Thursday, August 29, 2019

Calauan in 1993 (1)

“That characters deteriorate in time of need possibly did not occur to Henchard.” —from Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge”
“We are all cowards,” sighs a woman. “Cowards,” she repeats. Mea culpa, mea culpa. She is beside herself with regret, beats her breast now that Calauan, the quiet town where she blossomed into a woman, is in the headlines as the “killing fields” of Laguna, its deep, dark secrets being exhumed and brought out in the open air. She believes that something evil is abroad in Calauan.
Why has no one spoken out before?, she asks. Why did we keep silent, why did we wait until two young lives — the latest of so many this killing season — were snuffed out and dumped on the wet grass like fallen banana stalks? Mea maxima culpa.

Not all is well in Calauan. Not even after suspects have been put behind bars by bickering government agencies, not even after media has pounded the crime beat relentlessly in pursuit of the beasts and the brutes who authored the murders that once more rocked a perennially outraged nation.

Not all is well in Calauan. People there are still incredulous, similarly outraged, that their town has been tagged as a can of worms or a whitened sepulchre, and their Lord Mayor pointed to as one of the suspects in the June 28 gang rape-murder of Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of Allan Gomez, students of UP Los Baños.
The reverse of the biblical question begs asking. Could anything bad come out of Calauan’s Mayor Sanchez? Hailed by his loyal subalterns as the epitome of generosity, and from whom oozes the milk of human kindness? He who attends to the sick and the needy, and gives free burials to the poor? He who gives large sums to the Church, adorns religious images with glitter and walks on his calloused knees to the altar?

Rapist, murderer, “jueteng” lord, tax evader, womanizer. He’s been accused of graft and corruption, amassing illegal wealth, and other crimes in the book. Is Sanchez all these and more? Where was everybody all this time?
“He is like Jesus Christ,” a small woman bristles to defend her benighted, beleaguered hero. “His sufferings will redeem us all.”
“Media is lying,” says an angry Calauan resident. “How could they say all those about our mayor? We don’t believe anything the press says.” The loyalty is unnerving.
The way to Calauan is smooth and breezy. It is 75 kilometers from Manila, only an hour’s drive from where Metro Manila ends. Going toward that direction is an uplifting experience. One zooms through the south expressway, drives past Jose Rizal’s Calamba, now a bustling town, and then, it is Los Baños with its myths, mists and mystical buko pie. Bay town is a short strip to be crossed in a wink. The last few miles are a stretch of concrete that rips the wet rice fields and connects to Calauan. From a distance one can see the church — white like a birthday cake — waiting for the traveler at the end of the road.
Suddenly, it is Calauan.

Yet another story goes back to the early Spanish colonial days. In a village, so the story goes, an old man came upon a stone cross. The townspeople, who had just been introduced to Christianity at that time, considered the find an auspicious sign. They venerated the cross and held Mass and celebrations on the spot where it was found. To the people’s astonishment, water with a rusty color flowed from the holy spot. To commemorate the wondrous happening, the people built a church and named their town Kalawang, later hispanized to Calauan.
A huge portion of the town used to be a large agricultural estate owned by the Sorianos. Before the war, senior citizens recall, part of the Soriano property was planted to flowers, mostly gladioli. Manila got a regular supply of cut flowers from there.
When the bodies of Mary Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez were found separately in Calauan, people didn’t realize that this would signal the digging up of graves long covered with grass, and the unearthing of dark secrets long kept under the ground.#

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Tempest in a toilet

The case of trans woman Gretchen Diez is now the subject of discussions in social media, among lawmakers and gender equality advocates. And homophobes, too.
Diez was berated and dragged by a janitress at Farmer’s Plaza in Araneta Commercial Center in Quezon City when Diez tried to use the women’s rest room or toilet. That is, despite the fact Quezon City has an ordinance protecting the LGBTQIA+ against discrimination. She was later handcuffed on the way to the police precinct.
Diez was able to record the happening and she now has proof of the inhumane treatment. She was in the news and also at the Senate where Sen. Risa Hontiveros delivered a privilege speech on trans people being maltreated, humiliated, discriminated against.

Diez’s aggressor, whom I should not call a janitress from hell, certainly outdid herself but has since apologized, and the mall management is now finding ways to address the issue of rest rooms.

Questions remain. Is it safety? Is it security? Is it privacy? Is it hygiene and sanitation?

The discussions on what toilets or rest rooms the trans people should use range from the absurd to the offensive to the funny to the reasonable. Someone I know proposed on social media that rest rooms should no longer be labeled Male-Female or Men-Women but by the anatomical parts of their intended users—penis and vagina. And for those who cannot read English or Filipino, what icons to use on the signages? (I cannot help thinking of a noted sculptor’s iconic sculpture of a vagina.)

Does that mean that trans women who haven’t had surgery to remove their male parts but have already fully adopted other female attributes should still stick to the men’s rest room?
A mother asked on social media what mothers think of trans women (men who have transitioned into women) using the rest room where their young daughters go. As in, would their daughters be safe? The issue of safety.
This is insinuating that there may be male sex predators disguised as trans women. But sex predators could be anywhere.
Where should trans men (different from lesbians) like show-biz celebrity and former National Youth Commission head Ice (formerly Aiza) Seguerra and singer Jake Zyrus (formerly Charice Pempengco) go to relieve themselves? What rest room does Ellen Degeneres use? Seguerra was reported as saying that while abroad, he would avoid drinking liquids so that he wouldn’t have to use public rest rooms and risk humiliation.
What about congresswoman from Bataan and trans woman Geraldine Roman? What about actor BB Gandanghari (formerly Rustom Padilla)?

In restaurants where there are only two rest rooms (one for males and one for females) and, rarely, another one for persons with disabilities, where does a trans woman or trans man go? In establishments where there is only a “unisex” rest room, there is no choice to be made.
A senator has suggested that rest rooms for persons with disabilities (PWD) could also serve the trans people. Will the PWD mind? Will the trans people be offended because they are not in any way disabled?
The problem arises in huge rest rooms with many cubicles, and where those who enter are seen by many who are waiting in line or washing their hands. The trans man or trans woman could be shamed.
I gather that straight men are uncomfortable even with gay men urinating beside them. The privacy issue.
A trans man who looks every inch a man cannot urinate on a urinal while standing. He will have to go inside a cubicle that has a toilet bowl. A trans woman who looks every inch a woman (with or without reconstructive surgery) — where should she go?
On a couple of occasions (a provincial bus stopping in gas stations in remote places), when the line to the women’s rest room was so long and the men’s rest room was empty, I dashed to the latter and was done in two minutes. Other women followed suit.
There are suggestions that in rest rooms with many cubicles, one cubicle should be reserved for trans people. Well, the women’s rest room is the likely one. That is where mothers take their young sons who cannot go to the men’s rest room by themselves. This means there would be more users of the women’s rest rooms. Because safer, more inclusive?
The debate on the Sogie Equality bill continues. #


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Sabtang's secret

While we mourn the loss of human lives and age-old structures during the recent earthquake that rocked Itbayat Island in Batanes, my mind and pen go back to Sabtang, a neighboring island that was spared.)
1992. Savage beauty. Tucked at the foot of storm-swept hills, there where ocean meets cliff, where the brightness of blue meets the softness of black, is a place, a secret place. Here, the marriage of water and rock. Here, the fire of the sea embraces the coldness of stone.

Here, somewhere on the edges of Sabtang Island in Batanes, is a place seldom seen by human eyes. You must set sail on a bright day and go around the island for a couple of hours to find it and then to behold its terrifying beauty.
You know you are a lighthouse away when the small round-bottomed “falowa,” the Ivatan’s contribution to seafaring, starts tossing itself to the sky. Here, even on a clear, windless day, is a sea-a-boil. Here, the waters of the West Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet, hug and pull at each other, creating a turbulence so heart-pounding and so awesome.

From the hapless bobbing falowa, the stouthearted explorer gets a privileged view of that secret place. Craggy cliffs dripping bridal veils. Waters surging, frothing, dancing, rolling. Yea, this one is made in heaven. This one is original, untouched since the day God bade it to unfold. As the psalmist had gushed: “How lovely is your dwelling place.”
A slow, symphonic movement makes a sudden turn and climaxes with a roll of drums and a clash of cymbals. The sea quakes to a crescendo, then hurls itself against the cliffs and the rocks. Whaaam! Here before your eyes is a concerto at its most tempestuous peak. Water breaking into a million crystalline pieces. It is pure music. Salt melts in your eyes. Suddenly, you are no longer afraid.

You can hardly wait for the next one.
Finding the secret place is not for the faint of heart. And when at last you find it, you realize you can gaze at the scene for only so long, not a minute more. The blue bids you go. And you leave the place to the creatures of the sea, for them to forever guard it.
You have seen the secret of Sabtang. (A photographer has captured this secret in black and white.)
Sabtang, which is 45 minutes of tumultuous ride from Batan, the main island of the Batanes group, has “a feel of a different place,” as a foreigner once mused. Rows of lime-and-stone houses, cows meditating on soft pastureland, people so polite (every other person on the street says “Good morning” to the stranger) and hospitable (they’d let the stranger in to give “pabaon” of kilos of their garlic harvest) and religious (almost every barangay has an 18th-century style Dominican-built church; the town has produced several nuns and priests.)
Quiet, clean, peaceful. Sleep under the stars with soft grass for a bed and wake up with dew on your eyelids. Population: 1,737. Everybody is a Catholic. Almost all the dogs are lime-white. No crime. If gin is a popular drink among males, it’s because of the stormy weather (typhoon winds can relocate cows). There is electricity. The fish is good, the beef plenty.

How to get to this northernmost group of Philippine islands? You should first fly Manila-Tuguegarao (or Laoag)-Basco. (There are straight flights now.) If you start hearing Chinese from your pocket radio, it’s because you are nearer Taiwan than you are to Manila. From Basco, the capital of the Batanes Group of Islands, you take a 30-minute ride to the town of Ivana, where the falowa waits to ferry you to Sabtang. From the front of the church of Ivana (where the boats dock), you can see the peak of Sabtang island. Very near, except the boat ride is something else.
Sabtang has its share of secret places waiting to be discovered. But nothing as awesome as the one that — seafarers had warned — can be seen only from the rough sea, and only if you have a strong heart. That hallowed place where sea and mountain wed in one turbulent embrace, where there is only the sound of the cathedral waves eternally folding and unfolding. #

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Q & A with Sr. Maria Cecilia Tuble on her depression and advocacy for mental health awareness

Drawing from her personal battle with major depressive disorder, Cenacle Sr. Maria Cecilia "Cecille" Tuble now advocates for greater mental health awareness and help for people who are depressed and suicidal.
Cenacle Sr. Maria Cecilia Tuble. (Ma. Ceres P. Doyo)
Tuble, 50, recently completed her master's degree in theology at the Loyola School of Theology of the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. Her thesis, which dealt with depression, won the Best Thesis Award from the Ateneo School of Humanities and is the basis for her well-attended talks on depression at the Loyola School of Theology and the Ateneo de Manila University.
Tuble graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in humanities from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She entered the Congregation of Our Lady of the Cenacle in 1996.
Like most Cenacle sisters, Tuble gives retreats and spiritual direction. As current vocation and pre-novitiate director of the Cenacle Asia Region, she is involved in vocation activities and formation sessions.
In June, Tuble spoke at a forum called "Love Stronger than Death: A Theological Response to Suicide in Depression" at the Ateneo. In February, she tackled the same topic at the Loyola School of Theology.
Cenacle Sr. Maria Cecilia Tuble discusses the suicidal brain in a June 22 forum on a theological response to suicide and depression at Ateneo de Manila University. (Ma. Ceres P. Doyo)
Tuble examines theological and pastoral responses to suicide in the context of clinical depression. She explores the psychopathology of suicide, drawing from research in neuroscience and psychology. She brings up how the church regarded suicide throughout the centuries and offers a "contemporary moral approach."
The Philippines' Mental Health Act became a law last year, and Tuble said she hopes church and government can work together to promote mental health awareness and make mental health services more accessible.
GSR: How did clinical depression first manifest in your life and later when you were a religious?
Tuble: I was 13 years old when I had my first major depressive episode. The family doctor could not find anything physically wrong with me except my insomnia. He prescribed tranquilizers. I felt sad, hopeless, tearful most of the day for weeks. I felt crushed for no reason. My dad would drive me to school, and I couldn't bring myself to open the car door. I would end up on his office couch, curled up in a fetal position.
My second episode was after I had just made my first vows as a Cenacle sister. The depressed mood, the crying spells, the utter hopelessness, the insomnia returned with renewed force. At night, I would go inside my bedroom closet to cry because I was afraid the sisters would hear me.
Can you further describe depression as you and many experience it?
I couldn't sleep for weeks, and if I managed to sleep a little, I would wake up tired. I felt sad, empty, tired, hopeless. I had crying spells, mostly in the morning, or late at night. Everything was a burden, including eating. I hated myself. I wished I would just die. Nothing gave me pleasure — even compliments drove me to tears. It was so hard to concentrate because my mind was just a blurry, confused mix of negative thoughts. I felt isolated from everyone, even when others tried to help or cheer me up.
When did you realize that you needed professional help?
I did not receive any professional help in my first episode. I was too young, and my parents did not know anything about mood disorders. As for my second episode, my sister-formator suggested psychotherapy. I had intensive psychotherapy once or twice a week for three and a half years. Since psychotherapy dealt a lot with the unconscious, I can say that it radically transformed me. When I had my third episode, I returned to it, but my fourth episode was pretty bad. This time, I went to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed major depressive disorder and prescribed medication. All throughout, my community was a great source of care, help and support.
You spoke openly about your attempt to end your life. What prevented you, at the last minute, from carrying it out?
I suffered a severe major depressive episode in November 2014. I felt the world was immensely inhospitable, and life was drained of every joy and vitality. God was not so much distant as obscured by an impenetrable darkness, by an oppressive gray fog of despair that choked prayer into nothing but, "God, I want to die. Let me die." A detailed suicide plan was formulated, perversely, during my personal prayer time. The means were ready and accessible. The only thing that kept me from killing myself was the one question: "How can I do this to God, who has been so good to me?"
Months later, when everyone thought I was on the way to recovery, I had an episode of self-harm. I was immediately put on 24-hour suicide watch. However, later, my psychiatrist diagnosed it as non-suicidal self-injury.
Did you ever think religious life might have aggravated your depression?
I would have had this disorder whether or not I am in religious life. Whatever state of life I am in will have its attendant stressors. It is a matter of understanding and coping with it.
I am blessed with a loving, caring and supportive religious congregation that is au courant with the advances in psychology and medicine. They took my diagnosis in deep faith: caring for me when I could barely care for myself, taking over my responsibilities, and always holding out that firm hope for healing that strengthened me on the arduous road to recovery.
Being in vocation promotion and spiritual formation, what insights do you bring into the work that would help people suffering from depression, grief or loss?
The most important insight, borne not only from my own personal journey but from the experiences of people I minister to, is the profound conviction that God has never left anyone to suffer alone. The utter faithfulness and abiding love of God, even in the face of deep suffering such as depression, grief or loss, is ultimately that which heals us and restores us to wholeness.
Would you say that depression among religious is largely hidden or undiagnosed? Should it be equated with the so-called "dark night of the soul"?
There is a wide spectrum of responses to depression among religious. On one hand, there is the misconception that depression is a sign of a lack of faith, a personal failure in praying. On the other hand, there is also a growing awareness that depression is a mental illness that needs medical intervention.
It is difficult to distinguish clearly between depression and the "dark night of the soul" because they are like two prisms or perspectives refracting the light of very similar subjective experiences. Depression affects prayer. The emotional closeness to God, the clarity of purpose that one enjoys in spiritual consolation are diminished or even taken away by depression. Thus, very often, the one who suffers from depression also suffers from a "dark night of the soul." However, this does not mean that everyone who experiences a "dark night of the soul" is clinically depressed.
Besides medical intervention and psychotherapy, what are your personal ways of dealing with depression?
I make physical exercise an essential part of my schedule. I try to get sunshine every day because it uplifts mood and improves sleep. Meditation and mindfulness exercises also help. I practice EFT, Emotional Freedom Techniques, when I have strong negative feelings. Acupuncture helps alleviate depression. Most important of all, I pray every day. No matter what my mood is or how my day went, prayer reminds me that I belong completely to God, and therefore that all shall be well.
Sr. Maria Cecilia Tuble, second from left, with her Cenacle community in Metro Manila. "My community was a great source of help, care and support. ... [It] is au courant with the advances in psychology and medicine," Tuble said. (Courtesy of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Cenacle)
In your personal experience, how does prayer, faith or religion help?
Numerous studies have shown the importance of faith: religious coping protects against suicidality, while religious struggle aggravates suicidal ideation. This means that the kind of faith you have matters. Religion that promotes a distorted image of God as punishing, distant, uncaring or tyrannical can aggravate depression and suicidality while religious belief and conviction that God is love gives the depressed person the faith to hang on to life — and God — no matter what. This I have personally experienced: Without faith, which is a gift from God, I would have ended my life when I was in deep despair.
What is the contemporary moral approach to suicide that you promote?
In my thesis, I simply traced the historical development of the church's stance on suicide and how it has now come to a place of compassion in dealing with suicide. The church now distinguishes between moral judgment on the act of suicide and the person who completes suicide. The act of suicide remains objectively, morally wrong, and this moral judgment applies even to people who are mentally ill. However, the church now acknowledges that mental illness is most often associated with suicide, and therefore the person's responsibility is diminished. Now, the church prays for those who have taken their own lives and offers compassion to those who struggle with mental illness and those bereaved because of suicide.
In your talks, you have dissected depression skillfully and compassionately. How has this helped in your own personal healing?
I needed to make sense of my experience, to understand this mental illness as much as I can, in order to have some measure of control over it. By understanding how it works in my brain, by recognizing its symptoms, dynamics and what my triggers are and knowing what could help, then I could learn to live more peaceably with it. Understanding gives way to acceptance, and acceptance deepens understanding and enables me to be more compassionate with myself. This self-compassion is perhaps the biggest sign of healing for me.
[Ma. Ceres P. Doyo is a journalist in the Philippines.]