Sunday, October 24, 2021

Nas Academy Formally Apologizes to Whang-od and Reconciles with Buscalan Community

Everyone can now say farewell to the Nas Academy and Whang-od controversy. The two camps have buried the hatchet. So it seems. On October 24, representatives from the online learning platform which was founded by the vlogger Nas Daily made a formal apology to Whang-od and her Butbut community. The meeting was held in barangay Buscalan in Tinglayan, Kalinga. Also present at the affair are officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples - Cordillera Administrative Region (NCIP-CAR) who arranged the meeting.

A feast was held and all parties partook as a symbol of the successful reconciliation.

If you recall, back in early August, Nas Daily and his online academy were bombarded with criticism when Whang-od's niece Grace Palicas tagged the academy's Whang-od course as a "scam". Palicas claimed that her grandmother did not provide her consent to the course. Because of the online backlash, Nas Academy immediately took down the course and released a statement saying that Whang-od did give her consent. As proof, Nas Academy uploaded a video of Whang-od affixing her thumbprint onto a document - the contract.

NCIP-CAR intervened and launched an investigation into the issue. They later concluded that the tattoo artist did not consent to the course. The commission said that Nas Academy did not fully explain or discuss the provisions of the contract to Whang-od. The validity of Whang-od's thumbmark on the contract was also questioned by the commission.

Through Kalinga Congressman Allen Jesse Mangaoang, the Butbut elders requested that the erroneous contract be declared null and void. Nas Academy's legal representatives affirmed the request.

In a statement released after the meeting, the NCIP stated that "it was good that the Nas Academy came over to convey their apology to the Butbut ICCs/IPs of Buscalan regarding the misunderstanding among the company, community, and Whang-Od family." "The community through their elders thanked the Nas Academy for their sincere apology and requested that for the next time, they must follow the procedure since the art of tattooing is not practiced by the Butbut ICCs/IPs alone", the statement added.

For their part, Atty. Joji Alonso, a member of the Nas Academy legal team, promised that Nas Academy will always strive for truth and fairness in all their endeavors.

File photo courtesy of Kayleen Kwet.

Fairy Tale for the City by Estrella Alfon (Short Story)

Fairy Tale for the City is a controversial short story by Estrella Alfon that provoked a lawsuit for obscenity from the Catholic League of the Philippines in the 1950s. They condemned the story which was about a young man's initiation into sex. Many of her fellow writers rallied around her but this didn't have an effect on the court's decision. Alfon went to court and lost. She was found guilty but was given a presidential pardon in 1957.

Many believe that this experience compromised her freedom as a writer. Alfon was also deeply hurt by the fact that some of her contemporaries sided with the Catholic League of the Philippines. She was never the same writer ever since. The writings of Alfon pre-lawsuit are very different from her post-lawsuit output.

I haven't read the story yet. I can't find a copy of it online. So if anyone out there has a copy of the story, can you please send it to me via email? Here's my email address: Thank you very much.

All I can find online about the story is a paragraph/excerpt posted on the Quiapography website.

This is Quiapo now, and Quezon Boulevard is the asphalt he treads on, the church square his area of noise and people, and the rigodons of pedestrian exchange the stream he breasts and becomes part of. So many people, so many cries. Hawkers bent on warding off temporary hungers, shouting sitcharon-ale? lumpia-lumpia. Balut! Flowers make a riot of color in the balconies of the patio, and black net veils hanging from poles add a somber background note. So many people, forming sluggish streams, sluggish streams bearing the rushing griefs of so many people rushing to meet their fates or trying to escape them. Smell of the city, the fragrances and the smells of estero and azucena flowers, asphalt and carbon acrid in the sun, and lead dust from many printing presses crinkling the nostrils and tickling the throat, and the gravy-rancid-oil smell from many restaurants. A little pause brings in another punctuation: the spilled vinegar from the bottle of the sitcharon man, bearing with it the pungent smell of crushed red biting peppers, and then the cheap colognes from the bargain counters of the city stores, worn by the sweating women and the pomaded men, serving only to accent the smell of armpits heavy with hair and the pantaloon briefs of women still reeking with love. A baby toddles across the square, a woman runs after it to pick it up, and Amado recognizes also the smell of saliva dried and not completely wiped away.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Spider by Isabelo T. Crisostomo (Short Story) - Quick Analysis

This story by Isabelo T. Crisostomo won the Best Short Story Award of the Arizona Quarterly at the University of Arizona in 1957. It's a simple tale with not much of a plot. It's a story that borders on nostalgia. It revolves around a boy whose daily life revolves around finding and taking care of spiders. If your childhood included playing with spiders and having them fight on a stick, this is a story you can relate to and fall in love with.

The Characters

1. Renato - A boy who finds a huge spider (his biggest yet) which becomes his source of immense pride.
2. Edita - Renato's younger sister.
3. Victorina - Renato and Edita's widowed mother.
4. David - Renato's playmate in school.


Renato had the fortune to find a large rust-colored spider at a dapdap tree near his school. The spider became a great source of happiness and pride for the young boy. He kept the spider in a matchbox and fed it daily with flies he caught. The spider also became a source of envy for a lot of his friends and classmates at his school. One day, one of the boys, David, challenged Renato for a match between their two biggest spiders. Renato's spider easily won the match. Although his spider won the match, Renato realized that he was tricked by David. His spider got completely bloated after eating David's spider.

Renato got worried when his spider's belly failed to shrink even after days of not eating anything. He soon learned why. One morning, he opened the matchbox to check on his spider. The spider's belly shrunk but the matchbox was full of the spider's eggs. Enraged by the sight, Renato threw the spider aginst a beam where it instantly died with a splat. The scene was witnessed by his younger sister and mother.

Here's an excerpt from the story:

They left the tree he had climbed to get the spider and walked home. It was a leafy, squat dapdap tree that stood near the sari-sari store where the rod curved sharply toward the school. He had seen the spider the other day at twilight while walking home from the store and had known then, seeing it silhoutted against the paling afterglow of sunset spin its web to build a house, that is was a giant male spider and his heart had drummed against his breast with joy. The other boys, particularly David who always had the biggest and fiercest spiders in the school, would envy him for it. He knew their mouths would water upon seeing it, like - - like those of dogs at the sight of food - - and he was dizzy with joy. They would no longer tease him for keeping small spiders - - the cowardly and puny gagambang-bahay - - not anymore.

And going home, he decided to keep anyone else from knowing about his having seen it: he must get it first alone. But when he woke up early the next morning to go to the tree he found that Edita was awake and he had to take her along.

Now brother and sister walked up the bamboo stairs as quietly as they had stolen out much earlier. The sun was coming up, peering over the santol tree in front of their house, and they tiptoed into their room. Renato knew their mother was occupied in the kitchen and he whispered to his sister: "Let us pretend we are still asleep and wait for Inay to wake us up."

Photo: Matt Crane, Getty Images

Magnificence by Estrella D. Alfon (Short Story) - Critical Analysis

Magnificence is a short story by the Cebuano writer Estrella D. Alfon (1917-1983). It's one of the stories contained in her short story collection Magnificence and Other Stories (1960). It's a controversial story because of the topics it tackled.

The Characters in the Story

1. the girl - She wasn't given a name in the story. She's seven years old.
2. Oscar - The girl's older brother. He's eight years old.
3. Vicente - A young bus conductor who offered to tutor the two children on their Math and English assignments.
4. the mother -The mother of the two kids. She wasn't named in the story.
5. the father - The father of the two kids. He wasn't named in the story.

Summary of the Story

Vicente, a young man who worked as a bus conductor during the day, offered to help a young girl and her brother with their Math and English language assignments. On evenings, he would go to their house and over a huge study table, he would help them solve fractions and mull over language phrases. He also bought them pencils which were all the rage at the siblings' school. However, it turned out that there was a dark motive behind Vicente's kindness and gentleness towards the two kids. One evening during a tutoring session, Vicente tricked the boy to leave the room and then proceeded to molest the girl. The mother caught him performing the deed. Angered by what she saw, the mother slapped Vicente a good number of times and drove him out of the house. The story ended with the mother tucking in her daughter in her bed.

Why did Estrella D. Alfon title her story "Magnificence"?

I'm still wrestling with this question. But I can offer my current theories on it. Take note that Alfon used "magnificence", a noun, and not "magnificent" which is an adjective. If she used "magnificent", we could theorize that she was describing one of the characters - the girl, the boy Oscar, the mother, the man Vicente, or the father. If she had used "magnificent", I would've inferred that she was referring to the mother. After all, she was magnificent in her role protecting her children and punishing their abuser. But since she used "magnificence", I would say that Alfon was describing the mother's actions - her magnificence in protecting her children and punishing their abuser. Not much of a difference, I would say. But those are my thoughts on the matter.

What is the theme or meaning of the story?

As far as themes are concerned, Magnificence touched on several themes - child abuse, effective parenting, absentee parenting, and predation. Vicente is the embodiment of the themes of child abuse and predation. The mother represents effective parenting. And the seemingly unaffected father represents absentee parenting. Some readers suggest that the story also highlights gender roles in Filipino families - the mother is often the one performing hands-on parenting while the father is just in the background making money and putting food on the table. I can see it and it makes sense.

What's the personality of Vicente?

I find Vicente to be a bit of an enigma. He is young and he works as a bus conductor. But he is also smart. He knows his fractions and English language more than enough to tutor two grade school pupils. And the fact that he knows how to bribe and groom the two kids to get what he wants means he has a working brain. The gears in his head are working very well. He also knows that what he's doing to the kids is wrong and immoral. He cowered in shame and fear when he was caught by the mother.

What's the moral lesson of the story?

The world is not always what it seems. People are not always what they portray themselves to be. Don't give your trust too easily. Sometimes, when people are too kind for seemingly no reason at all, there has to be some motive behind it. Such a motive can be either good or bad. In the story, the motive was bad and disgusting.

Why did Alfon write Magnificence? What did she want to achieve?

Only she knows why she came up with the story. Maybe she wrote it to warn people. Maybe she wrote it to tell people to be not to trusting. This question is like asking "Why did Vladmir Nabokov write Lolita?" I can't recall if he ever said anything why he wrote a novel with such a controversial plot.

Friday, October 22, 2021

The True Story Behind Ferdinand Marcos and the Nutribun (Frequently Asked Questions)

The nutribun is often cited by Marcos supporters as an accomplishment of the late Ferdinand Marcos. They often make it appear like Marcos came up with the project. They make it look like it was a product of Marcos's benevolence. What they don't often mention is the fact that the nutribun was an initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and was distributed through their Food for Peace Program. The program ran from 1971 to 1997 in the Philippines. The program was specifically designed to combat the worsening malnutrition among children in the country in the 1970s.

Yes, malnutrition was really bad under President Marcos in the 1970s that the United States had to intervene and that's why they came up with the nutribun initiative. 

What was Marcos's role in the nutribun project?

He was the president at the time that the program was rolled out by USAID in the country. That's about it. For USAID to be able to efficiently distribute the nutribuns to children around the Philippines, they needed to partner with various Philippine government agencies. Obviously, they can't identify beneficiaries and distribute the goods on their own. They needed the cooperation of the concerned agencies in the country. The Marcos administration played a part in the distribution of the nutribuns. The question is this: Can you consider that as an accomplishment? Keep in mind that the nutribuns were donated to the Philippines to address rampant malnutrition in children which is a social and health problem that occurred while Marcos was in office.

Who developed the nutribun?

The bread was designed at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University between 1968 and 1970. The recipe was developed by a team of nutritionists and agrarian experts. The bread was specifically designed to address malnutrition among public elementary school students in the Philippines. USAID requested three features from the developers. One, the nutribun should be convenient and ready-to-eat. Two, it must be fortified with nutrients. And three, it should be easy to augment with local ingredients that can be found in the Philippines like malunggay, eggs, banana powder, and squash.

Was the nutribun successful in addressing the malnutrition problem in the Philippines?

Yes. The malnutrition rate in the country significantly decreased after the introduction of the nutribun. From 1971 to 1973, severe malnutrition among children was reduced from 5% to less than 1%. The malnutrition rate continued to go down so the program was gradually phased out. The final batches was distributed in 1997. However, there are those who doubt the nutribun's impact in curbing malnutrition. "There is little evidence . . . that present school feeding programs have significantly enhanced the physiological capacity of students," Barry M. Popkin and Marisol Lim-Ybanez wrote in the journal Social Science and Medicine in 1982. 

Did Imelda Marcos take credit of the nutribun?

In 1972, when disastrous floods hit Central Luzon, bags filled with nutribuns were stamped with slogans that say "Courtesy of Imelda Marcos - Tulungan Project". This is despite the fact that these were donations by the United States. This story of credit-grabbing was told by Nancy Dammann in her memoir My 17 Years with USAID. Damman worked for nearly two decades as a Communications Media Advisor for USAID.

Why was the nutribun program ended?

The program ended in 1997. The final batches of the nutribuns were distributed in that year. "It was phased out because the US assessed the Philippines to be in less need for food aid compared to other countries like those in Africa," said Didi Vega, chief of the Nutrition Policy and Planning Division of the National Nutrition Council (NNC).

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Go to the Polls: a Poem by Luis Serrano on Exercising Your Voting Duty

It's likely coincidence but I'd like to think that the universe conspired to bring my attention to this poem - Go to the Polls by Luis Serrano. Just recently, the period for filing of COCs (certificate of candidacy) for the Philippine national and local elections in 2022 has ended. I already have an initial list of candidates to vote for. On a lazy afternoon, I was leafing through an old textbook on Philippine literature when I came across this poem. It's a good poem.

I've never heard of the poet before. Who would've thought that I'll come across a poem about voting at a time when I'm trying to build a list of who I'm voting for in 2022. The universe works in mysterious ways.

Anyway, here's the poem. Enjoy! Maybe create a copy of it then read it again when May rolls in next year.

Go to the Polls
Luis Serrano

Go to the polls today: this is your day,
When you shall make the erring leaders pay,
With mind serene, unprejudiced and true,
Go to the polls, your civic duty do.

Go to the polls and on your ballot write,
With clear and steady hand, in letters bright,
The names of men, whom gold can never buy,
The men who for the right will stand and die.

Go to the polls—the valiant men elect,
The coward and the weak of heart reject,
Put into office men with nerves of steel,
Unselfish men who’ll serve the public weal.

Go to the polls—dethrone the demagogue,
And on your ballot write the epilogue,
To his career of graft, corruption vile,
And put in power honest men the while.

The gambler never is an honest man,
He’ll bet his country when and if he can,
The man immoral choose you never must
He’ll sell his birthright and his sacred trust.

Go to the polls, and at your heart’s behest,
Vote for the men who’ll serve their country best,
Vote for the men whom gold can never buy,
The men who for the right will stand and die.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The God Stealer by F. Sionil Jose (Short Story) - Literary Analysis

First published in 1959, The God Stealer is without a doubt F. Sionil Jose's most popular short story. It's a mainstay in anthologies featuring short works of fiction in Philippine literature. It's also one of the most studied stories in literature classes in the Philippines. The story won first prize at the 1959 Palanca Awards. It's a tale that's popular among Filipino readers because of the themes it covers and the deeper meanings it attempts to explore.

The Main Characters

1. Sam Christie - A 28-year-old American from Boston who went to work in an "Agency" in the capital city of Manila in the Philippines.
2. Philip Latak (Ip-pig) - A 26-year-old Ifugao man who became friends with Sam Christie because he worked at the same agency. Philip is Sam's assistant. Philip has converted to Christianity and embraced western culture.
3. Sadek - Philip's older brother.
4. Pilip Latak's grandfather

Plot and Summary

Sam Christie, an American, and Philip Latak, a native from the province of Ifugao, work in the same office at an "agency" in Manila. Philip is Sam's assistant and they are good friends. One day, Philip receives a message that his aging grandfather back home has fallen sick and that Philip needs to go home to see him. It happens that it's also Sam's last month in the Philippines before he heads home to the United States for a much-needed vacation leave. So he decides to tag along with Philip for the trip to Ifugao. He also plans on buying an Ifugao god as a souvenir to take back home.

After a long bus ride, the two travelers reach Philip's village and after a brief visit with his older brother Sadek's home, the two head over to the house of the old man - Philip's 80-year-old grandfather. Philip asks his grandfather where he can get an Ifugao god for his American friend. The old man gets angry. The two leave the old man's house and head back to their lodging.

On their second night at the town, a huge feast is held at the village for Philip. A ritual is held at the grandfather's house. Philip and Sam watch as the old man pours fresh animal blood on an Ifugao god. The ritual is the old man's way of thanking the god for letting his grandson come home.

After the ritual at the old man's house, Sam and Philip join in on the festivities. Sam soon gets bored and decides to leave the party early and go to sleep. Past midnight, he wakes up to Philip coming home drunk and carrying an Ifugao god. Sam confronts Philip and tells him he shouldn't have stolen the god. He adds that Philip should return it and if he doesn't, Sam will return the god himself. But Philip warns him that if he tries to return the idol, the old man will kill him.

Sam wakes up the next morning to see Philip hastily leaving to get back to the village. His grandfather had collapsed due to a heart attack and is dying. The next day, Sam is visited by Philip's older brother Sadek and is informed by him that their grandfather has passed away and that the cause of his death was the loss of his Ifugao god. Sadek also informs Sam that Philip isn't going back to Manila.

Sam decides to visit Philip at the old man's house. But Philip meets him with anger and loathing. An argument ensues. The story ends with Sam leaving the old house and with Philip making another god to replace the one he has stolen.

Analysis / Study Guide for Students / Questions and Answers for Discussion

1. What is the central theme of the story? - The story has three main themes. The first one is the clash of cultures between Sam (an American) and Philip (a native Ifugao/Filipino). The second theme is the westernization of a native Ifugao. Philip was educated in a mission school, he was baptized and Christianized, and he turned his back on the traditional beliefs of his people. The third theme is colonialism and its effects, both good and bad, to colonized peoples. It's often pointed out that Sam's name is a direct reference to Uncle Sam, a name for the United States of America. Philip's name is also a reference to the Philippines. So the interactions between Sam and Philip in the story are metaphors for the relations between the United States and the Philippines. Or metaphors for interactions between the colonizer and the colonized.

2. Is there a moral lesson in the story? - There's a good number of moral lessons that can be gleaned from the tale. On the part of Philip, maybe it's not that good of an idea to completely turn your back on the beliefs of your people and rub it in by stealing one of their gods. Getting rid of the trappings of tribal beliefs is not necessarily bad. Actually it's good most of the time because it often leads the apostate to a path towards reason and science. Leaving your beliefs is one thing. Stealing a god is another matter. On the part of Sam, maybe he should get rid of the practice of having to always take something from another culture as a souvenir. You don't always have to take something back home when you leave a country.

3. Is there symbolism in the story? - Yes, there definitely is. As I've mentioned earlier, Sam symbolizes the colonizer and Philip symbolizes the colonized. It's clear enough that the names of the characters were directly sourced from the names of their origin countries. A student once suggested that the Ifugao god can also be a symbol for something. It can be a symbol for "something" that colonizers and their subjects fight over. For example, oil, gold, and other natural resources. This is definitely a theory that is worthy of further exploration. I challenge the reader/student to read the story again and keep this theory in mind.

4. Who is Sadek and what is his role in the story? - It's clear in the story that Sadek is very similar to Philip. He has also abandoned the old beliefs of his people. Philip mentioned that clearly enough. But the difference between Sadek and Philip is that Philip is loud about his apostasy while Sadek keep it to himself. After all, he lives among a "hundred ignorant natives". I guess Sadek serves as a point of comparison against Philip in the story. Sadek is what Philip could have been had he decided to not leave his village for Manila.

5. What's the main conflict in the story and the corresponding resolution? - This is a difficult one. I had to wrestle with this a bit. If you read the story, it's riddled with conflicts most of which received their resolutions. But which of these several conflicts represent the glue that keeps the story together? I don't know. I have an idea but I'm not sure. So I'll leave it at that.