Talking to Tony

Not counting in the Tony I live with, I know over a dozen other Tonys.

One of them is my neighbor. He sat across me at one of the dinner tables at a mutual friend's birthday celebration last night. We talked shop—beginning with the day he and his wife welcomed my family to the neighborhood, to our children now all grown-up with families all their own.

Then as sure as night follows day, our conversation moved to illnesses and medication. This Tony is an engineer, but sounds like a physician. He knows all the medical terms of his physical infirmities and the generic terms of his prescribed medicines.

He's suffering from gazillions of ailments—diabetes and all its complications, a knee injury that may soon need surgery, failing eyesight due to cataracts, and a hearing impairment from loud gunshots during shooting practices in his youth.  His most fervent prayer request is to live four more years for his 50th wedding anniversary.

He now goes around the mall in a wheelchair, but can still do chores like hosing the plants in his garden, which is where I see him when I do my walks early in the morning.

After that sumptuous party meal, falling asleep for me was easier than usual. By 8 PM, I was all zonked out. Then at around 12 midnight, I woke up with a nagging ache in my right hip.

Kidneys! Exactly like Tony's graphic description of kidney pain.

My tummy did a somersault. Acid reflux! The symptoms are exactly as Tony described them as well.

I tossed and turned, counted my blessings, but couldn't go back to sleep. I tried to rub on liniment over my kidneys and drank hot water for my acid reflux. Nothing worked.   
So now I am on my computer, my panacea for everything I feel. One blog might lull me back to sleep.

Thank God for Tony—not the ailing neighbor, although I thank God for him, too—the one who's now sleeping like a log in my bed, nights are not always like this. He gets me occupied with challenges that keep my mind off my errant imagination or hypochondria.  

He has taken to occasional nagging these days (“You forgot to turn off the hallway light.” “You have to charge your cellphone.” “Take your bath now before it gets too cold.” “How come your son isn't home yet?” “You're eating that for breakfast?!.” etc.), but he talks not about kidneys and tummies but about the latest juggernaut in the current book he's reading.

He also always (!) has an opinion on current events, issues—local, regional, international—and always (!) defends a side with the verbal passion and language of a young activist.

Hey, the pain in my kidneys has eased, and the acid in my tummy has calmed down. I just might take that oft-postponed blood lab test—first thing next week.

I think Grace is singing me a lullaby; I'll go back to sleep now. Good night. Rather, good morning!


Intense Ike

If you're looking for an example of a young over-achiever, you should meet my student Ike*. Everything he does is an overkill.

When I assign the class to write an email, he writes three versions, and also turns in a whole discourse on how email came to be. 

He reminds me of Auguste Rodin's “The Thinker,” that bronze sculpture which is cast in over 25 multiple versions (plus many more in various sizes) and is strewn around the world. This must have been modeled by the likes of Ike.

I am not ratting on Ike; in fact, I feel privileged to have a student like him who takes me seriously—so seriously he spends sleepless nights on a project.

“Do you ever sleep?” I asked him once. 

“Sometimes,” he replied.

“Enjoy what you do. Otherwise, you're headed to . . .”

“Burn out,” he finished my sentence. “How can I enjoy what I do?” he asked.

That was the hardest question asked of me, next to, “What do you enjoy more, reading or writing?”  

“I like working as hard as you do,” I said, stalling for time. “In fact, I can write non-stop from morning till night, but I feel great doing it. What do you enjoy doing?”

“Sports,” he said. “Running and basketball.” 

“These make you happy? Very happy?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed with a ghost of a smile.

“Do you feel the same way when you do your projects for my class?”


“Try to figure out why you go beyond what is required,” I said. He compensates for my students who turn in haphazard work.

“I want a grade of D,” he said frankly. (D is for distinction, the highest grade one can achieve in the university where I teach.)

“Well, a D is forthcoming,” I said. For effort and intensity, I thought. 

“It is?” He seemed shocked, but couldn't keep a grin from breaking.

“I am here to help—find time to consult me before turning in your work,” I said.

Your grammar is faulty and your work is not thought through, these I said silently until these words came out of my mouth, “Ike, I appreciate your walking the extra mile. But I suggest you focus on just the requirement, instead of doing more. You'll have more time to make it better, I promise you.” You'll have more time to sleep, too.

Then I added a cliche for good measure, "Quality, not quantity."

Ike allowed himself a toothy grin, easing up a little. He heaved a sigh of relief, as though waiting for that bit of reassurance.   

We do need to be reassured about the things we do. That's why God reassures us again and again that His grace will always help us. In Hebrews 4:16 (ESV), “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

I get a serving of this grace every time I talk to Ike, and I hope he does, too, when he talks to me.

*Not his real name


When the Earth Shakes

The earthquake of 7.2 magnitude that shook, and is still shaking the Visayas this month, made me fully understand what verses 1-6 in Psalm 19 mean.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.

All we need is gaze up and see the most awesome scenes poets and astronomers (with their loftiest thoughts, words, and metaphors) have tried to describe, but have fallen short. 

The clouds of endless forms, the tranquility and turbulence beyond and below them, the brightness of day through a sun, the shimmer of night through moons and stars—they have no words, but every single second, hour, day, they declare the glory of God.

This mute, continuing testimony is a declaration of the loudest kind, and yet they have no words.

How can there be no God?

And then we look down and the earth shakes. It cracks, it breaks. Giant, man-made buildings, bridges, roads, and homes crumble to the ground in seconds. The treasures of nature—hills, trees, fields, and rocks—they split wide open, changing the landscape.

We are powerless against the wrath of nature; we can all turn to rubble; everything we have ever built and horded can be buried in soil.   

Like the heavens, the earth and everything in it have no words, but when it shakes, it speaks—in the clearest manner—of the power of the same God who created the spectacle of everything above us.

According to the late Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers of all time, “The message of the heavens and the earth is not addressed to our ears and not uttered in sounds we are familiar with.The message is for our eyes and heart.”
Their testimony is for every man. Now that the land we stand on is still shaking every so often with hundreds of aftershocks, we continue to pray for safety, comfort, sustenance, and protection.
Spurgeon explained, “Nature's words are like those of the deaf and dumb, but grace tells us plainly of the Father.” Yes, it tells us boldly of the Father whose glory the heavens declare.

These are the current quake's silent but jolting speech:

In the silence, we hear power, glory, majesty, sovereignty, and dominion over all creation.

Only when we open the Scriptures does God speak to us in words.  

How can anyone play deaf to the presence of God?

Photo credits


A Perfect Date

Stretch limo . . . formal suit and gown . . . a long and winding road . . . perfume . . . posh resto . . . a table for two . . . violins . . . dim lights . . . gourmet food . . . fresh flowers . . . sweet nothings.


Tony decided to join me in my plan to hitch a ride with JR who had a client call in Divisoria, a shopping district that sells everything at wholesale, dirt-cheap prices.

For me, a small brand-new car (JR's) could rival a limo . . . shorts and  thongs . . . a chaotic melange of hawkers, tricycles, delivery carts, pedestrians, and garbage trucks on a stretch masquerading as a five-lane road stopped and assaulted us with stench every inch of the way:

We entered the old Tutuban train station, still stately but has lost its old glory . . . JR hurried to his meeting and we squeezed into a crowded table at McDonald's to quiet our irate tummies . . . munching on burgers and fries, I glimpsed plastic flowers in a kiosk nearby . . . shouting was the only way to have a conversation over loud rock music and shoppers' chatter. It was nine AM.   

“What time do we go home?” Tony yelled.

“After JR's meeting!” I yelled back.

“What time?” 

I shrugged. Law firms are paid by the hour so who's counting?

The stalls had everything—from can openers to curtains. Up and down escalators, we visited every stall, twice, thrice, slogged through mud outside, bought the trimmings I wanted for my Christmas tree, and before noon, I was done.

“Has JR called yet?”


We headed to another crowded diner for lunch. Re-visiting again the stalls later, Tony found the Hawaiian shirt, the six-pocket shorts, and the bag for his tablet he couldn't find anywhere before that date. They were being sold for a song but he haggled anyway.

Eureka, we found Randy McDonald's bench vacant! My date took a nap while I took in more stores. 

More hours, aching feet and back later, Tony asked, “Has JR called yet?”


So we squeezed into another crowded coffee shop and parked our whining bones. 

“Has JR called yet?”

“Nope.” It was the longest time Tony and I were in one shopping place together. Rather, it was the only time Tony went shopping with me.

When nightfall arrived, we had to have supper at another crowded diner. With my spoon midway between my chest and mouth, my phone rings. The driver says, “JR is waiting for you in the car.”

That was the perfect call. Grace came to end a perfect date.


We plan to do it again. Let me change that; I think I want to do it again. There's a fat 1% chance it'll be another perfect date.


What Color Am I?

Color has played a big part in our political scene.

During campaign time, parties become brands; they choose a particular color to distinguish them from other brands. Red, yellow, blue, green, purple, orange—each for a political party or a candidate. 

This color phenomenon was birthed when Ninoy Aquino, then a political exile in America, came home and was killed at the Manila International Airport (now known as Ninoy Aquino International airport).

For this grand homecoming of Martial Law's most vocal foe, people tied yellow ribbons all over. Taking off from the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” pro-democracy Filipinos tied yellow ribbons not just around tree branches but around their car's antenna or anything that resembled a branch. Metro Manila blossomed with yellow ribbons.  

In the next three years, yellow would be the color of protest against the dictatorship. And yellow became the color of people power and those associated with it: yellow is the color of our president, PNoy; yellow army is how his supporters are called.

Today, there are issues on grand-scale corruption, involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) handled by our law makers. Nicknamed the PDAF scam, it has stoked anger among tax payers, prompting them to mount an anti-PDAF campaign at the Luneta.

I attended that massive rally, together with an estimated 200,000 people of all political colors. Result: PNoy suspended the PDAF; the Department of Justice and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee are conducting investigations and inquiries into the issue; the alleged facilitator of the scam, Jeanette Napoles, is in jail awaiting judicial process, etc.

Because the scam involves moneyed and powerful politicians, who can manipulate the hysterical media, the issue has morphed into a dozen derivatives. A second rally was mounted: anti-PDAF; “oust PNoy, he's involved”; down with the government; close the senate and congress; damn the Philippines.

This rally, which became a clash of colors instead of being united against one issue, I skipped. About 3,500 people attended it.

So what color am I?

One of the organizers of the Million People March at Luneta, Peachy Rallonza-Bretana (who disagreed with the multi-intent of the 2nd rally), captured my thoughts on FB through a poster by Betty Abrantes.

(English translation: I am not yellow. I am not green. I am not red. I am not blue. I am not orange. I AM A FILIPINO. This is my color.)

On the issue of corruption, my color is Filipino.

As such, ranting and raving are out of the question. Instead, I pray for grace to help my color live these verses, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;  for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

May every Filipino who dons this color be granted this grace.


Who Killed Kae?

Death of a loved one is not something you can put behind you—ever. The ache will dull in time, but it stays; it throbs intensely on some days and faintly on others.

I've had my share of deaths in the family—son, father, mother, mom-in-law, dad-in-law, aunts and uncles, and many more. It is like being trapped in the darkest cavern, not knowing how to get out. But grace pokes a hole into the darkness and light streams though.

That's why I am on the same page as Kae's family, especially because of the manner in which she left us all.

The crime has been neatly tied up by the NBI, case closed, punishment will come to the cheap thugs who murdered her. But it is precisely the neatness of the wrap-up that perplexes us—those whose lives Kae touched at one point in her short journey.


That word brings us to how the NBI re-enacted the crime. So neat that we, Tony Calvento (veteran columnist and broadcast journalist) among us, question:

“Random act of robbery.” Why leave Kae's engagement ring and watch intact? Why not just run off with her car and its contents instead of dragging her into it? Why ply a gated subdivision, risking the guardhouse, instead of prowling through main streets for victims? Why kill her with such passion? Why burn her car instead of selling it for a sum?  

Reading similar questions on FB's “Justice for Kae,” a wall administered by Kae's loved ones, is like dredging the deep pain they already feel. But questions need to be asked; the investigation leaves gaps even an amateur sleuth can see. 

Digging up the truth worsens the torment, but I think that in our search for justice, grace will help us bear it all, so the mastermind/s can't go scot-free, laughing all the way to bank with 2.5 million pesos. 

Where is justice for Kae?

This reminds me of the Lord's admonition to the Israelites, which might well be His admonition to the NBI and the police—and the perpetrators of this unconscionable murder:

“You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:19-20)

Lord, help us find justice for our dear Kae. Help us have Your “gift of land.”

Photo credit: FB Justice for KAE


The Indies

Four out of the five independent films were great; however, they were 10 minutes too long, which kept them from moving up to excellent.

That, in one sentence, is my personal review of the films we chose to watch on the last day of Cinemalaya 9 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines this year. The 5th one, which I will not name, should not have been filmed.

One day in a year, my sons, close friends, and I make time for indie films during the week-long Cinemalaya Festival. It's a time for re-connecting with old friends, supporting the film industry, and seeing life the way it is.  Indies show us the harsh realities of life which we gloss over the rest of the year.

Through five to eight films (including shorts), we zoom into the world we live in—in the raw, uncloaked by showbiz glitz.

This year we waited for the last day, after all the reviews had come in, instead of the first, which had been our tradition.

What we missed were speeches of the directors and producers and photo ops with various cast on opening night.

What we gained were the picks of the lot—noteworthy films that won most of the recognition on Awards Night.

“Great” indeed would be the adjective I'd stick to for four of the films: Transit, Babagwa, Ekstra, and Quick Change. Casting, acting, cinematography, directing, and over-all impact, two thumbs up.

Again, my only beef is the extra “10 minutes” that made each film drag in parts. Had the editor cut a few seconds here and there in some scenes, the flow and tempo would have been crisper. 

For instance, there was that scene where the camera followed the actress all over the room and into the bathroom . . . that scene where the players walked from one end of the river to the other . . . those scenes repeated a few times to make a point, but still had the same length each time . . . those prolonged explicit sex gymnastics.

Our collective thoughts: these drawn-out scenes had nothing spectacular to say further, except to hold the plot at a standstill, so why dwell on them?

Long scenes are not new in cinema, but the exceptional films that employed this technique had something important to dramatize, adding texture to the over-all concept (Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa are famous for those).

My “10-minute” discontent notwithstanding, I remain a viewer of Cinemalaya—it adds dimension to the arid and cruel landscapes of life that remain so because grace is ignored or unrecognized.

I hope to learn more in year 10 next year. 


Throwback Thursday

This photo was unearthed from an auntie's (the lady with the "x") old album, and sent via email to our clan e-groups. My nephew, Mutch, who lives in the US, considered it an irreplaceable treasure and had it restored and enlarged.

What would have been unthinkable in the past is now a cinch to do. Courtesy of modern technology, here's the photo we have today:

It shows my maternal grandparents and their nine children, taken way before the third generation (mine) came to be. My mother (third from right, second row), seventh in the order of sibling succession, must have been in her twenties.

We bring the framed photo to our yearly reunion, now on its 69th year.

Growing up, I had the privilege of receiving counsel and learning important values from them before they all went to glory, and probably now singing old hymns of worship at Jesus' feet. 

Funny that Throwback Thursday (hashtag #TBT), an invention of social media users of this generation, can make people of bygone times scramble for photos of yesteryears and connect the ancient humanoids with the modern cyberoids. 

This trend has caught on, and some netizens have expanded the content of TBT to include songs and videos from the past.

There can be no telling where grace will continue to take me as I grow in years—but now I can quickly shuttle between then and now with clear, sharp photos such as this, and make the link between roots and wings.