumawa ng paghahalili ng mga konseptong Scandinavian sa ating sariling mitolohiya. Ginunita ko ang mga kwentong-bayan natin na pumapartikular sa mga supernatural, tulad ng mga Diwata, Inano, Duwende, Aswang, Engkanto, Kapre, Tikbalang, Santelmo, at iba pa. Ngunit bukod sa mga Diwata at Inano, na aking ginamit bilang salin ng Elves at Dwarves, kaunti lamang ang pagkakapareho ng tradisyong Scandinavian sa atin. Bunga na rin siguro ito ng talagang walang naging kontak ang dalawang kultura hanggang ang ika-dalawampung siglo; at ang konsepto ng isang napagangda at imortal na lahi ay aninag na rin sa halos lahat ng sistema ng relihiyon at paniniwala sa mga supernatural sa mundo, ayon sa tesis ni Joseph Campbell sa kanyang akdang The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Ang aking proyektong pagsasalin ay isang mataas na ambisyon. Sa pagsasalin ng isang akdang nasa isang wika patungo sa isa pang wika, kinakailangan ng tagapagsalin ng matibay na pundasyon hindi lamang sa wika kung hindi sa kultura ng dalawang lipunan. Hindi tumitigil ang pagsasalin sa literal na antas; ang wika'y sadyang arbitraryo at may mga tayutay, ekspresyon, at iba pang gamit o paglalaro ng salita na pekulyar lamang sa isang kultura. Kaya alam ko na kung gugustuhin ko talagang tapusin ang proyektong ito--ang pagsasalin ng The Hobbit sa wikang Filipino--kakailanganin kong aralin pang mas maigi ang mga mitolohiya ng Pilipinas at ng mga karatig-bansa natin sa Malayo-Polynesiang mundo sa parehong paraan na ginamit ni Tolkien ang mga mitolohiya ng mga Teutonic at Nordic na mga tradisyon. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Passengers | Luis Katigbak

You liked bus rides, I remember that much. I thought you were nuts when you first told me that, all economic reasons aside, you preferred riding buses to taking taxis. I chalked it up to your sheltered upbringing- your overly protective parents had not allowed you to take public transportation until your were twenty years old. I supposed that, even after four years, the novelty had not worn off yet.

Taxis afforded us a bit more privacy, I reasoned. We could sit comfortably, snuggle a little, and not worry about the conductor not giving us change, or someone squeezing unto the seat with us, or having to jostle our way through a people-packed aisle when it was time to get down. “But it’s different,” you insisted. “Yes,” I agreed, “and in this case, ‘different’ means ‘better’.” For that remark, you accused me- not without justification or amusement- of being small-minded and smug. It took me a while to realize that you were right and I was wrong. As per usual.

As I write this, I have to wonder-- why do we remember the things we remember? Not that all I’ve retained of our time together are bus rides and bite-sized arguments. My theory is that people, emotional masochists aside, tend to just recall things that won’t sting too much, that are easier to think about or explain, given time and distance.
You know, once in a while, I’ll start to remember something; a scene will start to fade into view. An evening in a dimly lit club, with a live band and oblivious waiters. An afternoon in a vacant office, sunlight slivering through closed blinds. A morning meeting in Mini Stop. But before the two of us walk into the frame, before the audio comes on or any sort of action begins, I’ll stop, I’ll shut off the film reel in my mind, because I know that watching those particular memories is not going to do me any good. Quite the opposite, in fact.

But I can think of you and me on a bus and t doesn’t hurt, it’s even pleasant, to remember you sitting next to me, occasionally resting the side of your head on my shoulder; to remember the chill of the air conditioner, the juddering motion as we sped through the evening, the look-at-me graffiti scrawled on the seat in front of us, the grime-blue and sick-green bus tickets folded and jammed into the gaps of that same seat, even the incessant and annoying pseudo-techno medley that almost always serves as the official soundtrack for Metro Manila buses.

I recall how the urban landscape blurring past our bus window would give us endless fodder for conversations, inane or otherwise. Remember that little store called “Manly Mart,” in Cubao, just across the Araneta Coliseum? We wondered: did you have to be Manly with a capital M to shop there? Would they bar scrawny nerds at the door? Or was that where one went purchase men? Then there was the time we were stuck in traffic on East Avenue, and you told me about the day you visited a friend who was confined at the medical center there, about the feeling of desolation the place gave you- the depressing green tiles on the hallways, and the constellations of cigarette butts that you could see from your friend’s hospital room window, spread out on the blackened rooftop of a lower floor.

And one time, instead of the usual techno-dreck, the bus we were riding was playing ‘80s hits on its sound system. This started us on a conversation that encompassed our high school years ( the unsurpassed cruelty of cliques and certain teachers), our most embarrassing hairstyles ever (frizzy and poodle-like, in your case: a mullet, in mine) and of course music. “Turn Back the Clock,” that sappy nostalgic tune, started playing, and I got absurdly sentimental. It occurred to me that even though we had been out for a few months, we didn’t have ‘song’ yet to call our own. I remarked upon this fact. You remained silent. And when I remarked upon your silence, you said “I’m holding out for a better song.”
I could hardly blame you. Unfortunately, it was too late; the concept, and the moment, stuck, and from that point on, whenever we heard “Turn Back the Clock” somewhere- in a mall, or on classic flashback nights on the radio, we would look at each other and grimace affectionately.

And almost always, on these bus rides, I would tell you about my latest daydream, my latest idyllic scenario involving us. I was always dreaming up situations and setups where our being together was not so difficult, where your parents did not hate my guts and regulate our meetings every step of the way, where your friends and mine were more understanding and accepting of what we had, where our lives seemed to be heading in the same direction. Foreign lands, desert islands, even alien planets or other time periods might be involved in these scenarios. You said that you always liked hearing me described them, and I was only too happy to oblige.

Of course, our city being the sprawling cutthroat traffic-tangled mess that it is, there were times when we just couldn’t get any sort of ride at all- times when taxis would speed by, ignoring our energetic gesticulations, times when the buses stuffed to bursting with wriggling commuters. During such times, I would wish I had a car. Not that I would even have known how to operate one. “You should learn how to drive,” you once told me. “so you can pick me up, and I can wear skirts when we go out…” You leaned a bit closer: “Short skirts,” you stressed.

“That’s a good way to get killed,” I said. “Distract me while I’m driving. Like you’re not distracting me enough in jeans.”

“You’re sweet,” you said, punching my arm. (I miss that way you used to do me violence: punching my arm, pinching my cheek, pretending to strangle me. I suppose if I thought about it deeply enough, these gestures might seem more disturbing than endearing, so I’m happy that I didn’t.) “But, really,” you said, “are you ever going to learn how to drive? You’re almost thirty.”

I gently reminded you that I was several years away from turning thirty, and called into question your arithmetic skills. I received another punch in response, just as I thought I would.

I wonder if you’d be amused to learn that I know how to drive now. I drive a beat-up box-type Lancer that’s almost as old as my sister, who is no entering her freshman college year in La Salle. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I don’t suppose I’ll ever ride a bus in Metro Manila ever again. To me those careening hunks of metal no longer represent cheap rides to Galleria. No, they are now The Enemy, who must be outmaneuvered, outfoxed, overtaken.

Sometimes, though, when I’m on the road, I’ll pass an air-conditioned southbound bus, and wonder if you’re on it. I just know that one of these days, I’ll be drifting , and wondering , and that same bus I’m wondering about is going to take advantage of my being distracted, and slam into me and crush me like a beer can.

When that happens, I can only hope that you actually will be on that bus, and you’ll rush down, and while my blood slowly stained the asphalt underneath me, you would support my injured neck and I would sing you a few line of “Turn Back the Clock,” and tell you my latest daydream about us, the one where we meet again decades from now in an old folks’ home or a free Tai Chi session at the park and we’ll both be gray and forgetful, so forgetful that we won’t even be able to remember why we ever broke up in the first place. And we’ll get back together, our passion more fiery than ever before, and disgust our respective grandchildren with our uncontrollable public displays of tongue-kissing. “It’s easier when you don’t have any teeth anymore,” we’ll explain.

Yeah, I know. It may be time to seek psychiatric help.

Anyway. Would you even still be riding a bus, these days? You always told me about how you wanted to buy me a pickup truck with automatic gear-shifting once you had the money. I wonder what you’re doing, if you’re still doing freelance film editing, or if you ever got that producing gig at that local cable channel. That’s one of the things that bother me the most, not knowing what’s going on in your life. Not that I should care anymore, I suppose.
Believe it or not, I finally got a regular job. I finally put my Chemical Engineering degree to some use, sort of. I was hired to work on the supply chain of a big multinational company that manufactures such life-essentials as potato chips, paper towels, and deodorants. My position requires that I travel around a lot- to meet customers, to discuss their orders, to inspect the workings of factories and to attend seminars as such. I’ve been to Thailand, India, and Singapore, and that was just this year. I have eaten at the McDonald’s franchises of seven-plus nations. I’ve seen that Taj Mahal (It’s not so great.)

It’s never quite real to me, all this going to foreign lands to meet with various important people to discuss armpit roll-ons. I hope my immediate superior never learns how truly detached I am from what I’m doing. She sees each inflated order as a challenge, each tiny loss of market share as a personal affront. I can’t say I feel the same. You know what I do like about my job? The airports, and the plane rides. It’s nice to buy magazines or books you wouldn’t normally buy, just because you see them on the shelf of an airport newsstand, while you’re waiting. And it’s also nice to be a passenger again once in a while, to let somebody else worry about how to steer, how to get me where I’m going.

It was on a trip to Singapore that I picked up this issue of Discover magazine, and read about Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal. It seems that- based on the idea that an array of separate big bands erupted from a primordial dense-matter state- Rees proposes that our universe is but a small, isolated corner of what he terms that multiverse: an infinite variety of universes, each with its own distinctive characteristics. “For example,” the article said, “one universe might feature six dimensions, another universe could have ultraweak gravity.”

If there is an infinity of universes, I thought, leaning back in my padded airline seat, then there might be an infinite number of worlds that are just like ours, save for some detail niggling or important, like a lost president or a different-colored sky. I closed my eyes. Anything one could imagine might be possible. I thought about you. Given an infinity of earths, all of the daydreams I ever made up about us are true, somewhere.
I thought of our time together, of how brief and bittersweet it was. I didn’t tell you something important, then. I guess it’s too late now, but it’s something that occurred to me only after we parted ways. I thought- when I was with you, I was content to just sit back and enjoy the ride, as it were, because the ride was so pleasant. And maybe that was the problem. Neither of us ever learned how to drive, if you’ll forgive the analogy. And I’m not even sure if we got on the right bus, if we were headed the right way. We were happy enough to be travelling together- to be passengers-and we never figured out who was driving.

But what does it matter? Maybe that’s all we’re meant to do, enjoy the trip while it lasts. Maybe luck or faith are the only things that keep us from delays, transfers, fatal crashes.

What if, against all the laws of probability, you happened to be on that plane bound for Singapore too? What if you had walked up that aisle, and taken the seat next to mine? What if you had asked me, then and there, what my last and fondest daydream about the two of us was, what fresh possibility I envisioned that day as I sat in the plane and looked at the clouds through a little round-cornered square of glass? This is what I would have told you:

There is an endless road somewhere, and on that road speeds a hand-me-down rattletrap bus on an endless trip, and somewhere near the back of that bus, you and I are snugly squeezed into one of the two-seater benches, with you next to the window and me next to the aisle, holding hands like schoolchildren, talking, occasionally smiling at each other, looking like we will never let go.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Of Feminism and Other Desires

At times Clara would accompany her mother and two or three of her suffragette friends on their visits to factories, where they would stand on soapboxes and make speeches to the women who worked there while the foremen and the bosses, snickering and hostile, observed them from a prudent distance. Despite her tender age and complete ignorance on matters of the world, Clara grasped the absurdity of the situation and wrote in her notebook about the contrast of her mother and her friends, in their fur coats and suede boots, speaking of oppression, equality and rights to a sad, resigned group of hard-working women in denim aprons, their hands red with chilblains. From the factory the ladies would move on to the tearoom on the Plaza de Armas, where they would stop for tea and pastry and discuss the progress of their campaign, not for a moment letting this frivolous distraction divert them from their flaming ideals. At other times her mother would take her to the slums on the outskirts of the city or to the tenements, where they arrived with their car piled high with food and with clothes that Nivea and her friends sewed for the poor. On these occasions too, the child wrote with forminable intuition that charity had no effect on such monumental injustice. 

Out of all the books I have read, this remains one of my most favorite passages. I have always had a soft spot for the bourgeois woman who has her own soft spot for the poor, and do something about it. I guess it's because it reminds me of my own convictions and the way I am. I was born in a relatively well-to-do family, with a slightly conservative mother but utterly liberal father, which is the background of most of Isabel Allende's heroines. 

My lover compares me to Scarlett O'Hara because of the fire of my soul and the drive for perfection that consumes me, and at times even maddens me. With all due respect, and with the love due him, he is wrong. I do not want to be compared to such a Southern belle with no heart for anybody, not even the man who had doted and loved her without so much as appreciation from her. I see myself instead as an Allende heroine--perhaps Clara the Clairvoyant or Alba Trueba, or maybe  Eva Luna of the many stories. I am a rebel, true, but not one without a cause. Why do you think, dearest lover, why do you think I am in law, fighting nail and claw to remain? What do you think I ask the God of this Universe in my heart of hearts? I want the wisdom to pursue true justice. Law is one sure way to the pursuit of this dream. (Of course you're welcome, dear heart, to share the road with me, as we also share the same goal. But that is another story.)


Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. Translated from the Spanish by Magda Bogin. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Secretary of National Defense vs. Manalo G.R. No. 180906, October 7, 2008

Facts: The brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo, farmers from Bulacan who were suspected of being members of the New People’s Army, were forcibly taken from their home, detained in various locations, and tortured by CAFGU and military units. After several days in captivity, the brothers Raymond and Reynaldo recognized their abductors as members of the armed forces led by General Jovito Palparan. They also learned that they were being held in place for their brother, Bestre, a suspected leader of the communist insurgents. While in captivity, they met other desaperacidos (including the still-missing University of the Philippines students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan) who were also suspected of being communist insurgents and members of the NPA. After eighteen months of restrained liberty, torture and other dehumanizing acts, the brothers were able to escape and file a petition for the writ of amparo.

Issue: Whether or not the right to freedom from fear is or can be protected by existing laws.

Held: Yes. The right to the security of person is not merely a textual hook in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution. At its core is the immunity of one’s person against government intrusion. The right to security of person is “freedom from fear,” a guarantee of bodily and psychological integrity and security.
To whom may the oppressed, the little ones, the desaperacidos, run to, if the Orwellian sword of the State, wielded recklessly by the military or under the guise of police power, is directed against them? The law thus gives the remedy of the writ of amparo, in addition to the rights and liberties already protected by the Bill of Rights. Amparo, literally meaning “to protect,” is borne out of the long history of Latin American and Philippine human rights abuses—often perpetrated by the armed forces against farmers thought to be communist insurgents, anarchists or brigands. The writ serves to both prevent and cure extralegal killings, enforced disappearances, and threats thereof, giving the powerless a powerful remedy to ensure their rights, liberties, and dignity. Amparo, a triumph of natural law that has been embodied in positive law, gives voice to the preys of silent guns and prisoners behind secret walls.

(This digest is not meant for Constitutional law. Rather, this is written in fulfillment of an assignment in Legal Philosophy.)