Friday, December 26, 2008


In memory of my cousin Joel.  Here is the full text of Sagada Gothic.  Still perhaps one of the best non-fiction stories I have read in my life.  A poignant story that highlights how religious and cultural differences, alienation, the pain of keeping terrible secrets and the lack of a support system could lead to very bad choices. 

SAGADA GOTHIC by Joel Tesoro

“When I walk through a cemetery I always stay away from the fresh graves,” a friend once told me. In a big city graveyard, where the sheer number of the dead grants them a kind of anonymity, such talk seems just a superstition. But in a small, misty mountain town of 12,000 people, seven hours from the nearest major city, her words seemed more like a warning.

Small-town graveyards are uncomfortably intimate. On its crosses and tombstones, the same family names reappear. Small-town graveyards have traces of presences. Pots of day-old flowers make the graves seem cared for, frequently visited. When someone in the community goes into the ground, everyone knows about the death: the whys, the hows and the legacies of it. And if the death was particularly disturbing, small-town graveyards are also where those secrets are buried.

In Sagada’s hilltop cemetery, Donni “Cadiog” Cadiogan’s grave marker did not look like any of the others. His grave was fresh, not more than a few months old. The border between the turned soil and the rest had yet to be overgrown, so a long, rectangular border could still be seen glinting through the grassy loam. And there were a couple of things that seemed off about his simple wooden cross painted with a gay blue sky and flowers. The first was the cryptic, bitter epitaph painted on the back:

“It gives you real respect for the truth when you have to clean up lives that have been based on a lie. Think about it. Donni”

The second was the span between the dates on the front: June 26, 1980 — September 3, 2002. He had died at 22, an age so young his life was barely lived.
To die at that age is to die tragically.

The town of Sagada snakes along a U-shaped ridge high in the mountains of the Philippine Cordillera. A picket-fence picturesque Episcopal compound — solid grey church, charming clapboard rectory, and white-washed hospital — anchors one end, while a line of iron-roofed houses trail down the road like upright scales on a lizard’s back. Compared to congested Baguio, stagnant Bontoc and dying Banaue, Sagada’s still-clear air and still-bright light continue to attract both artists and tourists, who think they see in its pine-clad hills and its picturesque funerary traditions a world that no longer exists, even deep in the Luzon interior.

From the other side of the cross-crowned hill above the cemetery, called — naturally — Calvary, you can see the craggy, ragged edge of a gully outsiders call Echo Valley but locals dub the Valley of the Dead. In the days before the Reverend Staunton introduced the people of Sagada to his Jesus and his Bible, the Aplay tribe stored their ancestors here in wooden coffins inside caves carved by an underground river or anchored by nails, like paintings, on the sheer cliff faces.

Isolated it may be, but Sagada has never been immune to change and progress. Although known as a tourist town and an artist’s retreat, the community’s main source of income, as in elsewhere in the Philippines, are its children working overseas, who send money to the town’s lone Western Union office to build the cinder-block homes now sprouting on the crumpled land around and above the town’s plaza. The sound of hammers striking nails or saws slicing wood reverberates through Echo Valley as often as the shouts of visitors testing the strength of their voices off the hardness of the high stone. Two decades ago, this town had neither electricity nor running water. Townspeople had to line up at the pump, and no one had a freezer. Now, in a building behind St. Joseph’s Resthouse, an office on the third floor can keep its air-conditioning switched on 24 hours, while a karaoke bar begins entertaining from early in the morning until the edge of the 9:00 P.M. curfew. Tourists have cracked stalagmites off the caves as souvenirs or have raided the coffins for morbid trinkets. And children litter the grounds of the Episcopal compound with plastic leavings.

But still, modernity seemed to have left this small town untouched enough for suicide to be so rare that it was unthinkable. Suicide wouldn’t, couldn’t, didn’t happen in Sagada. Even the rectory’s boarder, that writer from Manila, when he heard Donni’s crazed shouts echo from the valley beyond the cemetery, never thought that the silence that followed was anything more than the kid falling into a drunken sleep, or deciding to go back home to his mother and sister. And when it happened, the town just shrugged its collective shoulders and blamed his death on drugs or madness. His aunt would point out to curious visitors a black-and-white photograph of Echo Valley, and say, with a lopsided smile on her face, “There, that’s where he jumped.” It was as if, for Sagada’s old-timers, what happened to Donni was both inexplicable but yet, on hindsight, the natural end to his troubled existence.
Yet blame is never easy to pin, when it comes to a suicide. Donni didn’t fit, not even in the way the tourists, the artists or the other Sagada transients who came up here for the light and the air were misfits. He vibrated at a different frequency. He was, first of all, less than a full-blooded Sagadan. Nearly six feet tall and wolfishly good-looking, Donni cut a figure in town that proclaimed his mixed background.

Eighteen years before she returned to Sagada, his mother met an Indian in Italy. Donni and his sister were the product of that coupling. The couple settled in the U.S. illegally and raised their children in Las Vegas. In that place in the desert where, as nowhere else in the U.S., the tinkle of fortune and opportunity is both so strong and so treacherous, Donni’s mother found religion. When Donni’s father died, she brought her family back to her hometown so she could be a missionary. She dedicated herself to supplanting the spirit worship of her ancestors and the Episcopal Church which succeeded it with the fervor of her small Christian sect the name of which no one in Sagada had thought important enough to remember. Her problem was that her mission church could only pay her a small stipend; she and her children had to live off the generosity of the very relatives she sought to woo away from Sagada’s congregation.

Her children, naturally, were not raised to understand Sagada traditions, which might be wearing a pair of jeans and a tattered T-shirt but was still underneath all that the customs of the mountains. The move from Nevada to Sagada left Donni confused and puzzled. He couldn’t have known, when he accepted an idle dare and whacked a chicken with a badminton racket, that the cock happened to be a Besao farmer’s dearest possession. And that his town had to repay his affront with several pigs and a thousand apologies. He didn’t understand that his youthful swagger, so normal in America, would be so out of place in a town where age and respect required deference. Yet for the first few years, all was forgiven. He was the town’s golden boy, co-coach of the local St. Mary’s School soccer team and then captain of the basketball squad at the prestigious Brent School in distant Baguio. His wide smile left local girls going to bed dreaming one day of marrying him.

If Donni smoked dope or just drank — which he did anyway — the town might still have accepted him. One of Sagada’s main attractions for both artists and tourists is that it is a major distribution point for marijuana grown in the Cordillera. To the townsfolk, cannabis is as much a cash crop as lettuce or tomatoes. You can stay less than a day before someone will offer you a bag of pollen or a sphere of rolled hash the size of a golf ball. You don’t have to go very far; in some places, you can toke up from the hotel receptionist. With so much of the stuff, not many in town actually smoke it. Most of the men prefer to get soused on rounds of rum at Auntie Graal’s Shamrock Cafe before the bell sounds the curfew.

No one knows, however, when Donni first encountered shabu. He might have picked it up from Brent in Baguio, that school where Manila society infamously tossed their young when they were, ah, too much trouble. It might even have come to him in Sagada itself, up the road from Bontoc, just like the daily papers. However he found it, the drug soon possessed him. Metamphetamine hydrochloride. Its name seemed so lowland, so foreign — a cheap, nasty drug that makes you feel like a god when you take it and a devil when you’re down but which in the end only reminds you of your mortality.

Once he picked up the shabu vibe, Donni, in the eyes of Sagada, went from youthful hope to cautionary fable. He dropped out of two colleges in Baguio. He tried rehab, but his mother took him home before the end of his treatment. It was unclear if she did it because she pitied his suffering or because she thought he’d do better in the clear air higher in the mountains. Her motives were pure. But in Sagada Donni only got lost even deeper.

Penniless, he wandered the streets, looking for a toke or a swig from someone’s bottle. Sometimes he’d get on the bus to Baguio or Manila, and return to Sagada with no hint of what he had done or seen on his bender. He still slayed girl’s hearts — but now their mothers kept their daughters away from him. The other boys in the town thought him a little too dangerous. Donni slipped into a class of his own. Nobody stayed with him. Even the German girl he called his girlfriend lingered for only a few days before leaving the town. Without him.

He could not make long-lasting relationships with the trekkers and the tourists who came up for the hiking and the hash. But for a brief while, Donni found friends in the local artists’ community: the potters, painters and writers that, like plants, loved Sagada for its good air and its good light. Donni said he wanted to learn how to paint. One of the artists, a mutt like him — half-Filipino, half-American, agreed to teach him. Together they colored the bright checkerboard sign that hung above Donni’s cousin’s restaurant. They signed both their names underneath it.

Yet if for the townsfolk, Sagada was all about community and tradition, for the artists, the mountains were about solitude and surroundings. They had their own creativity to manage; none of them really had the time to be the best friend, mentor or parent to a young misfit the town could not or would not handle. When, how or if Donni realized that will probably remain forever a mystery. What is certain is that on a September afternoon, Donni went around to see his friends, his mentors. He wanted to bum a smoke, to hang out, to chill, to light up a doobie. His erstwhile mentor, a mutt like him but continents of difference between them, told him he was busy. Donni might then have tried other doors, other people. He ended up knocking on the door of the Manila writer at the rectory. He got the same message.

That night, Donni did not come home. He had told his mother he wanted to go swimming in one of the waterfall-fed pools around the town. She had a twinge of doubt — something tipped her off about his intentions — but there was no way she could have kept him. And sometime that night, after 6:40 PM, one of the artists who fancied herself a psychic turned to Donni’s cousin and whispered: “He’s gone.”

The next day the town sent a search party after him. The guides swept through the Echo Valley. Someone called his former co-coach at St. Mary’s to bring out his rock-climbing equipment. They found his body at the base of a sheer cliff where the cemetery ended. His handsome jaw had broken open; bones poked out of his wrist. The town’s men carried Donni’s shattered 6-foot-tall body up in silence, while the wails of Sagada’s women rang through the gully.

After Donni’s suicide, many artists began leaving Sagada. In his shaky, broken eulogy in Sagada solid grey church, Donni’s erstwhile mentor blamed the town for the boy’s isolation and misery. He didn’t need to be a star basketball player at Brent, he told them, before you would come up to talk to him. Before he left, the painter decorated Donni’s cross; the epitaph was taken from the last words Donni had written in his diary.

Since his death, the townspeople say, Donni has been scaring students at St. Mary’s, which sits at the bottom of Calvary. Sometimes he will jump into the body of a student, who for a short, terrifying moment, will act and talk like him. Although Aplay tradition bans immediate relatives from leaving Sagada after a death in the family — to keep the departed spirit company, to observe the proper rituals — Donni’s mother and sister left immediately for Baguio. One student who went to his empty house suddenly felt desolately cold, achingly lonely.
The town elders talk: The coffins on the cliffs and the caves of Echo Valley, they explain, have a certain hierarchy. Those people in the community who have passed through all stages in life, from birth and childhood to adolescence and marriage to children and old age, get to be buried in coffins placed at the border between light and darkness: at the mouths of caves, or just under the cliff overhangs. Those who did not get to reach as far in life do not have as honored position in death; their wooden coffins sit in the depths of the caves, far in the darkness.

Ghosts tell us less about the afterlife than they do about this one. Their presence only tells us that emotions can be so powerful they last long after a life is over. Emotions that can anchor a soul — like anger and frustration at one’s inability to escape, isolation and loneliness in the middle of what should have been friends and family, perhaps even regret. Regret over the consequences of folding one’s clothes in a neat little pile, planting a bunch of plastic sunflowers beside them, and taking a soaring leap into the void over a valley of pines and tree ferns, falling first through the fading light of the evening, then down through the speckled shadow before hitting the darkness at the bottom of the valley.

Before I left Sagada, I met a man from Baguio who had lived in this mountain town for four years in the 1980s. “It’s a nice place,” he said. “Just don’t stay too long.” A small town has a small culture, he later explained. I understood him. If you don’t fit — or mis-fit — in ways the town recognizes, then you are really nowhere.

For visitors like me, Sagada could always present me with that choice: to love it or leave it. After all, we have other lives, other places to which we could return and perhaps to which we could belong. But for Donni, for whom small Sagada — not Baguio or Las Vegas or India — was supposed to be home but never ever felt like it, he did not have that choice.

He chose anyway.

Thursday, December 25, 2008



Regularly scheduled programming to resume soon...

Sunday, December 21, 2008


A couple of months after Martial Law was declared in the year 1972, my mother and my aunt Patis were both checked into the maternity ward at the Makati Medical Center. On November 4, my cousin Joel Tesoro was born (above, with his sister Nina), and six days later, so was I. And ever since then, my cousin Joel and I have lived parallel lives. It seems that this coincidence of being born on exactly the same week would bind us as both cousins and best friends forever. And when I say parallel, I don't mean exactly identical lives. As we got older, we would actually became as completely different as different people could be. He was the overachiever, I was the underachiever. He went to study in left-brained Yale, I went to ultra-right brained RISD. And during a really blurry weekend (I was high, he was not) we spent together in Providence, we made this strange pact that in life, our endeavors would have to be in sync, but it was he that would be in charge of the "words", while I would be the one in charge of the "pictures".

After graduation, our differences grew even more. He maintained personal discipline, cultivated a strict work ethic, became an accomplished journalist for Asiaweek, and turned into a devout Muslim. I, however, became a hedonist, fluttered around from job to job in New York City, and can barely even call myself a cafeteria Catholic at best today. And even though we seemed to have two completely different personalities, we always made sure that we found common ground, found time to hang out with each other, and make sure that our lives were in, well, sync. And to make sure that we were, we would go on these regular crazy road trips. In 1998, we sailed through the seas of Indonesia to see the Komodo dragons and the natives of Sumba. A catalytic trip wherein we would promised ourselves that we would do a trip like this every few years or so just to look for "words" and "pictures" and keep our sanity. Two years later, we were best men at each other's weddings (he and I both meeting our wives and marrying them within months of each other) and our lives would take us to different countries. And even though we wouldn't see each other for months, once together, it was as if only days had passed. The last road trip we did was in 2003. We both took a month long trip to Sagada, where we holed up ourselves at St. Joseph's Inn just so he could finish his novel, and I could complete a series of paintings and photographs. Instead, we ended up collaborating on a piece called "Sagada Gothic", a non-fiction piece about the suicide of a young man in a small town. Naturally, he wrote the "words", and I took the "pictures".

Two days ago, Joel died when stepped off a ramp at Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok International Airport. He leaves behind a wonderful wife, Tania, and a beautiful two year old daughter named Paloma.

Today, I tried looking for that piece that we wrote together and realized that I literally lost both the words and the pictures.

And I really wonder if I could ever be capable of ever finding them again.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


It's been a bacchanalia of ice cream for me these past few weeks.  Lord knows I shouldn't be joining all these ice cream orgies all around town lest I fall off the wagon like Oprah. Just last month, I hosted the Peninsula Hotel Ice Cream Journey. It was the launch of their new ice cream combinations and a re-introduction of their old favorites like the halo-halo and the ridiculously decadent Penpals (click on this - you must). Truth be told, I have never seen so much ice cream scarfed down in one room in my life - ever. And that is not a small claim.  Click on Arpee Lazaro's coverage of the affair to see what I'm talking about.

And now, from within my own family, my weight loss attempts have been sabotaged by the FIC Ice Cream Bar in Rockwell. My cousins Joe and Yoli and their partner Joanna have come up with the evil idea of an "Eat All You Can" Ice Cream Buffet for Thursdays until January. For P295 you can gorge on 15 flavors of ice cream and toppings and for P345, you can scarf down all the ice cream, toppings, AND pastries that your little black heart desires. It's really a great deal if you want to try new flavors and experiment on combinations that you have never had before. Kids below 12 years old can also enjoy the madness at the discounted price of P200 (for ice cream and toppings) and P 240 (for ice cream, toppings, and pastries).

This craziness happens each Thursday of December from 3 p.m. to 12 midnight.  The Ice Cream Bar is located at Joya Tower, Joya Drive, Rockwell Center. Thank you Jo Poblete, Arpee and ok.wecan for the photos.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Philippines Free Press Magazine just had a new makeover and it looks promising. My friend Erwin Romulo is the new editor, my neighbor Juan Caguicla shot the cover, and another friend, Tad Ermitano, wrote the article on the American elections inside. And their new issue is timely. Right now, I myself am trying to figure out who to back for 2010. Noli de Castro?  Dick Gordon? or Bayani Fernando?  I know I'm not too impressed with Mar Roxas or Chiz Escudero as of now. And Manny Villar or Jojo Binay?  Please. I'd rather stab myself with an icepick.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


It's gonna be interesting in downtown Manila these next few days. For the culturati vulturati, there is "Bravo España!" at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theater tonight, December 5 at 8:00pm. Watch Conductor Cristóbal Halffter and Pianist Rudolf Golez play with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and Philippine Madrigal Singers. A real classy way to start the Holiday Season. Call 832 3704 for details and tickets.

And while we're on the subject of gay apparel, don't miss "PRIDE 2008" on Saturday, December 6. The Pride Parade of pixies, fairies, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders starts at 3 pm at Remedios Circle, followed by a Program and Pageant (Miss Queen Philippines 2008) at 5 pm, and finally, a street party along Ma. Orosa St. from 10 pm onwards. Log on here for info.

And after a night of partying and debauchery, cleanse those sins away by going to Intramuros to watch the grand Marian Parade. Undoubtedly the most beautiful day of the year to be in the walled city, over 70 carozzas loaded with flowers, lights, and eclessiastical statues will roam the streets of the city to the delight of all. It will also coincide with the opening of the festival grounds of Intramuros (by the clamshell). Enjoy street food, street art, folk dancing, handicraft shopping, and street music from December 5 to December 30 of this year. The enchantment starts at 4:00pm. Make sure to pass by my store, La Monja Loca (The Crazy Nun), inside the Plaza San Luis Compound too.

And of course, on Tuesday, don't miss the concert in support of the Reproductive Health Bill HB5043 at Quezon City Memorial Circle next to Philcoa. I'm hosting the darned thing from 6pm onwards. See you all there.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


OK. Right now I am in the midst of writing an article on the Manila Hilton for Rogue Magazine. It's been quite a while in the making truth be told (almost five to six months now).

I interviewed it's owners, the hotel's many wonderfully charming ladies from the opening team, and collected a cache of very interesting photos of the hotel in it's heydey from 1967 until 1988, a when Ermita was still the country's premier business address and The Manila Hilton was the center of Philippine high society.

Some have said that the Manila Hilton was the only true 5 star hotel in the City of Manila. They popularized the "lunchtime" fashion show, as well as introduced the concept of in-house art galleries, in-house shopping centers, and even a real Catholic chapel (so you could have a wedding and a reception in exactly the same venue).

And in order to get a feel of the hotel, I actually stayed overnight with my wife, Tesa. And even though the hotel has new owners and name (The Manila Pavilion of the Waterfront Group of Hotels), one room still remains as an evocative time capsule, still trapped in it's narra carved, capiz lit, polyester curtained 1967 glory.

And just for shicks and kiggles, Tesa and I did a photo shoot with some friends to try and capture the glamour and precariousness of the Cold War era. We tried to do make a pa-edgy fashion shoot without well, the fashion. We were kinda going for this architecture-as-historical-narrative blah blah.

Now, let me get to my point. The reason why I am posting this is because I need more data. If anybody out there has an interesting story, an interesting photograph, or an image of an interesting personality that stayed in the hotel. Pleeeease come forward.

I want this article to be a good one, and I am not quite content with what I have gathered so far. I especially need pictures of celebrities that stayed there. I heard that Muhammad Ali, Lynda Carter, Gregory Peck, Dovie Beams, and countless CIA operatives stayed at the Manila Hilton, but I don't have any photographic proof. Architectural shots of the Barrio Hilton by the swimming pool, and the Coral Ballroom would also be much appreciated. And any photo of Ninoy Aquino being whisked away from the hotel by the police a day after martial law was declared will get my eternal gratitude.

Hope to hear from you all soon.


My friend Katya and her family just opened up a GORGEOUS boutique photo studio/art/performance space in Pioneer Street in Pasig. It's really near PC Center and H&M. It's an amazing place right out of the movie Blow Up.  It's really one of the most glamorous performance/photo/event spaces I have ever seen in Manila. Go there this Friday.  I know I am. My friend Donna is performing.



8 PM NOVEMBER 27 (Thursay)-28 (Friday)
PIONEER STUDIOS 123 Pioneer Street, Mandaluyong City

Counting broken paths in between breath and deeply drawn sighs. Together our bodies traverse the familiar borders of an imagined territory. On the bleeding edges of time, history marks the body. What is left of the traces? As we continue to wait by the tangent of each crossing every glance, heave and exhalation carries an energy contained within. Underneath some kind of rage perhaps? Shadows catching emotions held back in favor of inertia and momentum. 

In this new piece, Donna Miranda and The Lovegangsters beg the not-so-obvious. Heeding incessant calls to shut up and dance. Yet taking the not-so-easy route of restraint whilst writing the contours and layers of its physicality. And because the most violent thing to do is to do nothing, emotions will be put aside in favor of the somber. Peeling away the veneer of myth-making that is burden of dance. Like the potter who tempers clay or the craftsman who talks to glass, breathe is tamed into form that bring silent guilty pleasures. Out of the mold we break. See you at the turning!

The Lovegangsters is an open collective of artists, autodidacts, hangers-on and talkers working in contemporary dance, sound, new media and performance. Established in January 2008 by Donna Miranda as platform to initiate creative frameworks for multidisciplinary intervention and art actions. It seeks to bring together thinkers and doers from diverse scholarly, cultural and artistic backgrounds to re-assert the practical position of art in our daily lives yet also advancing performance studies in the Philippines. It has since mounted performance projects in Manila, Yokohama and Berlin strengthening its links with the local and regional community of artists working in contemporary performance.

Pioneer Studios is a new 224 square meter boutique photo studio and events place catering
to the publishing, advertising and art+design industries.

Admission price: 500 Pesos (Admits 2 Persons)
Cash Bar: Beer, Wine and Soda

Presented by The Lovegangsters in cooperation with Pioneer Studios
For inquiries call 623 7683 or 0926 6635606


Just received this letter from a Mr. Dave from Florida, a man who used to work as a consultant in the PopCom of the Philippines back in 1972.  Dave offers a very interesting insight into how population management affects economic development.  He also presents an interesting analysis on why it didn't work in the Philippine setting.  Now remember, his experience is from more than 30 years ago.  I am pleased to know though that a few things have changed for the better since he was here in the early 70's.  Most interesting of all is that the Iglesia Ni Kristo is Pro-Reproductive Health nowadays, a huge shift from their position back then.  Photo above (Crowded Maternity Ward in Manila - Reuters).

Dear Carlos,
Why are South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and now China rich, and why is the Philippines poor? Demography is destiny. The dependency burden is the killer and the Philippines has one of the worst dependency burdens in the world.

Following is my story as a public health practitioner. When I was 36 I had lived in the Third World for half my life, in post-war Japan and Guam and the Philippines in the 1940s and 1950s, in Korea and Taiwan in the 1960s when they were impoverished, and in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and Turkey in the early 1970s. I speak from experience. Nothing I say is theoretical or academic.

I am truly saddened that the Philippines has opted to be poor due not to "foreign oppression" but to lack of demographic understanding. I have to start out by telling you that I am old, but that will become apparent as you read through the narrative. My degrees are in Sociology and Anthropology from Cornell, and a Masters in Public Health from Berkeley. My story starts in post-war Japan. I was born before the Second World War. I visited the Philippines and Japan first in 1948 as a US military dependent. In the Philippines I saw a country climbing out of the ashes of the war, at about the same economic level as Japan where I saw first hand the destructive power of the carpet bombing of Tokyo. My guess then would have been that the Philippines would be a rich country in 60 years and that Japan would still be poor. Boy was I wrong!

I was in Asia again in 1954 and 1955, during and after the Korean War, when I was in high school. I noticed then that the Japanese were very intent on exactly reproducing themselves, not overdoing it in the reproduction department. The average family at that time had two kids and they invested heavily in their children. They put all their money in making sure that their children never went through what they had suffered, and they saw that the path to success was to have two children, invest in their kids' education, get them into good jobs and that would be their path to family, community and national economic security. From my first visits to Japan in 1948 to my last visit there in 2007 I have seen a country go from flat on its back to one of the very strongest economies in the world.

From 1967 to 1972, I was fortunate to work as a consultant in two countries where the governments used voluntary programs and succeeded in drastically reducing population growth with some measure of assistance from the international community. These were South Korea and Taiwan (although Taiwan is not literally a country, but a province of China). Their achievement is best measured by the Total Fertility Rate or Live births per average woman in her reproductive lifetime. In South Korea and Taiwan we took the TFR from above 5, which implies doubling every 20 years, to 2, which is replacement level, in a generation. In each country it is now well below replacement level. We did this through massive intervention as I will explain below. I then worked in one country where we failed miserably to achieve the desired fertility reductions, the Philippines, and I can tell you why we failed.

In each country I served formally as the Information, Education and Communication Consultant to the Ministry of Health, Family Planning Division. In each country I also served informally as a consultant to the Ministry of Education, where I helped with curriculum design. I was supported by foundation money.

We succeeded in Korea and Taiwan because there was a strong government push for reduced fertility and we were able to communicate this mind-set to every citizen, including school children and young adults, grown-ups of child-bearing age, and elders. Everyone could look around their peninsula or island and say, "This is enough."

In Korea and Taiwan there was first a trust in centralized government and in the top down process of distributing government largesse. This is an artifact of the Confucian system of respect for the hierarchy. The central government, the provincial government, the county and township and village governments were all saying the same thing. There was no organized opposition from any religious organization and there was no ethnic minority saying, "we are being outbred." Children were surviving at an unprecedented rate, and economies were in transition as people left the countryside where child labor was a plus, for the city where children were a financial burden. Education was free through middle school and everyone stayed in school as long as the family could afford.

The message was clear and repeated in road signs, in pamphlets, in curriculum and on radio and TV - "Girls and Boys are Equal, Two is Enough!" This was a really powerful and shocking statement, putting the word "Girls" in front of "Boys" and saying something so patently unsupported by historical observation, that two children would be enough. The shocking statements were explained by government officials and university professors and other respected leaders telling the media that in the new era you did not need 3 or 4 boys to continue the family name, and to bring the family into the modern era, that improvements in health care and opportunities for education made the two child family viable, and that the land and the economy could support those two children, but not three or more. There were no restrictions against birth control or abortion in either country.

After my success in Korea and Taiwan I was identified as a person who could help other countries through the demographic transition, and I was invited by the Philippine government to serve in a similar advisory capacity, from January 1972. Upon arrival in the Philippines I was asked by Dr. Conrado Lorenzo, Director of the Population Commission (PopCom) of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines to report on how the experience of Korea and Taiwan might help the Philippines. Unstated in this request was the implicit understanding that there was about $50,000,000 in immediately available foreign aid that could be gotten to support a plan that would have the same effect in the Philippines as we had in Korea and Taiwan. 

My report to the Population Commission was not well received. Population Commission was broadly representative of the Philippine society with representatives from all the major government departments, including health, education, labor, social welfare, housing, etc. They wanted to achieve the replacement levels that they saw coming in both Korea and Taiwan and had brought me in to tell them how to obtain that result. They wanted to reduce the dependency ratio, the number of children that had to be supported by each working family. However, in the Philippines I was able to find 13 factors that mitigated against any such success. The government of Ferdinand Marcos was not universally trusted at every level. There were over 100 separate languages that were coded by the Census Bureau and many of these linguistic subgoups were afraid of being "outbred" by the others, particularly the politically dominant Tagalogs, who were not the numerical majority. 

The Catholic Church was against the program, as was the most vociferous non-Catholic sect, the Iglesia ni Cristo, which was afraid of being outbred by the Catholics. Child mortality was high, health care was poor in the rural areas and the city slums, the gap between the rich and the poor was growing, there were few alternative roles for women besides wife and mother, and everyone had a relative in the US or knew someone who had a relative in the US, so they felt there was a place to send their excess children. 

There was little access to any birth control except the rhythm method, and abortion was absolutely illegal. The PopCom clinics did prescribe pills and insert IUDs but the Church fought this movement through their Responsible Parenthood Council. Free education stopped before 6th grade for most, illiteracy was rampant, rural development was underfunded meaning no lights in the village, there was no adequate social welfare system to help those who did not have large families to support destitute citizens, basically life was a lottery and the more tickets you bought (children) the more likely you were to succeed.

Most telling were the responses in Knowledge, Attitude and Practice surveys in the three countries. In Korea and Taiwan most people automatically listed the keys to success in the following order:

1. Hard work
2. Education
3. Contacts (mostly school alumni)
4. Family
5. Luck

Filipinos usually ranked the steps to success in the following order:

1. Luck
2. Family
3. Contacts (mostly under the table or overseas)
4. Education
5. Hard work

My report concluded that until the society changed in every way, money sunk into family planning programs would be entirely wasted. That was not what the Popcom wanted to hear, and I was marginalized after that report came out.

Here is the crux of the matter.

In the mid 1960s South Korea and the Philippines had about the same population, about 30,000,000 and had about the same per capita income, around $1,200 per year.

According to the Population Reference Bureau South Korea in mid 2006 had a population of 48,500,000 and a per capita GDP of $21,800, and a TFR of 1.1, implying a population that will eventually fall by 2050 to 42,000,000, a population size which we may assume can be sustained at a high level of economic and social development indefinitely. South Korea has become a Developed Country.

The Philippines in mid 2006 had a population of 86,000,000 and a per capita GDP of $5,000, which is very poorly distributed, a TFR of 3.8, implying a population that will rise by 2050 to 142,000,000. The Philippines has become, in my estimation, a "Never to be Developed Country," not a "Developing Country."

Do you get the difference? Korea went from 30 million to 48 million, increasing by half, and the Philippines went from 30 million to 90 million, tripling in size. The experiment is OVER. High fertility over a long period of time CAUSES stagnation and poverty. Low fertility over a long period of time CAUSES economic growth. Having 3 or more children per woman is suicide.

China's economic success today is due to the lowering burden of a reduced dependency ratio. China has succeeded brilliantly in reducing fertility in a single generation through the One Child policy. China's TFR is now 1.6. Their population is now 1,300,000,000 and will not go much over 1,400,000,000 by mid-century. They are riding the boom of decreased dependency ratio. In the long term it is the dependency ratio that will determine a country's fate, since every added dependent above one or two is a drain on the family and on society. China is already importing Filipinos and Vietnamese to work in their factories.

With this information as a basis, can we begin to talk about effective means for solving the ongoing world population crisis? Countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh, Mexico and sub-saharan African nations still have 5 or 6 kids per woman during her reproductive lifetime. According to Population Reference Bureau the Less Developed World (without China) has a 2006 population of 4,028,000,000, growing at a TFR of 3.4, with a projection in 2050 of 6,545,000,000. That is 2,507,000,000 added mouths to feed in a world that is growing less food, catching less fish, increasing the size of deserts, losing entire fresh water sources, depleting ground water, becoming far more polluted and on the brink of swift ecological decline through global warming. That means we need to somehow accommodate an additional population of young people whose numbers will equal the entire world population in 1955. There is a limit to the carrying capacity of the planet. Are we rats? Who wants to live at the level of quality of life of the Philippine village when you could live like a South Korean or a Chinese?

Population is still the number one problem on Earth, since all other problems stem from the fact that there are just too many of us humans, and everyone wants the American lifestyle. We have pumped up everybody's expectations to an unsupportable level and now we need to face that fact. As Thomas Malthus said, "Nature will take care of the population problem in time, either through adjustments to the birth rate or to adjustments to the death rate."

So, Carlos, how do we proceed? Can the Philippines really afford not to take aggressive action to legalize and actively promote contraceptive use? I am so sorry to have seen this 60 year descent into population abyss for the Philippines when the surrounding countries went to the mountaintop in the same era.


So guys, remember, STAY VIGILANT. The bill still has not passed.  The Catholic Church is still using their bullying ways to influence some spineless congressmen. READ HERE:  If we let the bishops derail this bill one more time, it will only prove that the Philippines has no place in the developed world and truly deserves to be an overpopulated, underdeveloped, unhealthy, and uneducated nation forever. Oh, and for more on the hypocrisy and homophobia of the Catholic Church hierarchy. Click here.  

And I'll start posting lighter stuff soon...  But it's hard to do so with the debates on the RH bill coming up so soon in Congress. Really, it's the only thing on my mind nowadays.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Remember the Couples For Christ Petition against HB5043? You know, the one where they try to mislead people into thinking that the bill can send people TO JAIL just for being pro-life? Well, on a pro-lifer blog, A person named Caffeine Sparks clarifies all the issues for us on her blog. Please send this post to folks who need to know the TRUTH behind the Reproductive Health Bill.

Now CFC = Couples for Christ FFL and afterwards comes the clarification.

CFC: 1. As employers, do you agree to be compelled to provide free reproductive health care services, supplies, devices and surgical procedures (including vasectomy and ligation) to your employees, and be subjected to both imprisonment and/or fine, for every time that you fail to comply? Section 17 states that employers shall provide for the free delivery of reproductive health care services, supplies and devices to all workers more particularly women workers. (Read the Definition of Reproductive Health and Rights Section 4, paragraph g, Section 21, Paragraph c and Section 22 on Penalties)

CLARIFICATION: The bill complements already existing provisions in the Labor Code which mandates employers to provide family planning services and incentives to their employees. The labor code also prohibits employers to deny these benefits to women employees to avoid having pregnancy be a reason for employment termination. The bill expands on these provisions by mandating free RH services and commodities to their employees providing of course that employees request them (Labor Code Article 134 (a-b) and Article 137(a1-a3).

CFC: 2. As health care providers, do you agree that you should be subjected to imprisonment and/or fine, if you fail to provide reproductive health care services such as giving information on family planning methods and providing services like ligation and vasectomy, regardless of the patient’s civil status, gender, religion or age? (Read Section 21 on Prohibited Acts, Letter a, Par 1 to 5 and Sec 22 on Penalties)

CLARIFICATION: The bill's penalties are primarily geared towards preventing health care providers from refusing to offer RH services based on the client’s personal circumstances. Those who refuse to render services on account of religious convictions will not be penalized provided that they immediately refer clients to others with the same facilities. Provided also that the client is not in an emergency or serious case as defined by RA 8344.

CFC: 3. As a Spouse, do you agree that your husband or wife can undergo a ligation or vasectomy without your consent or knowledge? (read Section 21 on Prohibited Acts, Letter a, Paragraph 2)

CLARIFICATION: The bill does penalize those who refuse to perform vasectomy or ligation on a person of legal age on the ground of lack of spousal consent or authorization. Once a spouse has sought these services, it is assumed he or she has done so in consultation with his or her partner. It is no longer within the purview of the law and the state whether he or she has decided to undergo these procedures without the express consent of the partner. A husband does not own his wife's body and vice versa.

CFC: 4. As parents, do you agree that children from age 10 to 17 should be taught their sexual rights and the means to have a satisfying and “safe” sex life as part of their school curriculum? Reproductive Health Education will be mandatory from Grade 5 to the end of High School (see Sec 12 on Reproductive Health Education and Sec 4 Definition of Family Planning and reproductive Health, Par b,c and d)

CLARIFICATION: The bill endorses age-appropriate sexuality education to ensure that young Filipinos have the right information while instilling values for them to exercise responsible decision-making in matters of sex and reproductive health. Section 12 lists the main elements of the proposed sexuality education to be incorporated in school curricula. The bill does not contain specifics on having a “satisfying and safe sex life.”

The following are the general topics to be taken up in sexuality education class mentioned in the bill:

1. Reproductive health and sexual rights
2. Reproductive health care and services
3. Attitudes, beliefs and values on sexual development, sexual behaviour and sexual health
4. Proscription and hazards of abortion and management of post-abortion complications
5. Responsible parenthood
6. Use and application of natural and modern family planning to promote reproductive health, achieve desired family size and prevent unwanted, unplanned and mistimed pregnancies
7. Abstinence before marriage
8. Prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other STIs/STDs, prostate cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer and other gynecological disorders
9. Responsible sexuality
10. Maternal, peri-natal and post-natal education, care and services

So, yeah. No details on kama sutra.

Also, only teachers who agree to teach sexuality education will undergo training.

CFC: 5. Do you agree that you should be subjected to imprisonment and/or pay a fine, for expressing an opinion against any provision of this law, if such expression of opinion is interpreted as constituting “malicious disinformation”? (See Sec 21 on Prohibited Acts, Par f and Sec 22 on Penalties)

If you answered NO to any of the questions above, then you are not for RH Bill 50433. Read the bill. You will find more objecrtionalble provisions such as losing our parental authority over a minor child who was raped and found pregnant (sec 21, 1, no. 3), reclassifying contraceptives as essential medicines (Section 10) and appropriating limited government funds to reproductive services instead of basic services (Section 23).

CLARIFICATION: In accordance with the law, the bill does not curtail every individual’s right of free speech. To express disagreement or dissent against the merits of legislation is the cornerstone of any democratic society.

HB 5043 does penalize any person who maliciously engages in disinformation about the intent or provisions of the Act. This includes such acts as claiming that the bill will punish parents who, in good conscience, disallow their children to attend sexuality education class.

Now re: CFC's claim that contraceptives are ALREADY available in drugstores for everyone so the bill is reduntant:

CLARIFICATION: If you are a family of 8 living on minimum wage, family planning commodities will probably not be high on your list.

This country has a lot of things freely available on the market. Unfortunately not everyone has the economic freedom to buy them.

Fact: only 51.6 percent of currently married (and in union) women of reproductive age practice any kind of family planning (please see NSO and NSCB sites).

Fact: The Philippines has a 15.7 percent "unmet need" which means they express wanting only 2 or 3 children but end up having more for reasons such as lack of access, lack of purchasing power or lack of knowledge (again check NSO and NSCB sites).

Fact: the Philippines has the highest maternal and child mortality for a country of its level of development - and also in comparison with its neighbors.

Fact: the Philippines is 1 of 6 predominantly Catholic countries with no comprehensive reproductive health program. The rest have seen the light.

Fact: Abortion is happening whether the Church acknowledges it or not. 475,000+ annually is the conservative estimate.

Fact: Contraceptive prevalence lowers abortion rates.


Please spread this post.


It started off as a regular Sunday morning for me. The sun was shining, the air was clear, it couldn't have been a more perfect day for a tour of Intramuros. But when I got to San Agustin Church and saw one of those "We Oppose The RH Bill HB5043" signature sheets outside the front door, things changed a bit. At around ten am, near the end of my run, I saw a bunch of hastily xeroxed "coupon bond" petition papers with the words "We Oppose the Reproductive Health Bill" slathered all over the top. Right there and then, I stopped in my tracks and stared at it. And even though I have seen this petition for many Sundays prior, today was different. It seemed like time stopped and a spotlight washed over me - and the papers.  Flapping in the warm electric fan wind of the church, the list started to taunt me.  Each flap reminded me of all the years and lives that were wasted by the Catholic hierarchy's opposition to "Family Planning". Each flap was a backstreet abortion that could have been avoided if some poor mother had access to contraceptives.  Each flap reminded me of how the Catholic Church heirarchy will once again use heavy handed bullying and the propagation of lies to get their way with cowardly Philippine politicians.

And I don't know what came over me, but the next thing I knew was that I saw a pair of hands -my hands - reaching up for it, tearing it off the wall, and violently crumpling it into a wad. All this in full view of all my guests.  I was so livid, I had to take a break from touring to catch my breath.  And when the red veils finally lifted from my eyes, I realized that I felt, well, pretty good. So good that on my way home, I stopped by Malate Church and tore off the "Say No to RH Bill" tarpaulin banner that was hanging over the side entrance and ripped it to ribbons.

And you know what?  I highly recommend to anyone out there who shares my sentiments that you do the same. The act is absolutely liberating, the satisfaction was instantaneous, and believe it or not, nobody tried to stop me or arrest me.  And I'm telling you, whether it be through the bold physical destruction of the Church's attempts to interfere in politics, or the simple act of enlightening someone who blindly opposes the bill about how misguided they are, it feels wonderful to just let the people around you - and the Church itself - know that there are members of the flock who are not going to be led to slaughter easily regarding this matter.  

Can't wait for next Sunday.

Oh, and thanks Audrey N. Carpio for the lovely article on why Congressmen Should Join Facebook.

Friday, November 14, 2008


THANK YOU GAZILLIONS Forbes Magazine ( and Straits Times ( for featuring the battle currently raging in Congress about the Reproductive Health Bill (HB 5043).  And how sweet of you to give me the closing remarks.

Log onto the article here and here.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Just last week, I gave a big shout out to Marie Claire Magazine for their great three page feature on the Reproductive Health Bil (HB5043). Now, I'm shouting once again because of their generosity. Summit Media has just donated 250 copies of the RH issue (above, the one with Judy Anne Santos on the cover) that we are going to slam onto the tables of Congressmen once session opens on Monday, November 10. Hope this shows them that people are supporting this bill, that media has picked up on it, and that it's imperative that they pass the bill immediately.  

And if you haven't yet, sign the online petition now at Each name is counted and listed and sent to Congress. Spread the word.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Just because I annoyingly defend and promote all things Conyo Kid in this town, kindly allow me to plug a Spanish rock concert being thrown in Intramuros.  Standstill, one of Barcelona's edgiest rock acts, is flying into town to perform at Puerta Real Gardens in Intramuros for one night only.  So if you are looking for something really hip and interesting to do next week, forget Greenbelt and Eastwood and head out to the walled city by Luneta Park on Friday, November 14, 2008. The performance starts at 9:00pm.  And best of all, it's fricking free.  I don't know about you, but I'm going to be there.

Friday, November 07, 2008


And it's done. That little room in Intramuros I got has finally been fixed up.  After a couple of months of good ol' hard work, sweat, and spit, the hardwood floors have finally been waxed, the electricals/plumbing fixed, and of course, a chandelier hoisted up on high.  

So allow me to present "La Monja Loca" (The Crazy Nun), the gift store of Walk This Way tours.  Set within a courtyard next to San Agustin inside Intramuros, "La Loca" will sell Filipino handicrafts and pasalubong, postcards, objets d' art, tourist maps, and whatever else. I'm are also collaborating with Barbara's Restaurant to create a little cafe situation right in the courtyard itself and I'm in talks with some artist folks to hold events in there. I want the place to feel like the apartment of an eccentric personality that lived in Intramuros in the last century.  I hope that it could become the grooviest little shop that the walled city never had. Here are some preview shots below (pardon the mess and the crappy product display, I still need help setting up the store and need help finding suppliers of products - it's still a work in progress).

So come on down and check it out.  And for all you folks out there who make cool interesting Filipino stuff that could be consigned, please gimme a holler and let's try to get your stuff in there before my tour groups start crowding the store this holiday season.

3a Plaza San Luis,
Gen. Luna Street
Intramuros, Manila
0920 9092021

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Isabelle Ramos, Dodie Householder, Rosa Mia Balolong, Chuvaness, and Straydog.

Congrats, guys!  Hope you enjoy your HAPPY FEET sandals as much as I do! Gimme an email or text to claim the prize.

And for all my American friends out there, get out and vote!  I can't take the tension anymore. I have been watching CNN non-stop for the last two days, my eyes are bleeding.  Let's get this done...

Sunday, November 02, 2008


I have never met this Seige Malvar but I dig his blog.  The observations he writes on his livejournal about the pressing problems of our country are a fantastic insight into what people are thinking nowadays. It seems that a new generation of Filipinos have a more nuanced idea of what is wrong in our society and are letting word out about what really needs to be done to fix it. And who can blame him for thinking such thoughts? The status quo ain't working and the failures of it are difficult to hide. And apparently Siege realized this all while looking at a plastic bag in the supermarket... Bravo for speaking out Siege, Bravo for pointing out that Congressman Abante is an idiot, and Bravo for making sense in your own little way:  

If I were to speak in front of the United Nations right now, tonight, this very instant, I'd tell the Union, that my country's biggest, most serious, and most immediate problem is the Church.

I can change my mind next week, though. I can go back to my original stance--which seems to be everyone's favorite-- that the government and its Armed Forces is the Philippines' greatest oppressor. But for tonight, I'm very much sure of this: everything is the church's fault. Which has been for the past 500 years, if you think about it.

Read the rest HERE...

Friday, October 31, 2008


(Some said that:)
Long toe nails are bakya

Picking ones nose in public is bakya.
Speaking Filipino English... F = P, TH = D, V=B is very Bakya.

(Some asked:)
Is drinking Tap water bakya?
Is riding a jeepney Bakya?
(Meanwhile, some have loudly declared:)

BAKYA: Balikbayans who insist on making a pilgrimage to the Wowowee show

BAKYA: Modern buses labled with portmanteaus of the owners' or their children's names (like "Nimfel" or "Marsoltina")

BAKYA: Driving all the way from QC to check out a giant shopping mall, because it's new and it's big! (Never mind that it has the same retail stores as your neighborhood shopping mall.)

BAKYA: Denying that you like Tagalog movies/telenovelas, when you've got Cinema One/ABS-CBN/GMA 7 programmed on your TV remote. (Hypocrisy is bakya.)
BAKYA: Following Betty la Fea, the Pinoy version, even though you've already seen the original Mexican telenovela and Ugly Betty.
BAKYA: Insisting on a wearing an accessory or clothing that is sold in every other stall in Greenhills' tiangge. (Safety in numbers does not exempt you from being bakya!)

BAKYA: Buying every version of a gadget, in the hopes of staying current. How many iPods do you own? (Unfortunately, my husband has every single one.)

(Apparently, some believe singing along is bakya.)
Whatever other people say, to me its still bakya to sing to a one man band
curlers and hair net (meron pa ba nun?). Furthermore, a bakya house must have a Last Supper in their dining room, huge wooden spoon and fork from Baguio, those paintings of gambling animals and seven horses in the living room, Malate art,

chunky jewelry, huge logo of designer brands - although fake naman.

BAKYA: The cult of useless, dangerous (as in if people copied them, our society would be in danger), delusional celebrities. My top four: Kris Aquino, Ruffa Gutierrez, Boy Abunda, and Tim Yuck. (Note: these last four names are not MY choices, but the choice of one of the entrants).

AND THE WINNERS ARE..... Drumroll....


Doing my bit to Support The RH Bill...
Allow me to shamelessly plug and laud Marie Claire for taking a stand to support the controversial Reproductive Health Bill. Same goes for BBDO Guerrero, who created their ad campaign dubbed "Marie Claire Mouths" (above), the first in a series of Marie Claire campaigns.  I'm also delighted to add that "Marie Claire Mouths" bagged honors in the recently concluded 2008 Tinta Awards. The entire campaign brought home the Bronze in the Sports/Entertainment/Travel & Leisure category, while one of the print materials was given the Silver in the Sports/Entertainment/Travel & Leisure category for a single material.

The Tinta Awards is the first Philippine Press Awards launched by the United Print Media Group (UPMG). They aim to encourage creativity and excellence in print advertising.  Check out more of the Marie Claire Mouths campaign in the 3rd Anniversary issue of Marie Claire featuring Judy Ann Santos on the cover. Really, I'd buy it because this 3 page feature is really the quickest, most concise way to digest all the statistics and details regarding House Bill 5043.

This Monday night (Nov. 3), I shall also be on Zoe Channel 5 with Mr. Bob Guerrero to discuss the RHBill 5043.  And finally, there will be a concert on December 12 in UP Diliman to show support for the RH Bill.  Log onto the "I WILL SUPPORT THE RH BILL" on Facebook or onto this site for updates.