Thoughts, mostly mixed with personal opinion.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Hand-me-down History



I.
To make sense of current events, I have decided to embark on a strange and somewhat disjointed course of comparison of my position in faintly connected family histories. It might appear to be quite an indulgence on my part, but with no particular intention of self-aggrandizement, allow me to consider myself as someone on the same side of the privilege fence where Bongbong Marcos stands—cut from the same portion of the fabric of a struggling nation.

I was born and raised by a family which, aside from being involved in government service (two generations-long now), was part of the society that seemingly stayed unscathed during the Marcos regime. But unlike the recently famous Philippine Vice President aspirant’s clan, my family did not flourish in prosperity. During the build-up towards the tumultuous years of the Marcos dictatorship, the chief breadwinner, my grandfather, worked as a simple carpenter and construction worker hailing from a family of farmers and herdsmen in Nueva Ecija. Later during the Marcos administration he became one of the numerous construction workers contracted by the administration cronies to build roads. He manned heavy equipment such as backhoes and bulldozers, leveling hills and mountains for national roads. He toiled together with hundreds of men who, like him, only had sheer physical exertion to see themselves through another work day—a huge contrast to their bosses who exponentially prospered using public funds by being friends “with benefits” of the dictator.

Every other member of the family had the same humble roles amidst the backdrop of the tragic social divide in the Philippine society. My father—who, during his teenage years, worked as a helper at the ironworks business of my grandmother’s clan—was a young enlisted personnel in the navy. His failure to earn an engineering degree (originally sponsored by my great grandfather, who passed away before he was able to complete his studies) prompted his entry to the Service, through connections courtesy of my grandfather’s beloved military officer cousin. My enterprising grandmother who came from a family of metalsmiths and bakers in Apalit, Pampanga was a market vendor and, just like my grandfather, did not complete her formal education. Both her and my mother, to whom I owe almost my entire life to, were housewives and sari-sari store vendors during that time. My uncles and aunts comprised the young, but never unproductive, members. This was how the then growing Basco clan looked like—a barely getting by Kapampangan family transplanted in the middle of metropolitan Makati straight from the ironworks, farms, and bakeries of Central Luzon.

One can say this portion of our clan history portrays a typical lower-middle class unit. Every member’s primary motivation was chiefly survival—partly a great fault of my grandfather. He was a man full of pride who wanted no help from my grandmother’s well-off family, despite not graduating from school and having no regular source of income. He chose to stake everything and move his family to the city instead of asking for help. But despite huge economic setbacks, plus that strange mix of humility and pride running in their veins, this small, lower-middle class family managed to stay financially afloat by working hard, my grandmother, father, and all his then young siblings pitching in to keep living costs low and earning income from various sources—selling vegetables, peddling pan de sal, and even typewriting lazy students’ papers.

They survived, thank God, and I got lucky years after. I was born in 1991, the time when my father was already in the Service and my uncles and aunts were proficient in school enough to get scholarships and maintain good academic standing. That was years after the Martial Law period, and the fight for survival was slowly giving way to aspirations for better living conditions. A better TV set, for example, became a prominent motif of family discussions back then. It got stuck in our family’s collective consciousness up until now—an expensive, cable-connected, TV set became a symbol of a comfortable life for our generation of the family.


II.
I was born ten years after Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by the EDSA People Power revolution, so obviously I rely heavily on recorded accounts for information. I have had exposure to a lot of Martial Law era records and essays, mostly documented facts from books, movies, and documentaries back in college. But the most striking and convincing, for me, are my grandfather’s recollections.

1981 and the succeeding years was a bitter period for him—my grandfather used to tell me when he was still living—because of the so-called “lies” people were so eager to shove to their Marcos loyalists’ throats. For him, EDSA People Power was basically a cloak-and-dagger conspiracy. It was nothing more than a political game played by those in power, which ultimately denied him and thousands like him of a seemingly benevolent benefactor. In a visceral way only someone who lived a life of manual toil can feel, Marcos’ ouster meant to salt-of-the-earth people like my grandfather the disappearance of the great road-maker, the job-giver, the provider of relief during the years of struggle for survival. The former dictator appeared as such a perfect leader to them who had simple aspirations in life—an unfortunate case of false consciousness propagated among the members of the working class during that time. He effectively used his charisma, together with publicizing various institutional and material achievements, to give them a form of tunnel vision and make them turn a blind eye towards their convictions and morals as well as their fellows, and proclaim him the greatest leader they ever had.

One particular story from my grandfather revolves around book-burning. After the declaration of Martial Law my grandfather narrated once how he torched some of his most precious books—theory and sociology books and pamphlets, mostly—following his military cousin’s advice. It can also be said that it was chiefly because his despotic idol’s effect was so strong he was more than willing to throw away what he always loved doing. My grandfather loved reading books. He loved telling stories and discussing his thoughts, as evidenced by his enthusiasm to talk about real-life accounts and alternate histories that he believed were true to almost everyone in our family and his circle of friends. But before I learned how to think for myself and speak well and discuss with him, my father moved our family out of his house to live on our own. That facilitated my years of independent learning and growth in searching for new things to know.

I must have taken that trait from the old man. I always remember personal recollections of my mother and uncles and aunts, about how he would spend hours reading and re-reading the books that survived, particularly his beloved Bible. He would scour and read even his grandsons’ textbooks for stories and information, to know things and validate that which he believes he already knew. I distinctly remember that time when he spent a few weeks with us because of my aunt’s house construction in Rizal, in the same subdivision where we lived, which he took part in initially. I was in high school, and was just starting to be enamored by libraries. He would read the first few books I was just beginning to hoard back then, particularly discussing things he learned from an old history book, mixing fact and fiction from what he supposedly believe were true.

Other instances like this, of him talking about what seemed to me an affirmation of his own knowledge, formed part of my then growing inspiration to learn how to tell stories both to myself and other people. Hearing my grandfather weave tales from both real and imaginary history, and telling them with such passion and full trust on the material, gave the impression to me as a means of holding on to a certain form of truth. In a way, it was an anchor for a man forced to know and believe things within the limits of his material condition.


III.
I never fully understood my grandfather’s reasons for keeping his faith in the late dictator when he was still alive, and I could only hazard a guess at this point in time and for the years to come, just like how a student of theory can only put forth a reading of a literary masterpiece or artwork. Apart from the intricate deception he became a victim of, my great-grandfather’s legacy must have had a great influence on his view of Ferdinand Marcos.

“Captain Isagani”, he used to tell us, bravely lead a small guerrilla unit in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija during the Japanese occupation period. My grandfather delighted in describing his exploits which seemed to have come from action movies (with my young grandfather playing a role, of course; he loved to tell us how he acted as the secret boy messenger for his father’s compatriots), complete with a tragic ending in the infamous Death March to Bataan—the valiant Captain (who was not exactly a soldier, but a hot-headed herdsman who owned a couple of cows and horses) perished somewhere in that cruel episode of history, his body never found. His father’s heroism was my grandfather’s source of pride, and I believe this is what set the course of his misguided myth-making of the dictator.

The despicable Ferdinand Marcos, perhaps understanding that the legacy of World War II can lend anyone the benefit of trust and adulation, flaunted his supposed heroism, decorating himself with a war hero’s history in his bid for power. This deception has been proven several times already, a task undertaken not by biased supporters of any affiliation, but by experts of history. Nevertheless, this politically-motivated move naturally caused the poor men and women of that era to be misled—without access to complete fact-verification and knowledge on how to do it, backed with control over institutions like the media (especially during the Martial Law years), the people were rendered powerless over that which they can believe. And so, people like my grandfather, the children of a nation rebuilding from a war-ravaged, post-colonial situation, bought the bargain with whatever meager hope they still had.


IV.
In so many aspects that I myself am still wondering and contemplating about, the Marcos scion and I—minus the political maneuvering and furious greed for power and affluence I obviously (and humbly acknowledge) do not share—undeniably have things in common. Ultimately, what I want to highlight is our role of being important heirs of our families’ respective memories and traits, a point in this rambling comparison in which I specifically address our extreme difference.

There are a lot of things we need to unpack regarding the Martial Law era and the things that transpired during those years, things already explained coherently by more critical people since freedom to do so was restored. These we must examine with acceptance of the fact that we will always have our personal biases. But even with the baggage of our histories—our tribe and clan’s culture, tradition, and beliefs, our kin’s enemies and alliances—our desire for objectivity must always prevail if we desire to stay true to notions of justice. Consider fairness in objectivity for this, but note that fairness can be bastardized when we talk about the context of history in favor of those who are in power, invisible or not. We all know how the Marcoses have been doing these years. Our parents and their parents must have missed something really important, or maybe our generation must have done a terrible mistake of sleeping through silent but dangerous acts of historical revisionism. But the fact is that similar heirs of history just like Bongbong Marcos will continue to corrupt the history in favor his own crooked, self-serving, and deceiving legacy, being entrenched in their sins and too far away from seeking redemption.

Here, I have laid a personal account of a simple family’s history. I am but a mere legacy of my grandfather—an imperfect man who was born at a harsh time, who grew with great wanting but was denied. And it pains me, even years after his death, how limitations imposed upon him were taken advantage of by such vile corruptors of history, who turned him until his death into a hardened “loyalist”—I have always lamented knowing that such a word has become synonymous to betrayal in this context. My respect is what lies in the midst of this grievance: I will not dignify this disservice done to my grandfather. I will do my part in ending it.

I was not, like some of my friends and associates, an heir to atrocities and injustices. My forebears lived and struggled to survive, not to vigorously contend with the evils weaved into the fabric of the society they were made to cloth themselves with. I was not born and raised to take up the cudgels they did not wield, that which they did not even realize they should have. But now that I stand in the continuing portion of this history, I understand the need to take ownership of this inheritance—make sense of it, do my part in addressing the nightmares my grandfather was made blind of. And in these times when spinning chaotic threads of history is taking the same turn just like those years under the Marcos regime, cutting the fabric instead of weaving imagined histories is the only option.


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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Teeth


Had a quick X-ray and scheduled a tooth extraction around two months ago, and found out I have two more damaged teeth. I already got rid of the really dead molar I probably killed off because of smoking and heavy coffee drinking. The wisdom teeth were damaged, and would need to be plastered.

These things with my teeth prompted me to start making certain changes in terms of how I live. First, it was about overhauling our kitchen and dining place here in Rizal, and second and more important, on certain physical aspects of living. It seems easier for me to do, being financially-sufficient now. I never really bothered about the physical look of things, even myself, before, but with how things are going on for me at work and elsewhere, I think I have to pay more close attention. I never really liked trying to make things look beautiful on the outside--just them being workable and functioning smoothly is all good to me. But getting a new job role and preparing for things I'm planning to do for the next couple of months (or better yet, weeks! Imagine that, I'm almost near 25 years old!), I think I need to start already.

***

Physical appearance has always been something I am totally not concerned with, primarily because I don't really think it matters in a lot of things. Function over physical appearance appears more logical to me, and has become an integral part of my beliefs and principles. I often get a strange, uneasy feeling whenever I witness excessive attention to appearances that I have learned to just shut up and let them be--other people can go ahead and apply all the cosmetic adjustments they want and need, as long as processes, manners of working, timelines, and other important things are not hampered.

This way of thinking took deep root before I was thrust into the more important sphere of living, which is in the company of other people. Growing up, I never really had a lot of comments from my father regarding the way I look, and my mom passed away before I can take a brunt of her criticisms regarding my face or my teeth or my hair or even the way I dress. I was never at home a lot of time, and the only moments I remember being in the house where we moved in after we left our house in Rizal are during bonding sessions with my family over meals. They never really saw me dress up or anything like that, and I never received/never took seriously their comments on how the eldest grandson of the house looked like.

I never took issue with how other people looked like in return, something which I say I'm proud of. The idea of someone being physically offensive just by being seen is not something I can fathom easily; I'm more annoyed by presences of people due to the aura they give off, regardless of how they  looked, dressed, or presented themselves. In a way, it helped me interact with people who had the same outlook when it comes to appearances, and a whole lot of them are agreeable people with great insights to things.

But even if it seems like I can get away with my lax attention to appearances, the reality of living always foils my plans of living the way I want to. As I continually swam through the adult world in which contact with total strangers happens on a daily basis, the need to suit up and be as presentable as possible becomes more painfully poignant. I had to make sure I don't look like some other guy in the street because I am not--for a few instances I was the guy taking notes during the meeting of some of the highest military officials of the most powerful nation in the world, and right now I am going to function as the first knowledge source of new people entering the company I'm working for. I had to distinguish myself, but I not in the strange, non-conforming way.

***

So now I'm planning a few things, aside from working on the kitchen in Rizal. It's quite costly when I think about it, but finances is already something I can't give as an excuse now. I've been thinking about doing something on my hair, which I've grown quite long now because of the mounting cold days last year, aside from the teeth things I already stared working on. I have not enough for a lasik right now, and I can't imagine living without glasses on, so I'm putting having a new pair made in my list. And, as usual, I'm struggling with my belly. It's not something related to appearances, since I've been concerned with it from way, way back, even before I began drinking beer ever other day. It's more like something I need to cut down to a size I think is alright, like a battle with myself. But so far, it's been a losing fight.

Whenever I look back to things like this I feel like I'm being simple in the things I'm working on. That's probably the reason why I dislike talking about appearances. I believe I need to pay attention to how I and the places I live in look, out of necessity, but I feel a deep rage against the idea. The ending, of course, is this constant push-and-pull between doing my best on things about the physical aspect of lifestyle, and the carefree non-conforming outlook in life. It becomes frustrating, really, but it's a conflict I always bask in.

It's a losing fight for both sides, really, but I guess I have no choice.



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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An Update for November


It has been more than a year and a half since I started working in the private sector, and I think I must have gathered quite a few sensible thoughts and gained some particular inclination towards certain kinds of behavior throughout my stay in the company I’m in right now. The time I’ve spent isn’t that much compared to what others who got in this kind of working environment way earlier than me, but I guess one can have a go with substantial impressions just for the sake of sharing, at least online.

I must say it isn’t exactly what I thought about it before I even got in—not so evil or harrowing as it seemed to me back when I still had these premature thoughts about the corporate world, and definitely not as great as advertised in films and television. It was, as the usual response to hard-to-answer questions, “ok lang.” Once you get the hang of it, it would seem like any other thing you do to stay alive, like any other job.

It would be unfair to compare government office working environment with that of a private company, though, but there are a lot of glaring differences one cannot ignore when thinking about things like this. Efficiency is definitely one of them. Less red tape, less unnecessary permission-based and seniority-driven action. Time management, administrative matters, work assignment and supervision—these things are greatly focused on without much consideration on trivial things like age. I guess it’s because money’s being invested and earned in a straight-forward transaction scheme in this kind of game field, unlike in public offices where funds come from the entire government’s various sources, notably from the citizen’s own pockets. The drive to be on top and to perform better than anyone is because it is business, no one’s gonna give you money just because you're working. You get what you work for, so you better work well and build your experience.

This logical exchange is what probably made me stand this line of work for a while now. I used to resent putting so much effort in tasks which I don’t really get something out of, not even a meager overtime pay. It could’ve been bearable, the merits of putting a lot of work for a task well done, if not for the existence of under-performing senior colleagues who take home larger compensation but who don’t exactly match their pay with quality and amount of work. In this new environment, things like that do not exist and if they do, they get ironed out immediately. The uniformity and professionalism is pretty enticing and intoxicating.

What I thought about this through the months that I endured the night shift and bouts of deadline-driven weeks though is how I cultivated and eventually cemented this belief in a transactional approach to “work.” The idea of doing something has always been a subject I think about whenever I have free time. “Working” (defined as something we think adults do so they can give their kids some decent life) is now, for me, a chore with rewards, a total opposite of that scary thing I thought it was when I was a lot younger. "Work", on everything, even on creative output, gives back something. Not necessarily tangible like money or gift certificates all the time, but always transaction-based.

The idea must have stemmed from the seeming fact that I automatically have the lazy switch on standby. When I’m not doing something, or there’s a significant pause between things I must do, the switch is turned on, and it’s quite difficult to turn it off again. Motivation to work, then, is necessary for me every day, because if I don’t fully get in the mood, I will laze around, and I won’t be able to earn my keep. The motivation part of the day, through the past three years, occupied almost four hours of my day every day, five days a week (excluding holidays, during which I could—and  ultimately do—bum around for 24 hours), and sometimes, more than the time for work itself. I remember spending a lot of time psyching myself up to just tackle a day of speech-writing and researching, drinking coffee and just reading articles online, diminishing almost 70% of the time I should be dedicating to the actual writing.

Now, I feel like letting time slip without any work getting done in the most efficient manner a lot of waste. Since my time in my previous work was flexible but paid in a fixed way—that is, no change if I do a good job or not on things I'm assigned to/not assigned to but had to do—I gave myself the liberty to bum around and let inspiration or "work rhythm" (whatever that is) to hit me in its own time. The situation now's quite different, though. As soon as the work hours hit "start", I know I should begin with what I have to do which, most of the time, I had to organize and line up on my own.

I guess the most important take away from thinking about all these things I took note of revolves around that logical approach on work. A certain heightened sense of self-reliance, flexibility, and the resolve to do things on or before they start knocking on my moment-by-moment consciousness. Right now, it has been two months since I took a new role in the company, and frankly speaking it just occurred to me how frightening these things really mean. Functioning on my own, micro-managing myself, and stepping out of the safe and comfortable zone created by a mind conditioned to adjustable work time-frame is pretty difficult for me. I sometimes begin thinking if it was worth striving for in the first place when I find that almost everything needed something to be done, and that work never stops from being complete because there’s always a need to improve, but then I look back at all the stuff I did and I feel a quite assurance that all of this paid well, and will pay back more in time. I should just keep hitting at it without going crazy.

One can say I'm not in a bad position now. But I also fully understand that this standing—speaking as a part of the workforce, a tax-paying family supporter, and a person with different interests and values that I constantly have to balance and compromise—is, in fact, making me teeter at the edge of insanity.

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