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Archive for April, 2016

Our Great Luzon Adventure of 2014

From Region 1 to Region 2

2014 was the year I stayed “local” and had no travels abroad. But that didn’t mean I stayed put much. I simply had to quench my wanderlust and my sister, Giselle and her fiancé, Jopay joined us for one big Northern Luzon adventure again so close to the rainy season.

The previous year, they tagged along for my lecture stints in Baguio. We had so much fun visiting old summer haunts and reminiscing about our childhood. It was a busy four-day spree, squeezing in tours in between my senior citizen talks. And when the opportunity presented itself again, they were ready to jump at the chance for another exciting trip.

Toni and I always tried to visit her family in Cagayan Valley at least twice a year. Usually, it’s in January and either June or November, when the temperature is much more tolerable. Tuguegarao is famed for being the hottest place in the Philippines and summers there are just scorching hot.

Giselle was also big on old churches and museums, and Jopay was just developing his penchant for religious pilgrimages. We had always shared with them our patronage of Our Lady of Piat and that She grants wishes. Now, they were willing to undergo the long travel just to see the famed Apo Baket of Cagayan.

This was around the time many bus lines to and from Tuguegarao were suspended by the LTFRB. With GV Florida and Dalin out of circulation, only Victory Liner seemed to be in operation; and it was either that or take the plane to Cagayan Valley.

Unfortunately, everybody else had trekked to Victory terminal to try and catch trips to Region 2. Reservations were all fully-booked, and there were just too many “chance” passengers to compete with. So when Giselle asked how else can we get to Cagayan Valley, I had this bright idea to get there from Region 1.

Rediscovering Ilocos Norte

And so it began – our great North Luzon road trip. We went to Partas terminal in Cubao and caught an afternoon trip for Laoag. The idea was to cross over to region 2 from Ilocos Norte via the great Patapat viaduct in Pagudpud. That was easier said than done, of course. But we were foolish enough to try it.

After a good 10 hour drive, we arrived in Laoag at an unholy hour. Since we hoped to catch an early bus to Cagayan Valley, we decided to stay at a cheap motel to catch some sleep. The inn we stayed at was perfect for they allowed a minimum of 3-4 hours stay, just enough for a nap and a quick shower.

Later that day (although still so very early in the morning) we went to the bus terminal in Bacarra for the bus to Sta. Ana. Looking at the available buses (they were old and non-aircon), we were told it would take another 4 to 5 hours to reach Sta.Ana, and we would need to transfer buses somewhere in Camalaniugan.

At that point, we made another crazy decision – we would try to hire one of those vans that travelled to Cagayan Valley too, but docked at a different town. But the vans and the FX thought they had a better deal shuttling a full-contingent of passengers rather than taking 4 adults and a kid directly to faraway Sta. Ana.

Again, by sheer luck, a driver sleeping in one of the parked jeepneys was woken up by one of the other drivers. It was only he, who took us up on our offer. Manong Arnel, as we soon found out, was very familiar with region 1 to region 2 crossings because he frequently shuttled a religious group to Isabela province to do some missionary work.

And so it goes –because Arnel needed to exchange his jeepney for their van, and also to get some personal things for the long travel, he took us on a tour of his hometown, Bacarra. Driving by their church and plaza, we saw their famous belltower. Fondly called the “dancing” or “aerobic” belltower, it is now in ruins following a strong earthquake. Visitors are asked to stay away and not get too close to the tower since every so often some of the original parts still come off and simply fall over.Bacarrabelltower

As we sped through the rest of Ilocos Norte, I finally got the chance to see the famous windmills. Originally established as a wind farm in Banggui, the town of Burgos now has its own set of windmills through the initiative of the younger generation of Marcoses, Senator Bongbong Marcos.

I also caught a glimpse of the equally infamous or should I say, “notorious” Cape Bojeador. This ancient lighthouse was a relic from our colonial past, back when the Spaniards had galleons crossing over from the different continents with valuable cargoes ranging from spices, to tobacco and abaca hemp, to gold, and cacao beans. With its central pavilion design, its so-called “twin” is Cape Engano on Palaui island in Sta.Ana. While it is still functioning to this day and currently being manned by the Philippine Coast Guard, it is said to be quite “haunted”.

But according to Manong Arnel, this stretch of road in Burgos is known for many “hauntings”. Lots of vehicular accidents happen along the way since the road is full of blind turns and dark corners. One such accident involved a young bride on the way to her own wedding. As such, there are many sightings of a white lady flagging down vehicles. Manong Arnel said he had the misfortune of seeing this ghostly figure during one of his trips on a dark, rainy night when he was driving alone.

Racing through the national highway, we didn’t have time to see the other Ilocos Norte tourist staples like Paoay, Batac or Sarrat. But somewhere in Pagudpud, I was able to view the majestic coastline of Ilocos Norte, the waves from the South China Sea lapping at the shore and the famed white sand beaches that were supposedly comparable to Boracay.IMG_9960.JPG

By then, we were crossing over Patapat viaduct, an engineering feat that connected Ilocos to Cagayan Valley. One enters the bridge in Ilocos Norte and exits at the other end in Claveria, Cagayan. This piece of infrastructure is another credit to the older Marcos, but there were many rumors surrounding its construction. It is said it was only constructed to cover up a supposed “treasure-hunting” expedition for Yamashita’s gold loot from World War II. I got all these stories from Manong Arnel, who besides being our driver, proved to be quite the tourist guide as well.

The Northern “Hook” of the Philippines

After catching a late breakfast at Sanchez-Mira, we passed by Pamplona and stopped to see its old church which has recently been renovated. It still has the original foundations made of coralstone, but the red brick additions are fairly new. The old, cracked bell that fell from the belltower is now encased in glass and displayed at the front of the church. There are many old churches already in ruins in Cagayan, but this one dedicated to St. Peter, the martyr and St John Nepomuceno were one of the lucky ones faithfully restored. Since its establishment in the 1600s, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1721, before finally succumbing to ruin in the 1970s. The community gathered funds for its restoration and in the 1990s, its reconstruction began.IMG_9984

And so we passed by the towns of Abulug, Ballesteros, Allacapan, Camalaniugan, Sta. Teresita and Gonzaga enroute to Sta. Ana. One thing unique about Cagayan is that it is traversed by a myriad of waterways flowing from its mountains or stemming from the great Cagayan River. As a result, the province is also characterized by its numerous bridges connecting the different municipalities. As we drove on, I commented that I have never before seen and crossed over so many bridges in my life!IMG_0027.JPGIMG_0008

When we finally reached Sta. Ana, the operator of the resort we were staying at welcomed us with a great spread of seafood choices, freshly caught by the local fishermen. After a late lunch, we were encouraged to take a dip in the pool and take it easy. Sta.Ana’s big come-on is really the boat ride and island-hopping around Palaui island, and it usually takes at least one whole day. Good weather is essential also because the waves can get pretty big and rough around this tip of Luzon. However, the entire Sta.Ana experience deserves its own piece. Hence, I am skipping that.

We spent two days in Sta.Ana before we decided to head for Tuguegarao. By this time, our initial agreement with Manong Arnel to bring us to Sta.Ana had extended to taking us as far as Tuguegarao. As a bonus, we took him along to Palaui island and its environs. He said it was also his first time there and he seemed to enjoy himself.

Tracking “upstream” the Cagayan river, we passed by Lal-lo and Gattaran, going further south to Alcala, Amulung, Iguig, before reaching Tuguegarao. Strange as it may seem, the Cagayan river exits “upward” to Aparri and that is actually going “downstream”, as the locals would say.

We missed checking out the old churches and ruins in Lal-lo and Gattaran, but managed to glimpse the refurbished church of Alcala and buy some of the famous carabao milk candy. We also just had enough time to visit Iguig and its famous life-size figures depicting the Stations of the Cross.  Set upon the rolling hills of Iguig, the 14 stations showing the Passion of Christ is laid out against the ancient church of St James and the great Cagayan River. This is the reason Iguig is a perfect Lenten season pilgrimage site.

One thing I always marveled at in Iguig are the old stone steps behind the Resurrection statue. These stairs start from the river below and lead up to the church proper itself. Local historians say it was used by the Spanish elite – government officials and clerics who came to Iguig via the Cagayan river This lends credence to what a senior brod told me once, that there was no highway then for landtrips, and the waterways were a faster mode of travel. This is also the reason why most of the old churches face towards the waterways and not the current roads or streets.

All throughout this trek, mountain ranges and rolling hills rose and fell across our panoramic view. Lush vegetation fit for livestock-raising like cattle, carabaos and goats still abound. With this vast landscape of open spaces are not only opportunities for agriculture and food production, but also for some eco-tourism. For hidden behind those mountains and forests are numerous unexplored cave systems, waterfalls, and streams. And for every typhoon that has swept across these lands, its people have endured.IMG_0031.JPG

Cagayan Valley Standards: Our Lady of Piat and Callao Cave

Arriving in Tuguegarao, I expected Giselle and Jopay to be utterly exhausted from our cross-country land trip. They really were bone-tired already, but they weren’t done yet. They still had to go see Our Lady of Piat and the prospect of seeing Callao Cave in Penablanca gave them that burst of energy to explore Cagayan Valley some more. The sheer excitement of seeing these amazing, new places made them forget that we were all tired from the long-distance drives, that we were all sunburned from the boatrides going around Palaui island, or that we were bound to endure another 10 to 12 hours on the road on the bus going back to Manila.

Visiting with Toni’s family, we were able to get a few hours rest and get some hot food inside us. We reserved the visit to Piat the next day after a good night’s sleep.

Piat is a mere 30 to 45 minute drive from Tuguegarao. The Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat is another pilgrimage site comparable to Manaoag in Pangasinan and Penafrancia in Naga. Her legend includes miracles performed at the height of typhoons and floods, or tribal wars between local indigenous peope. She is believed to grant petitions and special intentions. Toni and I still believe that our mutual prayers to her made us find each other. Since then, we have considered her our family Patroness. And ever since I passed my Bar Exams after a visit to Her, I make it a point to visit every time I am in Tuguegarao. (Jopay and Giselle too found their own miracle a few days later when after several long months, Jopay finally got the call he was waiting for about a job abroad.)

For any Region 2 visitor, Callao Cave is a must-see. Composed of at least seven (7) caverns, this site now claims to have the oldest evidence of early humans inhabiting the Philippine islands. A recent archeological expedition in Callao Cave dug up some prehistoric bones which displaced the Tabon Cave Man of Palawan as the oldest human being found in the Philippines. Carbon-dating and other tests proved that the bones found in Callao were much older than that found in Palawan.

For some avid movie-goers, Callao’s “cathedral-like” cavern near the entrance would look very familiar since it was used in a recent John Lloyd and Bea Alonzo movie. Due to its great space and the altar-like figures carved into its walls, this cavern has been made into a mini-chapel of sorts, complete with some wooden pews.IMG_0309.JPG

Further on, there would be other images and figures formed by water and minerals flowing through this cave for hundreds of years. They have been identified and humorously named after religious icons, cartoon characters, or common personalities, as our youthful tourist guides gamely took imaginative photos of us alongside them.

A site to marvel at are still the big “holes” at top of the cave which lets in sunshine to light the inner recesses of the cave. Catching this sight in a good photo, light streaming in against the backdrop of stone and vegetation, is utterly awe-inspiring and one can’t help but wonder at the beauty of nature.IMG_0313

Meanwhile, our young guides would show us various stalactites and stalagmites still wet with water and shining like crystals. They say this is proof that the cave is “alive” and is still growing. But by the sheer smell in some areas, the stink of guano from bats’ waste is enough proof the cave is indeed a haven for life. Overhead, swooping in and out of the big “holes”, different birds have also made their homes in the vegetation growing in every nook and cranny of the cave. Behind some rocks, I saw some plastic-like material with some weird, intricate design, and mentioned it to our guide. He nonchantly commented it was a snake-skin, molted off by some recent resident.

Although the sun was slowly setting on the horizon, we decided to take that standard “riverboat ride” that comes with a visit to Callao. Exiting the caverns, we went down to the Pinacanauan river where the original entrance of the caves were. In the olden days, the only way to visit the caves was through the river, climbing up the steep steps to the cavern opening overhead. Since then, some locals have begun the enterprise of ferrying visitors either to see this old entrance or the famous “bat cave” where bats exit in droves once twilight falls, or even to take a quick shower under the “Mororan”. Nevertheless, this short boatride gives one a glimpse of how this river too is teeming with life. From its deep green waters are freshwater fish, shrimps and crabs which the local indigenous people – the Agtas, catch either for their own sustenance or to be sold. Fed by the mountains above, the river’s constant flow is mostly gentle, rising and ebbing only to the rains that fall further up the mountains where the river originates.IMG_0382

I captured one of my best sunset photos on Pinacanauan River. It was dramatic, uniquely calming, heralding the day’s end. Against the backdrop of the adjacent mountains, the waters of this tributary seem harmless, but locals have known of drownings even in shallow waters. They say the river’s “guardian” takes one victim every year, so swimmers are warned to take precautions. In the rainy season, these waters can also rise to such heights and overrun the nearby bridge and alternate route. I suspect even the small Agta village residing nearby gets evacuated when that happens.IMG_0426

Speaking of rains, during typhoon season, a visit to Callao Cave is discouraged. Primarily because it would be dark and wet inside it, and risk of slipping on the moist rocks and stairway is highly probable. Moreover, the most common way to reach the site is by the winding road that is usually blocked by sudden landslides. Even during the dry season when sudden rains come, a surprise rockslide can occur. We actually passed remnants of a few of these mudslides which have been recently cleared.

A rather hectic tour almost always equals famished tourists; and just as any tiring day may be perfectly capped, I also end this piece by citing the famous, must-try Pansit Batil Patung. Filling, satisfying, overwhelming. Enough Said. The End. Bow.

Rainbow Tales (from 2009)

Many summers ago, our mutual goodbye signalled the beginning of something I could not fathom. I would wonder about that last hug as a symbol of lost chances and “could-have-beens”; and that buss on the cheek, which actually landed on my right ear, a smack that blew a whiff of air into my eardrum. I would relish our last conversation; seemingly desperate for lost opportunities to talk, we crammed all our thoughts into a late night small talk that stretched the evening to midnight. And the next morning, you arrived with the dawn, eager for a breakfast chat – the last we would ever have, before I boarded that tricycle headed for the pantalan.

I spent a week at your beach resort, but I hardly spoke to you. Except probably for requests for bottled water, an occasional cold Pepsi, or a little help with the VCD player, I would never address you directly. My glances in your direction, were furtive and shy; never lingering long enough for you notice my interested eyes.

Our verbal exchanges were at best monosyllabic responses to trivialities. You kidded me about my repertoire of songs being pang-bagets. I greeted you one morning after noticing your freshly-showered look. Once, during a videoke singing session with friends, we danced to swing music, and you felt light and comfortable in my arms. I was breathless for a moment, my heart racing from the quick dance steps and from being too close to you. You stood there flushed, catching you breath. Suddenly speechless, you averted your gaze.

That night I dreamt of you. In my dream, I awoke in my own bed, but with you at my side. I felt confused and scared in my dream, and then you tickled my feet and said you were simply checking if something could come out of having slept together. I awoke with a start; this time for real. But I was bothered by that dream. Could my subconscious be telling me something?

It was my long-winded, pathetic farewells through text messages which started a connection more heartfelt than our initial “hello”. You were there with me on the pumpboat for Ormoc. For three hours, when cellphone signals permitted, we talked about your solitude and traits you wanted in your perceived ideal partner. In Ormoc, in between lunch and running after that last boat for Cebu City, you briefed me on possible alternate transports and the remaining hours at sea – merely another four hours, you said.

Docking at the pier and heading for Mactan Island in a taxi was a complete blur to me for you were in my thoughts all that time. Later at the airport, waiting for our flight bound for Manila, I texted you about seeing different actors and singers from competing television stations who had simultaneous shows in Cebu. You got all excited because you were a TV buff and a die-hard fan of one of the TV stations.

I departed from Cebu, but there were no definite goodbyes between us.

* * * *

It was two months before we met again. As expected, we were shy around each other all over again. We were happy and smiling, yet kept avoiding each other’s gazes. We moved around the room as if there was this invisible dance between us. Or were we just circling each other like prey?

Finally, I pushed you to the wall and gave you the kiss I had long promised you. A simple smack at first, my lips grazed yours until they parted for a gentle smooch. You were a quick study, for you responded almost immediately. Meanwhile, you gave me the tightest hug you could muster. You held me in an embrace as I kissed the top of your head, smoothing your hair which you grew long for my benefit.

Later, in bed, our kisses betrayed the hunger we felt for each other. We pressed urgently against each other, tongues momentarily flicking upon lips until they boldly probed inside each other’s mouths. You sucked my tongue with both a need and a gentleness that took my breath away.

My hand began to travel over your body, revelling in the wonder of its lines and curves. Even as I touched your breasts and kissed them over your shirt, you willingly revealed to me your nipples already erect with desire. As I took each of them into my mouth, your moans of pleasure became interspersed with some very ragged breathing.

I reached between your legs and caressed you over the cloth of your pajamas. Soon, the moisture that seeped through signalled to me how much you wanted me. I plunged my hand deep and was greeted by an incredible wetness.

* * * *

I was your first. The significance of that was not completely lost on me. You knew exactly what it meant for you, what you had given me. You came to see me, knowing fully well what would happen. You gave in willingly, with your eyes wide open.

As for me, it was a moment of weakness. I didn’t realize I was being selfish and irresponsible at the time because I needed something. I wanted some attention, some genuine affection. Yet you understood me enough, and with your unwavering patience, you endured my indecision.

We were doomed from the start. Ours was never meant to be. It was for what it was – a chance meeting, a surprise knowing, and an inevitable parting.

Now, years later, I can no longer deny what once happened between us. I cannot betray your memory by not even writing about our brief time together. I owe you this much…a place in my literary world. This short piece is for you because you were once the Muse that stirred my artistic soul.

Diving In and Treading Water

A friend once said, there are some things you just have to wait out and endure. These include hangovers, jetlag, viral infections and heartbreak. There is nothing you can do because no matter how hard you try to manage or lessen the “discomfort”, the feeling will just go away on its own time.

So I did the best I could, got up everyday and went to the office, even attended my weekly MA class in UP. I filled my days with activity, going to the gym three to four times a week, and even coupled it with brisk-walking twice a week. But there are days when I wake up to a deep sadness, ominous and dreadful. There is still this pain that’s planted firmly on my chest. And it sits there, quite comfortably, that I seem to hurt the whole day. At times, my anxiety manifests itself in disturbing dreams. I keep waking up to nightmares in the middle of the night. And I find myself weeping for memories – moments forever lost, and for painful realizations which only make for unkind epiphanies.

Yet I continue to “tread water”; moving my arms and legs to endless activity. I held my head up, kept myself from drowning and watched out for passing sailboats which can somehow be my salvation.

And so it went that I was already on the fourth month of my “single life” when I let my buddy Menmen convince me to go out again. Having been “chaperoned” the first time to meet Ms. Nursing, Menmen absolutely refused to tag along a second time. She would not even arrange for the next meeting and said I had to do it myself to at least show I was “interested” enough. So I texted Ms. Nursing and asked if she would be willing to go out on a “friendly” date with me. Menmen shook her head disapprovingly when I told her this. Booboo Number 1: Never call it a “friendly” date. This is insulting because it was as if you’re not considering it a “romantic” endeavour just yet. It means you’re playing it safe and just can’t make up your mind if you like her enough or not.

We agreed to meet at Gateway in Cubao. Since I did not know where she lived, I had the perfect excuse not to pick her up from her place. And because I was late the first time we were introduced, I believed it was payback time and she let me wait a full hour and a half.  Whether it was intentional or not (it was raining hard after all, July being the typhoon season), I spent a good part of my noontime cooling my heels at Starbucks around Araneta Center.

I was walking around, whiling away the time, when I noticed a girl standing not far from me. I must have been grinning to myself because she was smiling too, and as I came closer, she suddenly spoke to me.

Hi, where do you wanna eat? Ako, kahit saan, OK lang. Ikaw na lang mamili.”

I was caught by surprise and wasn’t able to reply.

Gusto mo ng Gerry’s or Dencio’s…kahit saan, bahala ka na, “ she continued.

I blinked, smiled and wondered if I was on “WOW! MALI” that TV gag show on Channel 5, and searched around for a camera crew nearby.

Sige na, you decide…I can eat anywhere. May preference ka ba?

She must’ve been nervous, and embarrassed by this time since I still haven’t spoken. Seconds dragged by and it was so surreal.

Uhm, er..ah” was all I could manage with this stupid grin on my face.

Finally, looking around, I blurted out, “Uhm..kasi I’m suppose to meet someone…”

A look of shock replaced her cheery expression and it finally dawned on her I wasn’t her EB date.

Oh, my God! I’m sorry..kasi sabi niya maliit siya at chubby..” And she stopped herself before she could say anything more “descriptive” about me. Quickly, she turned back to her celfone.

I stood there thinking how I could somehow reduce her humiliated feeling. She mistook me for someone else, but I must have been sending her the wrong signals too when I smiled back. So I reached out my hand and introduced myself.

I’m Germaine, by the way.

Blushing, she shook my hand lightly and softly mumbled, “I’m Tintin.”

Still smiling, I walked away slowly and left her to her frantic text messaging.

I kept walking around Araneta, and five minutes later, I found her sitting near Café Bola, still texting. I walked up and said, “Late din ka-meet mo? Pareho tayo pinaghintay..” She sighed with a grimace but didn’t say anything more.

All my butch buddies were laughing so hard after I narrated this incident and I was officially labeled “mahina”. Booboo No. 2: I should’ve asked for her celfone number too. Butch buddies said I could’ve sat beside her and struck up a conversation. She was not bad looking after all. Medium-length hair, dusky complexion and slim with intelligent eyes – exactly my type!

But back to Ms. Nursing….

Date Tip No. 1: I was told by my butch buddies that we should only see thrillers or horror films because they make for perfect date movies. So I kept to the plan and went to watch “Sukob” with Ms. Nursing. When she grabbed my arm several times during the movie and used my shirtsleeve to cover her eyes, I finally figured it out that fear and surprise can give you such a rush similar to an aphrodisiac. It was funny though that my own screams matched hers whenever Kris Aquino was in a frightening scene. Good thing I finished my popcorn seconds after sitting down because otherwise, we would have spilled everything on the floor.

Since both femme and butch friends advised that doing a lunch date is always safe, I supplemented my movie date with a lunch invite. This is Date Tip No. 2. They said that with a midday meal, if you seem to be enjoying yourself, there would be enough time to have an afternoon snack or simple coffee afterwards. And if by late afternoon, things are still going fine, you have enough leeway to extend it to a dinner date. A word of caution though, this should be done very rarely because one does not want to look too eager on a first date.

Ms. Nursing sensed my uneasiness from the very start and commented on my awkwardness about dating. She found it highly unusual and quipped, “You are so different from the other butches I’ve previously dated.”

I wasn’t sure if I should have taken that as a compliment, but I was honestly a little embarrassed.

Well, I was as good as “married” these past few years, so I haven’t done the “dating scene” for quite awhile,” I explained.

“Why, didn’t you and your Ex go out on dates?,” she philosophized.

“Surely there were romantic things you did together that defined you as a couple?,” she said.

Oh yeah, sure. I could actually do the whole range of it…from simple walks around the UP campus to just sitting underneath a tree in the Sunken Garden, to a nighttime dinner-picnic for two underneath the UP Oblation’s Christmas lights. And we did go as far as Intramuros once; watched a play at Fort Santiago and hid among the shadows as other lovers did..”

I didn’t realize I was already rambling about my defunct partnership, but she continued to politely listen. Booboo No. 3: Don’t talk about your Ex too much because it gets pretty tiring sometimes. It sends the signal that you’re not ready to date yet because you’re still too hung up on Ex.

Since what we had was a late lunch after the movie, we had dessert instead of coffee. Later, I saw her to the taxicab stand. Menmen was already tearing her hair out when I reached this point of my story. Booboo Number 4: After asking her to meet me at the date venue, the least I could have done was drive her home, which I didn’t. And this culminating feat could have ensured me a second date already.

Menmen and my other butch buddies would later explain to me that a first date was the ultimate “hit or miss”- a real “make or break” situation. It’s quite crucial since everything depends on it. Date Tip No. 3: Bear in mind that getting to a second date is an altogether different matter.

Like the time I made the mistake of agreeing to go Dutch Treat, I just wasn’t in touch with latest strokes in lesbian dating. I was informed that certain protocols are followed when strict butch-femme dynamics apply. A butch was expected to make all the moves – from getting in touch via text messaging, phone calls or internet chatting, to asking for an “eyeball” or actual date. During the date, a butch (regardless of whether you are a stone-butch/bull dyke or a soft butch) is still expected to do the “gentlemanly” stuff like picking her up from her place or driving her home. A butch is also expected to spend for everything even if the femme offers to pay her way. Date Tip No. 4: In this day and age, while it’s perfectly alright to split the bill in most cases, apparently some women still prefer to be “treated like ladies” all the way.

It was two months before I tried again. I had weeks of coaching from butch buddies who threatened to take me to massage parlors and girly bars if I still can’t find a steady date. So I finally agreed to a “blind date” set up by a veteran lezz. By this time, I had enough presence of mind to ask for the girl’s celfone number and to do my own introductions via text messaging. Fortunately, she had the same idea and welcomed my text messages. A few days before we were to meet, she mustered enough courage to call. She said she just wanted to hear what my voice sounds like. I was smiling to myself when we spoke; she sounded nice enough, speaking in strongly-accented English. Perfect!

It was ironic that this time Ms. Blind Date offered to pick me up for our date. I fidgeted and twiddled my thumbs as I waited for her. Unknowingly, we were both bugging our veteran lezz to accompany us. But Mama Lezz was laughing her head off at our nervousness. She thought we were acting like teenagers. I tried to remember what a femme friend once told me, “A girl wouldn’t go out with you in the first place if she wasn’t interested too.” Date Tip No. 5: She’s probably just giving you a chance, but she surely wouldn’t waste her time with you if she was absolutely not interested.

The minute Ms. Blind Date arrived, it was evident we were sizing each other up. I thought she had kind-looking eyes and her long hair smelled of shampoo. She opened her mouth to speak, and that familiar sweet voice came out, albeit with a British twang. As we were having drinks, she asked if I would mind if she smoked. I forgave her this vice because she seemed quite nervous too. And I was stupidly grinning all throughout, watching my every word. Booboo Number 5: Don’t sound so unsure of yourself. It does not make for a good first impression on a date. You’re lucky if this turned out “endearing” to a femme, but generally it may create a negative or low appraisal of you. That’s according to my butch buddies again.

Seeing the dinner venue, I made the mistake of ordering hot and spicy food, and I worried if I would suddenly be attacked by irritable-bowel syndrome. She saw that I was sweating through my meal and offered to exchange dishes. I declined but she still ended up spooning her food into my mouth. I wondered if I was being seduced at this point because she also commented on my burning, red lips. “I have a tried and tested remedy for that later”, she teased.

We went to see a late night feature after dinner, and halfway through the movie I reached out to touch her hand. She didn’t draw back and instead, rubbed her thumb against my fingers. Later, she would tell me it was driving her crazy not knowing if I liked her enough or what. I wasn’t trying anything with her and she figured I just wasn’t interested in her. I felt sorry for her, having subjected her to that kind of uncertainty. But I have always been known to be “slow” and dense, and nobody told me about the right pacing anyway.

Date Tip No. 6: Knowing the perfect timing for your moves. I once asked three different women what is the right time to get “intimate” with someone. Ms. Bicolana and Ms. Cebuana said a year of being officially together would suffice. Even if they were both probinsyanas, I figured it was a reasonable and not really a conservative time period. A further survey among the mid-20s age bracket revealed that three months of steady dating nowadays would entitle people to sleeping together already. Jeez, it took me that long to try to get a first kiss with a girl once. Now I understand why that same girl suddenly had another girlfriend after I got back from Indonesia. She probably thought I was taking too long!

After the movie, we met up with our veteran Mama Lezz for drinks. Although we were in the company of other lezzies, Mama Lezz was watching us closely as if we were oddities. “You two look so cute!,” she laughed. Of course, she was just making fun of us because we were still too nervous around each other. And so while they drank wine, margaritas and martinis, I nursed my Coke all throughout the evening.

During one of my frequent toilet visits, Ms. Blind Date went with me and kidded me. “You have an unusually small bladder to be going to the toilet this often. Or are you just nervous?

I smiled, took a deep breath, and confidently blurted out, “So are you coming back with me tonight?” I was desperate to sound cool.

Unflustered, she answered right back, “Do you want me to?”

I said “Yes” a little too quickly, trying to cover up my own feelings of inadequacy.

OK..” she replied, smiling, and hooked her arm around mine as we headed out the door.

Let’s just say, I made up for my being such a slowpoke that night.

You were well worth the wait,” she told me the next morning.

 

GPL 3/4/07

Fishing Expeditions

Note: A piece I wrote 10 years ago when I was newly separated from my partner of 10 years and nursing a broken heart; I only revised/edited it a year later for an all-women writers anthology, Bliss 2.

A few months ago I was congratulated at being “single” again. Friends told me I was finally “free” and I should explore new “possibilities” out there. I was told about “other fishes in the sea” that I should be open to. In no uncertain terms, I was encouraged by both family and friends that I should go out and enjoy myself. But I honestly did not know what it meant then.

I did not “date” many girls prior to my getting hitched. “Aahhh, therein lies the problem!,” my butch friends told me. “You didn’t get the chance to play around or “sow your wild oats” before you settled down. And now, it’s the perfect time for you to have some fun.”

Sympathetic friends gave me numerous suggestions to meet new people. Chatrooms were a favorite, so I had to update myself about the latest internet terminologies like YM or Yahoo Messenger, webcams and voicemails. I did not exactly belong to the “technologically-challenged” generation (read: computer-phobic), but I wasn’t tekkie-savvy either. Some friends had to teach me the step-by-step process before I was able to enter a community and/or chatroom. But I was overwhelmed by the “crowd” and the “noise” there. I just couldn’t get comfortable enough to make friends. Besides, I think I was still too shy to be talking about myself to strangers at this point.

But I persevered and stayed on as a “lurker”, eavesdropping on various chatroom exchanges until one day I got asked my “ASL”. Since I did not know what that meant, I had to consult another friend who told me it meant “age, status, and location.” I truthfully gave mine and was promptly told that it was dangerous. Later, I found out crazy_sniper was actually a 28 year old male from Cairo. Well, what the heck was he doing in a lesbian chatroom? I quickly deleted this creepy-crawler from Cairo from my contacts list.

A week later, a certain “apache_girl” buzzed me and immediately started flirting. I wondered about this because she acted like she knew stuff about me. Suddenly, I remembered something and called my buddy Menmen. “Didn’t your Ex-girlfriend have an Indian-sounding alias for chatting?” I gave her the pseudonym and upon recognizing it, she told me to stay away from the “Ex from Hell”. Apparently, I broke the first cardinal rule in chatting when I used my real name for my YM. Then again, my name is so weird and foreign-sounding, no one would believe it was my legal name.

My butch buddy, Menmen thought having a “textmate” would be easier for me. I whole-heartedly agreed because, judging from my history, I could definitely handle a simple one-to-one interaction. Moreover, I was at least familiar with the basic cellphone technology of text messaging. Menmen gave me the cellphone numbers of two of her “available” acquaintances. Another butch buddy, Reiz likewise took pity on me and gave me the number of a recently-single close friend of hers.

So there I was, clueless at how I can open a conversation with these ladies and wondering if I was getting in over my head again. Of course, I managed to get my buddies to give me the proper introductions and I had the advantage of being an “expected” texter. I tried a standard opening line, “Hi, this is Germaine. Our common friend, M, gave me your number so we could be textmates.” I sent this at the same time to both M’s bets and prayed at least one of them would respond positively. I got lucky, for both of them replied almost immediately. Both were in their mid-twenties, so I double-checked myself if that didn’t make me a cradle-snatcher. Both were college graduates, so I could at least expect some mature and intelligent conversation. But more importantly, both were avowedly lesbian. Alleluia! They actually know what they want!

Since they were both told I was a lawyer, I didn’t want them to think I was dull and boring. Most of all, I didn’t want them to think I was argumentative and into debates all the time. So I asked them about their interests and hobbies, likes and dislikes. Ms. Nursing graduate said she likes reading books and watching movies. But when I asked her about sports and animals, she quipped, “Tama ba naman mag ala-slumbook pa tayo?” Nevertheless, she replied that she used to love swimming and had one “neglected” poodle at home. On the other hand, Ms. Industrial Engineer said she also liked reading, loved dogs, but was not into any particular sport. And in the same breath, she informed me that she presently had a girlfriend. OK…right. So much for first impressions.

After the initial exchanges, we got comfortable enough to talk more about ourselves, including past loves. No judgments were passed and to that I heaved a sigh of relief. Ms. Engineer said we each have our own faults, but separations cannot be attributed to just one person.

There are always two people in a relationship and it’s the responsibility of both to make it work between them.

She added, ”Sometimes too many activities, being too busy with work sometimes gets in the way of having some quality time with your partner. If you don’t make the effort of making time to “connect”, sooner or later you would really drift apart and become strangers.”

On the other hand, according to Ms. Nursing, it is important to be our own persons and not lose one’s self when we get involved with someone.

She said, “We will always have our own plans and dreams which we should be free to pursue even with a partner around. It is these things which define us as persons and which will sustain us even when our loved one decides to leave our life.”

Strangely, young as they are, they gave me such enlightened views on relationships and on dating. At the back of my head I was thinking, youth probably gives one the privilege of optimism. Being young and all, they may be much braver about starting over and taking the plunge again and again because they feel there’s much time left. But I have to admit, I actually learned a lot from their insights on love and loss.

Meanwhile, Reiz’s friend and I started texting more easily. A MassComm graduate, she can be at ease with new acquaintances just like that. She actually surprised me by calling me first. It was early in the morning and she fulfilled her promise of giving me a wake-up call. Being much older might have given her the extra confidence she exuded. She was into books and movies too, and was incredibly funny. However, she was a single mom to two kids.

A butch friend once told me the problem with dating single moms is that their kids will always be their priority, and never you. Personally, I had no problem with that and wouldn’t have it any other way. I would respect her more if that was how she regarded her responsibilities to her kids. In fact, I would expect that her children take precedence over me anytime.

So it went that I had three new textmates who exchanged morning greetings and green jokes with me everyday. Later on, I was confident enough to ask them for landlines and would call either Ms. Nursing or Ms. Engineer every other evening. As for single mom, she had no landline, but since I got a Globe SIM, texting and calling her became more convenient.

It was refreshing to say the least, to be speaking to people who actually consider the dissolution of a same-sex partnership as a big deal. In a society which actually frowns upon gay relationships, the end of a 10-year lesbian marriage may not get as much compassion as a heterosexual marriage burdened with common children and conjugal properties. My serious conversations with them made me feel my pain was valid and legitimate. And while they patiently listened to me, they continued to impress upon me the value of finally letting go. They taught me how various ways of “moving on” salvages what’s left of your tattered and torn self-image after a break-up.

It was from MassComm Mom that I learned to hope again. Based on her past experiences, it was evident that she was one of those who were eternally falling in love.

Hindi ka madala-dala, ano?”, I laughingly told her.

She replied, “I actually did learn my lesson, and that lesson was “loving another person is never a waste of time.” She sounded utterly convinced and defiant at that.

You know, you always take something out of the experience even if the relationship does not last. The feeling alone of loving someone and being loved in return is well worth it.”

Wow! I said to myself. What a lethal combination, an optimist and a romantic at that!

A few weeks later, my buddies thought I was ready for an EB or “eyeball” already. I convinced Menmen to chaperone my first meeting with Ms. Nursing. Of course, it was an absolute disaster. At the last minute, I had to do errands for my family that day and I even forgot that I had a Women In Bliss book launching in the evening. To make matters worse, my car broke down and I had to take a cab. I was two hours late meeting them at Starbucks, and when I took them to NewsDesk, our ordered drinks never arrived. I tried to make up for it by treating everyone to a late dinner at Congo Grille. I also gave Ms. Nursing a copy of “Unveilings”, our anthology of women’s writings, hoping that will salvage her fast dwindling impression of me. To my utter disbelief, it actually worked because she was a writer herself. That and intelligent conversations on the phone paved the way for future encounters. (But that’s another story and the topic of another essay..hehe)

A nice femme friend named Renee also recommended an internet site I could look into. Downelink was a website similar to Friendster, but was exclusively for LGBTs. You start out with a couple email addresses of your friends, inviting them to join you, and just keep adding on to your network of friends. In a few weeks, I got a few invites and requests to “expand” my network of LGBT friends, starting from a broken-hearted Cebuana and a mysterious single mom from Sampaloc. We had some interesting email exchanges until I got offered cellphone numbers and landlines.

So there I was, having additional textmates again before I had to leave for Indonesia. Maybe because of the frequency by which I visited Indonesia this year, I won and lost some opportunities. (Again that is another story..wink! wink!) By the time I returned from my second visit to Java, broken-hearted Cebuana had gotten back together with her Ex and Sampaloc Mom already had a new girlfriend. Oh well, you win some, you lose some…

Finally, I decided to give exclusive parties a try. After my good friend, Richie’s birthday party, I let some friends drag me to my first and so far only all-girls party as a single lesbian. I had previously gone to a few exclusives with my Ex, but these parties never left a good impression on me. Either we arrived too early and nothing was happening yet, there wasn’t enough dancing space and people were just drinking, or the place was just too noisy and smoky we had to leave.

This time, I had to get briefed by another good friend, Lalaine, on what to expect and about Exclusive Parties “etiquette”. I was told it was always safer to go with friends, hang on to a drink or two, maybe a cigarette, and just dance the night away. So I went, and surprised myself by I enjoying myself immensely. I got a few stares from femmes while in the toilet and a couple of “accidental” bumps while on the dancefloor. I danced until the wee hours in the morning, but I still went home alone to my mother’s house. I vowed to go to yet another exclusive party if I get the chance though.

As Bugs Bunny once said, “Everyone loves a lover”. I now have four celfone SIMs – two SMARTs, a GLOBE, and a SUN cellular. Sam properly inquired when I used my Suncel for the first time, “Hmmn, naka-Suncel na siya..New fone, or new girl?” To which I replied in jest, “Siyempre, para accessible sa lahat.” Hehehe

The New Year greeted me with Sampaloc Mom and Masscom Mom getting in touch once more. And I got acquainted with two more “referrals” from various sources – a 28-year old freelance graphic artist / computer whiz from Las Pinas and a 19-year old nursing student from Paranaque.

Hmmn, maybe I should really get a celfone line instead, but with all three networks? Haaay! Gastos! Just bid me happy trawling guys…

 

GPL 1/5/07

Dilemma of an Unmarried Mother: A Policy Imperative

During my early years at DSWD, I was first connected with the Department’s Legal Services and was exposed to a variety of administrative cases against employees. One case which got me started in pushing for more gender equality from within was a complaint filed by the Executive Director of an attached agency against her young staff for getting pregnant “out-of-wedlock”. We all know how that was joyfully resolved, but I am surprised why no one remembers it as a matter of policy. The institutional memory and historical context is important because there were other cases that followed involving my own colleagues in my new office at Pdpb Dswd, and the other bureau directly above our floor. The insensitive comments that proliferated in the afternoon shuttles going home could’ve been shot down as early as five or seven years ago, had the matter been formally tackled and a concrete policy put in place.
Today, I cringe at the term “getting pregnant out-of-wedlock” as a concept from the so-called Dark Ages when women alone were castigated for having children without the benefit of marriage. (I personally prefer the terms “unmarried mothers” or “single parents”) For men, having fathered “bastards” and not making honest women of these mothers is not so bad. It’s even considered as a sign of “machismo”.
But it’s a totally different matter for women. Those were the days when the moral “double-standard” was so prevalent, when the burden and responsibility of having kids seems to be solely on the female’s shoulders. As if women got that way (pregnant) by themselves.
In this new, “enlightened” era of sexuality, we know better and acknowledge that everyone is bound to engage in sex, legally or illegally, morally or immorally. It is a matter of “privacy” in its very essence but at the same time, a conduct which may be regulated by the State in the interest of public health and safety, as well as in terms of human rights and social order. Thus, most laws and government policies now admit that males are jointly responsible and just as to “blame” for pregnancies and children being born into this world. Read: I am invoking the spirit behind the RPRH law (RA 10354) here!
However, left to the discretion and will of employers and supervisors, it is unfortunate that personal beliefs and ideas on morality still come into play, and may leave some women “victimized” and continually stigmatized for getting pregnant and choosing to be mothers. Let me spell this out for you: Some of these brave women could have chosen not to go through with their pregnancies and simply get abortions, but instead, they had the courage and the conviction to keep these babies even with the overwhelming prospect of rearing and caring for them on their own.
So are you going to be that Terrible Boss who dismisses or terminates her staff, or does not renew an employment contract because a female employee got pregnant and is now a Solo Parent? In terms of employee rights and welfare, I firmly believe this is not good labor practice. It is downright uncompassionate and hypocritical, illegal even, especially when the man responsible for getting the woman pregnant doesn’t get sanctioned and still remains in service.
Shall I dare to say it? Yes, we do have strong legal bases protecting women in such situations. RA 8972 known as the Solo Parents Act of 2000 and RA 9710 known as the Magna Carta of Women embody these legal protections. Similarly anchored on the principles set forth in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), these laws prohibit discriminating against a woman based on her gender and her accompanying reproductive functions, including all such consequences as child-bearing.
Still need further basis? Here’s the Supreme Court’s AM No.-P-07-2333 and it doesn’t get more explicit than this. • “X x x For purposes of determining administrative responsibility, giving birth out of wedlock is not per se immoral under civil service laws. For such conduct to warrant disciplinary action, the same must be grossly immoral, that is, it must be so corrupt and false as to constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree. x x x”
“x x x For a particular conduct to constitute disgraceful and immoral behavior under civil service laws, it must be regulated on account of the concerns of public and secular morality. It cannot be judged based on personal bias, specifically those colored by particular mores. Nor should it be grounded on cultural values not convincingly demonstrated to have been recognized in the realm of public policy expressed in the Constitution and the laws. At the same time, the constitutionally guaranteed rights (such as the right to privacy) should be observed to the extent that they protect behavior that may be frowned upon by the majority. x x x” Under these tests, two things may be concluded from the fact that an unmarried woman gives birth out of wedlock: (1) if the father of the child is himself unmarried, the woman is not ordinarily administratively liable for disgraceful and immoral conduct. [18] It may be a not-so-ideal situation and may cause complications for both mother and child but it does not give cause for administrative sanction. There is no law which penalizes an unmarried mother under those circumstances by reason of her sexual conduct or proscribes the consensual sexual activity between two unmarried persons. Neither does the situation contravene any fundamental state policy as expressed in the Constitution, a document that accommodates various belief systems irrespective of dogmatic origins. [19] (2) if the father of the child born out of wedlock is himself married to a woman other than the mother, then there is a cause for administrative sanction against either the father or the mother. [20] In such a case, the disgraceful and immoral conduct consists of having extramarital relations with a married person. The sanctity of marriage is constitutionally recognized and likewise affirmed by our statutes as a special contract of permanent union. x x x”
“x x x One’s employment is not merely a specie of property rights. It is also the means by which he and those who depend on him live. It is therefore protected by the guarantee of security of tenure. And in the civil service, this means that no government employee may be removed, suspended or disciplined unless for cause provided by law and after due process. Unless the constitutional guarantee of due process is a mere platitude, it is the Courts duty to insist on its observance in all cases involving a deprivation, denigration or dilution of ones right to life, liberty and property. x x x”
I hereby rest my case and enjoin all GAD Focal Persons and Core Group of Women’s Welfare Specialists, or self-avowed Gender Advocates and Women’s Human Rights Defenders to read this.