Looking back (2005)

I want start a tradition in my blog. I want to end each, single year with a Looking Back entry, like the one I had written a year ago. Humans, after all, are forgetful people—I am not excluded—and chronicling significant events of the past year through blogging will definitely emboss these seemingly insignificant embers of history into my brain.

And just how forgetful are we?

Forgetful to the superlative level. To illustrate: whenever the teacher asks, “What did we discuss yesterday?” I’d have to dig my brain’s dysfunctional memory card—what did we talk about last time? What? WHAAAAT?—and find it blank. But that’s a very shallow example, so here’s a deeper one: we hardly even remember the Lord’s goodness for the past year. We are so comparable to the Hebrews, God’s chosen people forgot God’s great miracles—like the Parting of the Red Sea—after only a few years. All they ever did was complain.

These are the events that have happened to me, events that the Lord has used to mold me into Christ-likeness, events that have taught me greater lessons than calculus:

1. Moving out of Kalayaan Dorm and transferring to Yakal

I've written about this a lot of times. It pained me to leave. I have developed such great friends in Kalayaan, and a greater fraction of the people I know in UP are my dormmates. What the Lord taught me was that nothing is permanent in this world, not even closeness or friendships or roommates.

Moving into Yakal wasn't that hard, but I needed an entire semester to adjust. The people treated me differently because they were not the same people I had used to live with in the first place.

2. From English to MBB

When I saw what Jef and Schubert were studying when we were still freshmen, I knew their course was interesting. It ocurred to me: why not shift to molecular biology? It was hard leaving English behind. I love literature, grammar, writing, and reading, but I also like learning new things, like DNA.

I asked the Lord about it. I studied His Word. I've always lifted it up in prayer: "Lord, what is it that you want for me?" After quite a lot of trials (which you will read about in the June 2004 archives), He brought me to MBB.

Not unto me, Lord, but to you be the glory!

3. Lance's grades are falling down

The Lord has also humbled me after I had shifted. You see, my head easily balloons with pride whenever I sense that I've accomplished something. Sometimes, it's not God who is glorified; it is my proud, sick, sinful ego.

So, good as God is, He burst that ballooning balloon. My grades during my freshman year were rather high. Apparently, I had a hard time in my first sem in MBB. There was just too much pressure and a lot of things to study. The sem ended with me so exhausted that I told my parents that I had to go home during the break. I did. And when I had reflected on how the Lord disciplined me because of my pride, I am so overwhelmed. He is just so merciful!

Now, I'm enjoying this sem better than the last.

4. My blog pretty much says it all

I am sorry because this is such a lame summary for so great and meaningful a year. But one cannot put everything in a capsule of an entry, can he?

All the honor and glory be to the Lord Almighty!

About Christ and Him alone

Maybe it's just misinterpretation, if not downright ignorance, that plagues the world, including some supposed parts of Christendom, during the Christmas season. What bothers me is that people have developed a wrong sense of the celebration and have perhaps forgotten the real reason for the rejoicing.

Christmas is not about Santa Claus nor the gifts he gives to children. It is not about freezing water or the drowsy air from Siberia nor the existence of red-nosed reindeers in the North Pole. It is not about Ethel Booba making amends with another Gwen Garci in Startalk nor about Kris Aquino crying tears of joy after a 15-year old high school senior won the million in Game Ka Na Ba. It is not about going to mass and making sure that one's attendance is complete for the entire Simbang Gabi. It is not about the sky precipitating cool, white bits of ice. It is not even chiefly about giving, forgiveness, love, happiness, family, friends, and goodness.

So what is Christmas then?

It is about a holy God sending His only begotten Son. It is about a Child who deserves a birth fit for a King, but who, in His humility, was born in a manger. It is about Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, whose dainty hands were to be pierced with nails, whose little head was to be crowned with thorns, whose soft flesh was to be lacerated and bruised, and whose heart was to be grieved by all the sins of man. It is about God, in all His might ang glory, stooping down to the humble state of man, His sinful enemy, to save Him from the burning pits of Hell.

It is about His free offer of salvation, both to the Jews and to the Gentiles, and of new life with Him.

My point is simple: Christmas is about Christ and nothing else.

Prayerlessness is deprivation to the soul

I wanted to know if prolonged failure to update my blog would give me hemorrhoids or temporary insanity, or, worst, a pimple in my nose so huge it looks like a ripened tomato. No. It doesn't.

However, experience tells me that a prolonged failure to have a daily, quiet prayer time with the Lord makes me terribly pained. It is a feeling that something is wrong--that something could go wrong. After all, not being able to pray is not being able to rush to the comforting arms of my Savior and be comforted by His timeless promises amidst the conflicting anxieties of my soul. It is to deprive the soul with the very air that nourishes it.

Do we take time to pray? Do we immerse ourselves in intimate conversation with God rather than talk about the latest gossip in town?

Prayer is to the soul as blueberry cheesecake is to the body.

Listening to molecular carols this Christmas. Part Two.

And I continue:

The CS Carol Fest ended with us smiling widely. After all, the MBB Choir wowed the audience: they sang with much fervor that it made our mammalian fur shiver. In singing competitions, that’s always a plus.

Anyway, I proceed with my tale. This time, the victory party. Still filled with the rush-hour excitement of winning, I heard people shouting, “So, saan ang victory party?”

“Sa Albert na lang. Malapit.” [Albert Hall is the home of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology].

“Sino’ng may gusto sa Eastwood, sa Libis?”

Opinions were varied, and so were the voices that made them. And so, after quite a few minutes of debate, they’ve decided to hold it in Libis.

And so, like a chaff that’s being dragged by the wind, I went with the group. After all, we were supposed to be treated to a sumptuous dinner by Sir Carlo, one of the instructors I think. I was hesitant at first because of these two valid reasons: 1.) I am not a member of the choir and 2) I am not a member of the MBBS. I told these to my blockmates (the people I shall be graduating with four years or so from now, God willing), but they still nudged me on.

“Just go with us.”

And off I went with them, some forty or so MBB students, mostly upperclassmen, and some of the other instructors. The party was in Gerry’s Grill, a superb restaurant in Libis. We ate omelet, sisig, fish and many more—one of my weaknesses is naming the food I’m eating; I even find it difficult to differentiate pork from beef—that made me feel so full that, for a moment, I imagined that I was getting fat. In dreams, man.

In dreams.

Listening to molecular carols this Christmas

When Angela and Juanchi sounded so terribly convincing, I knew that I had no other choice but to join them. I asked myself: Why not sacrifice a few hours of my time watching the CS Carol Fest at Aldaba Hall? Why not contribute my presence to support my fellow MBB (Molecular Biology and Biotechnology) majors? And oh, why not take a breather from lab reports and quizzes and exams to listen to comforting Christmas music?

"Why not? Sige, I'll go with you," I told them.

It wasn't really a hard decision to make: since I had shifted, I've never really involved myself in any of the College of Science's (CS) activities.

We first dined with Ciara at Lutong Kapitbahay, walked all the way to Yakal because I needed to brush my teeth and get a decent jacket, then proceeded to Aldaba Hall where we saw groups of people who wore the same attire and carried colorful props around.

The show started promptly, as soon as the hall was opened. Nine CS organizations competed for the prize, and they were pretty much (I like this term; it reminds me of my MBB 10 classmate, Patrick) prepared and in high spirits.

The MBB Society Choir was the last to perform. When they began singing the Eye of the Tiger, I knew they were going to win it. The arrangement was wonderful, the singers were great, and the choreography was amazing. It didn't surprise me to learn that they gained an average of 91 %, followed by the UP Chemical Society (77 %), and the UP Pre-Medical Honor Society (75 %).

But this is only half of the story. Afterwards, we were treated to a late, late dinner -- almost like an early, early breakfast -- in Libis, but that's another entry.

Scissorhands

More than ten years ago, Tatay gave us new scissors. Mine was yellow, Manong's was red: or perhaps, it was the other way around -- I'm not really sure now. History has a way of deleting precious colors from memories.

My father didn't exactly know that deep inside his two cute children -- I was the cuter, and still am -- were terroristic tendencies to cut anything that could be cut. And so, Manong and I, with our scissors, cut pieces of paper from books, Nanay's flowers in the garden, etcetera, etcetera, until our options were exhausted.

"Why don't we cut this?" My brother pointed at his hair. My eyes glowed with excitement, and my fingers couldn't resist the urge to trim it, like a bush that has grown uncontrollably for ten years. You get the feeling.

"SIGE!"

Then, we were giggling with immeasurable delight, and eventually found ourselves cutting, bit by bit, strand by strand, each other's hair. We saw bundles of keratin-rich cells fall to the floor, and yet we still continued with our barbaric activity.

"Lance, won't Nanay get mad at us?"

"Why?"

"We're making a mess -- O, wait, let's hide it beneath the bed."

I don't exactly remember what happened next, but I'm sure our parents were shocked when they saw us with haircuts so obscene, so not aesthetic, and so horrendous that we had to be rushed to the barber as soon as was possible.

From then on, we had to live with short hair -- I, Manong, Sean and even Tatay. It was not until my brother decided to grow his hair when he stepped into college that the family tradition of everyone (except Nanay) going to the barber shop for a haircut ceased.

I can't imagine myself with long hair. I'd probably die.

December na!

It suddenly occurred to me that the temperature air has gotten cold with fresh, crisp air, a sure reminder that Christmas is here!

While I do appreciate the cooler temperature in the morning, the one thing I necessarily detest is the icy water. Of course, that’s never a problem if you don’t have classes or work early in the morning. But for students like me who need to wake up day after day, whereupon encounter the refrigerated feeling of H-two-O in the process of showering, it is always a difficulty. When the water is frigid, the time it takes for me to take a bath is prolonged. In scientific terms, temperature is inversely proportional to the time of bathing. The cold makes me rather unproductive.

Upon undressing, I would gently twist the shower knob. Tiny drops of water would squirt out of the shower head, and then slowly, slowly, very slowly, I would draw near the trajectory of water: first, my head, and then my arms, then my feet. Lastly, I would drench my torso, my upper body. I always make it a point to do that step last because then, I would have to muster all my energy to jump and utter howls like AAAAARGGGGH, a few of my adaptations to sudden fluctuations in temperature.

As soon as the rest of my body becomes acclimatized to the glacial cold, I would resume to normal modes of bathing: shampooing, scrubbing, rinsing, then towelling. When I would check the clock, the time it had taken me to do all those would be 1.5 times the time it would take under normal Philippine conditions.

Don’t get mad at me, though. During mornings, cold water is never a plausible excuse for late-ness in school.

To be a lawyer

Manong Ralph is taking the UP Law School's Law Aptitude Exam today. It's a tough exam: thousands of lawyer-wannabees are desperate to get in the most prestigious law school in the country.

But my brother is not consumed with desperation. Instead, he is overwhelmed with preparing his heart, more than his mind, for it. I know he'll do well and that he'll do his best. Even in Math.

But I know for sure that he will not be able to answer a single question unless the Lord gives him the means to do so. Today, he will get an idea, (but may not exactly observe), how the Lord operates in His children's lives.

Whether he passes or not is secondary. What is most important is that my brother, in his time of need, will see himself utterly lacking and will therefore take the exam in calm surrender, knowing fully well that God is his God.

Be still. Shut up.



People close to me know for a fact that I talk a lot. They seem to listen to me all the time; I don't think they're sick of my blabbering. My mother, however, insists that I KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT if it's possible to do so, especially when I watch TV Patrol with her at home. She hates it when I talk while the reporters are saying something about the current state of dirty Philippine politics. I now get her point.

I'm talking about this now because I attended the Youth Fellowship's Mid-School Year Retreat with the theme, BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD (Psalm 46: 10). Kuya Lito Sto. Domingo, the youth pastor of Higher Rock Christian Church, explained that God is a person to whom we can turn to for safety; He is a source of strength to those who are weak and defenseless. Kuya Lito went on to tell the story of King Hezekiah in the parallel chapters of Isaiah 53, 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 82: the king of Assyria had already invaded the neighboring cities except Jerusalem. But instead of panicking or cursing or hyperventilating, King Hezekiah, ruler of the city of Jerusalem, turned to God for help. He stilled himself in the comfort of knowing that the Lord who had been faithful wouldn't fail him.

The discipline of silence is the voluntary and temporary absention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought. Solitude, on the other hand, is the voluntary and temporary withdrawal of self to privacy for spiritual purposes.

Why then is it necessary for a believer to seek silence and solitude? In the handouts that were given in that retreat, the following reasons were given, viz.:

To follow Jesus' example
To hear the voice of God better
To express worship to God
To express faith in God
To seek the salvation of the Lord
To be physically and spiritually restored
To regain a spiritual perspective
To learn the control of the tongue
To seek the will of God

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that I have to shut up and pray. My mother is right in this respect.

Mission

Myopic as my eyes may be, I live for a grand purpose. The world views this goal as foolish, nonsense, stupid; but I am not deterred. I do not live to please these wretched people; I live to please Him.

To bring Him the honor and glory is my passion: I enjoy pursuing His joy such that it, too, becomes mine in due time. I desire to be with Him--and I desire Him--more than the fleeting trophies of this life. For to be with my holy Master brings me enormous joy, lasting peace, and eternal life. My lips sing praises to Him who first loved me while I was so unlovely.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me. What truth can be better?

Seventeen, going on nineteen

Nineteen units.

Yes. Nineteen units of science courses that will make blood ooze out of my wide, fat nose. Nineteen units of subjects that will, in due time, sap all of the strength I've stored up during my day-long naps during sembreak. Nineteen units of Chemistry, Biology, Calculus, and Physics that will turn me into a skeletal human being walking around the campus.

I'm exaggerating, of course, but in UP, 19 units is a lot to keep someone wide awake during the night. I'm not complaining, though -- that's a stupid thing to do. But I do know of a few friends who have enlisted 20 or 21 units, and I'm wondering how they could possibly manage their time -- rather, themselves. If only cloning or time travel were plausible options.

I'm in the second-to-the-last leg of the feared UP-Diliman Math Series; it's Math 54 (Elementary Calculus 2) I'm taking. My instructor is Mr. Christopher Santos, a tall, bespectacled man who knows everything he's talking about, especially when he proves mathematical concepts and all that. I and my seatmate, Noelizza, would then find it hard to control ourselves from saying, "AMAZING." It baffles me how mathematicians can find baffling ways to prove their point.

I'm enjoying Chem 26 (Analytical Chemistry), too, not because it's easy (if only it were!), but because Dr. Pascual teaches it. I don't need to study the books because my notes have it all; she is practically a walking library of analytical chemistry. The class gets very interactive when she asks each one to answer her questions, which is like everytime we meet. To escape from getting the hard ones, I'd raise my hand once the first question is raised. That way, she doesn't have to call me the next time.

The lab part, Chem 26.1, is supervised by Mr. Greg(gy) Santos. I'm not sure if it's going to be as fun as Chem 16 because the experiments employ loads of calculations. Sir Greg -- he insists that we call him Greg, not Greggy -- seems to understand that students will always be students: they will, time and again, barrage the instructor with questions with things that they don't quite understand. Thankfully, Sir is patient enough to entertain me.

"May naisusulat na ako sa notes ko," I'd tell my classmates in Physics 72. After all, Miss Jaki Gabayno's class is a far cry from the one I had in Physics 71: she slowly explains the lessons so that way, most of us would understand them. She's short and small and smiles a lot. Inside her skull, however, must be a brain that might as well discover something that will shake the very foundations of Physics.

While I hated Biology in high school, I think I'm going to love it in college. Dr. Lilian Ungson and Dr. Sonia Jacinto are my professors: the former teaches botany, the latter zoology. The class is scheduled from 1 to 2:30, followed by the laboratory part handled by Miss Mae Rose Sumugat. It's a good thing I'm seatmates with Juanchi and Angela, my classmates in MBB, who, like me, adapt to harsh, sleepy conditions, by talking with each other.

That's about it. I'm pleased that I have 19 units of subjects that will make me learn how to trust in God's grace and sovereignty, knowing fully well that my strength is utterly lacking.

Crystal clear

I've never been good at finding things.

I remember my father giving me the use-your-eyes-not-your-mouth lectures whenever he'd ask me to get him something, and I wouldn't be able to because I couldn't find it. Then, he'd look for it himself, and would clearly demonstrate that through silent searching, one could find what one is looking for.

My Bio 11 laboratory activity therefore comes to mind.

The class was asked to find all the crystals in the cell's vacuole. I chose the Begonia stem. I did a cross section of the stem, mounted it on the slide, placed a cover slip on the sample, and poked my tired, bespectacled eyes through the microscope. The sample looked amazing under the LPO: the compartments called cells were clearly visible, even the vacuoles where those crystals could be found. But the problem was when I had to focus it under HPO to create a greater magnification of the sample. The image I saw was darker, and while there were things that looked prominent enough, I didn't think they were the crystals. They didn't look like the ones Miss Sumugat had drawn on the blackboard. I tried looking at the other parts of the specimen. I couldn't see the crystals.

Time passed rather quickly, which almost always happens whenever you're doing something under pressure. You have to get it done before the instructor tells you it's over. Time's up. And when you think you're about to find it, you realize that there is no time.

I was praying all the time. "Lord, help me find it." But the Lord gave me a slightly different answer. It's a timeless reminder for people who seek to find something. Sometimes, the things we're looking for can never be found because they're never there. But that doesn't mean that they do not exist.

I've never been good at finding God, but He has always been the best in finding me.

Adaptive mechanisms

Spot the difference. I've been playing this game all day, comparing last sem with this one. This sounds crazy, but the differences, I've realized, are rather stark. For instance, I used to really get sleepy and tired in most of my classes last sem, but there's something rather exciting about the classes I'm taking now. And then, I feel that I'm more receptive to the lessons, I write more notes, I smile a lot more. Is it my instructors? My classmates? Or is it my newly-evolved sleeping habits of six hours or so a day?

Living things do learn to adapt.

Pixellated memories

Like a pilgrim I walk
To marvel at the twisted, orange rays of light
That signal the end of the day
And the reminder of others to come.

I embrace each moment
For tomorrow, this world may hear the last sigh of my breath
Never to be seen alive, but only through the teary eyes
Of loved ones laying down flowers in my peaceful grave
Only a memory doomed to be forgotten through time.

With myopic eyes I see the world
In pixels of myriad colors
Blended to reveal the timeless portraits of Creation
Whose beauty lasts but for a second.
What wonder and awe! I am overwhelmed.
I may not remember all.

My wish is relish each moment
To capture the pixels of the present
In timeless frames of portraits
That seem to shout, "Perfection!"

So that someday
When my hair recedes and turns grey in old age
I can relive the captured moments
And with breathless expectation leave this world
With pixellated memories.

Beginnings

The beginning can never determine the end. A good start can only pave the way for a good ending. It cannot dictate the end. But who doesn’t think good beginnings are better than bad ones? After all, in the aftermath of the events, the end is inevitable and will perhaps remain elusive until we have almost reached the finish line. Therefore, in our cluelessness, we ought to start things right.

The problem is that we can’t. Or, more appropriately, we can’t on our own. Even if we so desire to do so, even if we’ve exerted all the effort we can muster, we can only do so much. We don’t have the final say. The final card isn’t in our sleeves. We need help.

But help from whom? It must be help that comes from Someone who knows all things, plans all things, and does all things for our good. We need God’s help. Better yet, we need God Himself. Isn’t it He whom the Bible magnifies as the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end?

Baby talks

I was provoking my little cousin, Naomi, to anger yesterday.

"I own a hundred of those [referring to the rice fields we were passing by]," I told her.

"I own a thousand," she said.

"I own ten thousand."

She just wouldn't give up. "I own a hundred thousand!"

I said, "I own a million. Can you beat that?" I was grinning.

"Aaaaarggghhhh!" She was quite furious with me. She doesn't know any number greater than a million.

I couldn't stop myself from laughing--I'll wait till she gets into calculus.

Cries of desperation: The Comments

I've been to Banga, South Cotabato to visit my mother's side of the family. It's a tradition, see, but I don't really look at it like that. It always gives me a wonderful feeling to talk to my aunts and uncles, to laugh at the seemingly incessant problems that flood them, and to play with my cousins who are getting taller every time I see them.

But while I was there, I couldn't help but think, "Will people misunderstand what I had written yesterday?" This, folks, is my post Cries of desperation. I was hoping to jolt people who happen to stumble into this blog, and remind them that we, as living beings, ought to put greater importance to our souls rather than to our physical bodies. I was hoping to remind these people to come to Christ, or else, their souls will rot like animal carcass eaten by filthy maggots.

But praise God for the two people whose comments may have shed light to this issue.

My friend, Jef, wrote,

What a wretched fate those departed souls have. Isn't it amazing He
promises to lavish on us His glorious grace, for eternity, even though we
deserve the full cup of His wrath and indignation?

Paul, also a good friend, wrote,

Even if the most holy and amazing grace [of the Lord Jesus Christ] is right in
front of their eyes, they would still find reason to reject it, preferring to
wallow in their own pride.

It is only in Christ and through Christ that we can affirm, with all our heart and mind and strength, that we are truly living.

Cries of desperation

Tomorrow, millions of Filipinos will rush to the graves.

They will bring with them candles, matches, and, for those who have extra money to spend, food and beverage. Like ants marching to their burrows, they will brave the heat of the sun--or, if it rains, the torrential rain showers--to heave sighs of desperation and sadness. No, they cannot bring back their dead to life, and it pains them everytime memories of their loved ones come to their remembrance.

At the end of the day, they will return to their homes, perhaps with satisfaction in the fact that they have fulfilled their yearly quota of one visit to the cemetery. Then they will try to forget that six feet below the ground are worms that slowly and gradually chew the remaining flesh of the body of their loved ones.

As they close their eyes at night, the souls of their dead now living--or dying--in the fiery pits of bottomless Hell cry out to them for help. , but they won't be able to hear them.

Happy Halloween.

Tricycle rides



I wander around town, oblivious of the pain in my legs. I see in the streets colorful tricycles lining up in the highway, as if in a queue of slow traffic, and realize that in the place where I study, these three-wheeled vehicles are as rare as students who graduate summa cum laude. The heat is overpowering; and yet, nothing seems to stop me, not even this heat that simulates the temperature inside an oven.

Then I stop. Just like that.

The numbness inside me thaws like the ice caps on mountains when the sun strikes on them. I shiver and tremble and mumble in pain. I seek refuge, and suddenly, I find myself in one of these tricycles. "Manong, sa St. Gabriel," I say to the driver who immediately confirms with a nod.

Going home gives me an emotion that has an incomparable quality to it--there is much expectation. And so, while I view the sights of the sleepy, cozy town where I had spent most of my life, I remember the Lord's gracious promise to all of us who believe in Him: after our tiring, draining, painful pilgrimage, we will go to a home He has prepared for each one of us.

I grab my wallet, and give the toothless driver six pesos.

Killing boredom

My older brother, Ralph, called two days ago. "I'm so bored, Lance." His voice echoed the urge to do something useful so he could kill the time.

"Why don't you read your lessons in advance? It will make your life easier next sem," I suggested. I've been doing just that--after all, I don't want my brain to rot in idleness. I was surprised to find that Campbell's Biology isn't that much of a sleeping pill; in fact, I found it rather interesting, especially the part on ATP and the chemical principles of metabolism.


"I don't need to do that." I forgot that his academic load will only be nine units next semester; mine will be 19.

Our conversation took a different turn when we talked about my blog.

"Your posts are getting worse," he told me. "Really, Lance, I really think that you're writing from a Tagalog or an Ilonggo mindframe [not his exact words, but that was how he sounded]. It's so obvious. There are many problems with your sentences. What happened?"

I was not in a position to debate with him. He's the English major, and he knows a great deal more about language and literature than I do.

"I just write what immediately comes to mind."

Forgive me, but this email is really funny

I rarely read forwarded emails. Don't we all? That's why it makes me wonder why, oh why, is my mailbox always cluttered with emails blatantly telling me that if I don't forward this and that email, I won't be able to find my true love. I think that trick is rather stupid. I have found my true love. He's Jesus.

But I was surprised (both with the message and more with my reaction to the message)when I read my classmate's (Arielle Sulit's) forwarded message, On the lighter side.

WARNING: This may cause stomach cramps.

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
WITNESS: Yes.
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget.
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you
forgot?


Here's another one. Liars just can't lie all the time.

ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
WITNESS: He said, "Where am I, Cathy?"
ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan.


I say, this wouldn't sound funny as soon as cloning is legalized.

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Would you repeat the question?


And lastly, my favorite.

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a
pulse?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY Did you check for breathing?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began
the autopsy?
WITNESS: No.
AT! TORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: But could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing
law.

Storms and rains that come our way

Rain has been pouring incessantly for the past two days here in Koronadal. My house--with all its windows and open spaces--is perfect for sleep, and who wouldn't think it like that when the air is so cool it could practically drowse you to sleep like a, uhm, sleeping pill.

I had once told a couple of my friends last year, "I've never experienced a real storm. Hindi talaga binabagyo s'amin."

I really felt it a shame in not having been able to relate with their stories of cancelled classes because of Bagyong Rosing and their concrete understanding of what Signal No. 3 really meant.

"What?" They must have thought it unfair. Many families in their provinces(I praise God they weren't included in the list)have been displaced and destroyed by the sky's outbursts of innumerable tears; power lines have been cut off; harvests have been ruined; businesses have been disrupted! "As in, no storm ever comes its way to your province?"

* * *

Jac sent me a chain email with horrifying yet spectacular pictures of Katrina, the Hurricane.

This is one of the pictures. It's worth a good look.

Nosebleeds and stories of home

There are still many things I don't know, like why my classmates in UP almost always get shocked whenever I tell them for the first time that I come from a distant island called Mindanao, in Koronadal City, South Cotabato.

There's a terrible weirdness to this. For one, Mindanao does exist, doesn't it? And then, the UP student population is compised of students coming from different parts of the country (yes, from Luzon. Visayas and Mindanao)--it's a fact that is known by UP students as Chemistry majors know the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

"Really, Lance? So ang layo n'un!" Their eyes would be disfigured in unbelief.

"Uh-uh," I'd say.

"So namimiss mo na talaga ang family mo."

"Hindi naman masyado. Of course, at times, you can't help but miss them."

Then they would go on with their mantras on how they couldn't possibly live outside their houses because then they wouldn't get to enjoy the comforts of TV, of home-cooked food, and sometimes, of their mothers' excessive and impossible errands.

"Do you ride the plane, the ship, or the bus when you go home?" they'd ask.

"Most of the time, I take the plane." I'd go on to tell them that round trip plane tickets (Manila to General Santos) cost more than our tuition fee for one semester.

They would get so shocked that I would have to call the doctor to administer drugs that would pacify them. Blood would rush out of their nostrils, their eyes would redden, and their palms would get so sweaty and clammy.

I'm exaggerating, of course. That only happens during exams.

A lesson in proofreading

It's my weird little ol' habit to browse through my blog ever so often, which has something to do with remembering exactly how I had felt when I wrote those entries. So don't be surprised when the site meter shows an influx of 15 visitors a day--it's really just me.

Well, not entirely.

But it's not all pleasure I get while re-reading my posts. I would realize drastic grammatical errors (albeit it’s lack of support in the nosebridge area and I Dr. Sergio Cao said, "Congratulations")in one or two posts, mistakes too unbecoming for a former-English major. I would scratch my head and say, "Not again!"

The lessons? Proofread ALL blog posts. Nobody's perfect.

What the University Chancellor told me

I remember a couple of months ago during the Kalayaan Formal Dinner Party, I Dr. Sergio Cao said, "Congratulations."

"Thank you, Sir," I replied.

"Pero sigurado ka bang college ka na?" He must have thought I was a high school sophomore--a usual mistake people make about me, especially in malls.

Dr. Cao is the new Chancellor of the University of the Philippines in Diliman. He used to stay in Kalayaan during his freshman year. In Basement. In B-18. The room in front of mine.

Early morning rituals

I woke up at 3:45 in the morning today. I don't usually get out of bed during the wee hours of the morning, but when the situation calls for such action, I can give a satisfactory response--I'm capable of that. And so, after a word of prayer, I jumped out of my bed, which is above my brother's (it's a double-deck furniture we have for the dorm's boy's wing), and rushed to my study table to study the remaining chapters in Math that I hadn't studied last night--calculating volumes and areas using slicing and cylindrical shell methods. Oh, my favorites in Math 53.

It's almost always like that, you know. Every night, I'd begin studying a subject for tomorrow's long exam and when the urge to sleep would knock at my consciousness, I'd postpone the remaining two or three pages of my notes for tomorrow. What usually happens is that my roommates would have a hard time--and I mean, BLOODY hard time--nudging me to get out of bed, especially when my dream gets exciting (again, a usual phenomenon during the night before exams).

Studying in the early morning has its share of advantages, which is why, as much as possible, I try to finish all assignments and review the day's notes in the evening and review them again an hour before I bask into the frigid coolness of morning water. I shall skeletonize the points I'd like to make so that you, my dear readers (if you DO exist), won't assume that I am making a novel out of a blog entry:

1. It's cooler in the morning, but the temperature isn't sufficient to brain-freeze your neurons.Not to worry. This is the Philippines--what might be the coolest recorded temperature in history is merely the room temperature in Vladivostok.
2. Everything feels fresh, especially your mindset. You'd be surprised that the topics you had found hard to understand the night before enter your brain like bombarded gamma particles.
3. It's quieter. The stillness makes the environment conducive for quality studying especially when you live in dorms or in houses where people hardly turn off their radios.

Tomorrow, I shall ask my brother Ralph to wake me up very early, "Manong (that's Kuya in the vernacular), if I don't wake up, pinch my nose or do something to it." My big, fat olfactory organ, after all, is one of the most sensitive parts of the body, albeit it’s lack of support in the nosebridge area.

Whining and complaining

My inbox is cluttered with emails from e-groups of which I am part of, reminding me from time to time of the fundamental concept of entropy or disorderliness. If I have time, which by the way occurs pretty rarely nowadays, I'd read everything, even the stupid forwarded messages that I've received more than five times already. "Don't these people remember that they've sent me the message I had sent them yesterday?," I'd ask myself.

But there has been a lot of buzz in my high school's e-group, and I thought it a pity not to join the conversation. My classmates, studying in different parts of the country, in different schools, with different courses, have been ranting about the difficulties of their college lives.

Genesis, for one, studies Nursing in Davao. She tells us that her clinical instructors are giving her and the rest of her class a hard time. She has to study this big book on pharmacology, and she has to memorize everything.

My classmates in NDMU are likewise experiencing such horrible times. I can almost imagine them whining in complaints.

Here at UP, my classmates Shean and Vanessa tell me that they already feel battered--not with paddles that fratmen use in hazing--but with the tedious requirements they have to submit or present. I've heard Shean talk of the sleepless nights she has experienced just so she could finish her MPs (machine prolems). Vanessa has had her share of sleepless nights as well, preparing day after day for her BA 99.1, a tough accounting course, so she could pass it with flying colors--except of course that it's hard to accomplish that because the passing is 60%.

Hours from now, when I open my Gmail before I go to bed, I'd be amused by their continual complaints that seem to have no end.

Noticeable

After exams, and I'm sure UP people can relate to this, I always find myself scratching my head, saying, "Ba't hindi ko nabasa 'yun?" or something similar like, "Ba't di ko naconvert ang units?" It's almost always like that. A few minutes before passing the test paper, I'd wonder what trance I had gotten myself into while answering the questions.

I don't know. Test questions just have a way of hiding the important points that a student ought to notice.

But I remind myself about what I had written days ago. Never worry, for the Lord will take good care of everything. Sometimes, I have to smack myself in the face to achieve that realization.

Your strength is made perfect when I am weak

I’m in the midst of exams. I have three of them today. Tough subjects, really. Sometimes, when I become rather pessimistic, I’d wonder why I need to spend the whole night—or a whole week even—just to study to answer 40 multiple choice questions.

But this is my calling. This is what I’m tasked to do, and I’m enjoying every bit of it. Through these trials and tribulations, I gain a deeper knowledge of God.

I'm going to have a hard time this week

I can only surmise that this week will prove the hardest in this semester.

On Friday, I have a practical exam in Physics 71.1 and in Arnis (PE 2). On Saturday, I have written exams in Physics 71.1, Physics 71, and Chem 16.

People who read my blog frequently (if their existence could indeed be proven) would observe that I've been ranting about the unique difficulty of this semester . Maybe it's my new course. My classmates would say, "Ang layo naman ng pinanggalingan mo." They're right. From English Studies, I had taken a leap of faith to Molecular Biology. I sometimes comfort myself with the thought that the two courses are really related--the relation is just not conspicuous. The relation is that both courses use language. Hahaha.

My adjustments, my pains, my joy, my disappointments, and my victories would make an interesting entry, but now is not the time to write about them.

Don't worry

The semester is coming to an end, but we know that during this time of the year, the exams will come rushing through us like giant waves, practically knocking us out of our wits! For those who do not have Christ, this is cause for great anxiety: how will I pass my exams? How do I get high grades so as not to get kicked out of my college? Will I be able to finish my requirements so I could pass them on time? These questions are not unsual at all. But as Christians we have a living hope, and that hope is written in Scriptures to encourage and remind us of the Lord's faithfulness in providing even for the simplest of our needs. Let's turn to Matthew 6: 25.

THEREFORE I SAY TO YOU, DO NOT WORRY ABOUT YOUR LIFE, WHAT YOU WILL EAT OR WHAT YOU WILL DRINK, NOR ABOUT YOUR BODY, WHAT YOU WILL PUT ON. IS NOT LIFE MORE THAN FOOD AND THE BODY MORE THAN CLOTHING?

Jesus went on to say that God even provides for the needs of the birds of the air, so how much more will He provide for our needs, His children?

Jesus's words are comforting indeed. We should not worry. When we do, we are underestimating His power to supply for our needs. We know that He is more than able to help us, and we know that He is willing to help us. And so I encourage you not to worry, for there is no point in worrying.

Born again

This is a short story I wrote which is inspired by the preaching of Pastor Bob last Sunday. I shall improve on this later on. So far, this is the draft. I hope you too will be blessed.

About five hundred kilometers away, people were dying every minute as guns were fired and bombs were dropped.

The young soldier named Mallinson, only in his seventeenth year, did not expect to see so many men with such careless hate, men willing to kill even the innocent to forward their wretched ideologies, so after sustaining a gunshot wound in his left arm, he knew that he would not live long. He had lost a great amount of blood, and the infection that occurred was almost incurable according to the doctors who treated him in the make-shift hospital ward. The pain he experienced was both physical and emotional, and it was something that no person could take lightly. Mallison was not an exception.

The boy could practically see death coming towards him, but he would not succumb to it because he felt a need for something. He called for Mr. Andrews, the wardmaster.

The wardmaster was in his late 50's; his face was wrinkled with stress, but he had a grin that made Mallinson smile even for a second. Mr. Andrew's presence comforted the boy.

"Sir." The boy tried to get up to show respect. Mr. Andrew told him it was okay and that Mallinson should not tire himself any more. "Sir, I know I'm going to die moments from now, but I feel that something is missing in my life. Do you know how I can be born again?" The boy's voice was very tired and pained, a voice that showed nothing less than resignation.

"Oh boy. I'm really sorry, but I don't know how," the wardmaster replied. 'Why do you ask, my boy?"

The boy's breathing was becoming heavier every minute.

"I read an old book--the Holy Bible, I was told--that told of a story of Nicodemus who asked Jesus how a man could be born again. I want to be born again, wardmaster, Sir. So please get me a chaplain so he could tell me how I can be born again," Mallinson said, almost in a whisper.

"I will, my boy, I will."

Mr. Andrews knew that Mallinson had lost too much blood to survive for the next two hours. His promise was empty--he didn't call for any chaplain because he believed that the boy was going to die anyway.

When he did his rounds in the ward, Mr. Andrews was surprised to see the boy alive. He went near the bed, and the boy opened his tired eyes, and said, "I am about to die, wardmaster, and I need to be born again. Can you please get a chaplain for me to explain to me how I can be born again? My father abandoned us when I was a child, and so I lived with my mother and sister. We've all lived miserable lives, but I know that if I can be born again, my life will change. Somehow, it will, wardmaster. I know the Lord will help me." The boy's voice, though resigned, sounded with firmness and resolve.

Mr. Andrews said he would call for a chaplain.

Moments later, they boy was still alive, and Mr. Andrews already felt fondly of the boy. Mallinson's breathing was heavier now, he looked paler, and the wardmaster knew for sure that he wouldn't live long. Mr. Andrews approached the bed.

"Where is the chaplain, wardmaster? I need to be born again."

"There is no chaplain, my boy. I am sorry." Mr. Andrews was sorry indeed. He had tried to find someone who knew how to be born again, but the war was raging like fire and it was difficult to find a chaplain in the middle of the war. While watching the boy, he wondered why a person who was about to die would want to talk about being born again. Mr. Andrews, after all, had become an agnostic throughout all these years.

The boy looked very disappointed. It was his last request before he'd die. He had so wanted to be born again, but he didn't know how. What he knew was that he had wanted to go to heaven, to be with God, and not to be in a wretched, horrible place like Hell. Mr. Andrews looked at him with sad eyes--he felt a strong attachment for the boy, for he was a kind soul whose ways were still gentle despite the looming death.

"I may not be able to find a chaplain to tell you about being born again, but I can tell you what my mother had told me when she was still alive. Oh, how I miss her--if anyone knows something about these matters, she would be the one! She lived a happy, simple, prayerful life," the wardmaster told the boy who was getting weaker every minute. "She told me that to be born again, I should accept the Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. She told me that it's only by the grace of God that man can be saved, not through works but...but...by faith--yes, I think that was what she taught us in Sunday school. She also said something about eternal life--ah, I remember. When someone who had born again dies, he will have eternal life."

The boy thanked him, pleased with what he had heard. Mallinson closed his eyes and mumbled some words which were he alone could understand.

"It works, wardmaster! It works!," he told Mr. Andrews. Mallinson's gladness was too great to bear...despite his situation, he had still managed to smile. "You should try it, Sir. I am born again." The boy, now weaker than ever before, had the look of death in him, but his eyes were moist with tears--not of pain, but of inexpressible joy. He had been born again, and his joy could not be contained.

"Sir, in a few minutes I will die, but I have one thing to ask of you. Please tell this to my mother and sister. I hope to meet them someday in heaven.They live near the bakery at York Street. Please tell them about Jesus. It works!"

"I will, my boy, I will."

"It works! It works! It works....."

The decrescendo of his voice accompanied the halting of his breathing and for a moment, Mr. Andrews had a hard time digesting everything that had happened. Tears swelled from his eyes, for he had learned to love the boy, only 17 years old but showed more wisdom than him.

He too desired to be born again.

UP fight!

I had to see the UAAP Cheerleading Championships at the Araneta Coliseum to cover up for my pentiful absences in PE. Ms. Peneyra, my kind arnis instructor, will give incentives--like erasing some absences from her record--to those who'd be watching the competition. Besides, it's a yearly event that every loyal UP student looks forward to.

"So why have you been absent anyway?" you may ask. Let me answer that question.

You see, Physics 71.1 (the laboratory part) is every Friday from 2 to 4pm. Our classes are held at the new building of the National Insitute of Physics near Katipunan road. My arnis class is scheduled every Tuesday and FRIDAY at the UP Vanguard Building where you can overlook the Commonwealth Avenue. The University of the Philippines is a horribly big campus (400-something hectares), mind you, and it is this very reason that has led to the compounding of my absences: it takes me 15 to 20 minutes to hop from one building to another through the Toki jeeps which can, at times, get wretchedly slow I'd wonder whether they're moving at all!

But the cheerleading competition was fun, except of course that for the fourth strait year, the UP Pep Squad has not emerged the champions. UP placed second to the defending champions of last year, UST.

The Big Dome was already jampacked with students from the eight participating schools by the time we had gotten there. Outside, the queue for tickets was as long as those here in UP during enrollment. Unfortunately, there were no more available tickets so those people who had lined up had to leave and go home and get some rest. They should have watched TV because the competition was televised in Studio 23.

UP's performance this year is a far cry from last year. Their stunts were amazing and left us all in awe. "Could humans actually do that? Can I do that?," I asked myself ten times. I don't know, maybe I can if I try hard enough. But then again, that's as impossible as seeing our congressmen doing their jobs as they ought to.

The door has been opened

Just a few months ago--February 12 to be exact--I had my first dose of what they deem to be the most exciting part of a UP dormitory life, the yearly Open House (at least, it was yearly in Kalayaan). It's an event that all dormers look forward to because, once in a blue moon, outsiders (the dorm jargon for non-dormers)get the chance to enter the otherwise locked doors of the residence halls.

Now that I'm in Yakal Residence Hall, the experience takes a different beat. The reason why I'm writing about dormitories and open houses must have been made evident already, dear readers (if you do exist).

It's Yakal's Open House today.

And I've been out of the hall all day, in the wide expanse of the campus, listening to lectures, wondering at times when I'd be back home to celebrate with my dormmates.

Real food. 18th birthdays.

At last. Food. Real food.

Shean (a high school classmate studying in UP) and I have just arrived from Rowena's birthday party in Cubao. The party and the people made me feel as if I were in Koronadal, my home sweet home a thousand miles away, because almost everyone spoke Ilonggo, that charming, familiar vernacular, and the atmosphere was so, uhm, "home-ly" that somehow I had a hard time reconciling conflicting thoughts: I studying in molecular biology and I eating tuna from General Santos.

I saw familair faces in the party. Rowena's mother, for one, told us too many things about KN (which is Koronadal National Comprehensive High School--my high school), and how things are changing so fast there.

It was bliss to forget that I still have a class tomorrow, to pretend that I'm in Koronadal, to talk to familiar faces, to hear wonderful news from home, and to eat until my stomach hurt.

Transport strikes. Tenth place.

My Chem Lab classmates, a few minutes ago, have been too optimistic to hear an announcement that classes for today would be postponed. In my mind, I thought, "Why not?" There was practically no jeepney in sight--the drivers went on a transport strike, I was told, to show their protest against the ever-increasing oil prices (I mean, what else is new?). My classmates--Vienna, Don, Princess, and most of them--were busy discussing how they were going home; commuting was the only means, so how were they to do that without jeepneys?

The announcement came, of course, otherwise I wouldn't be here to write this entry. We were too ecstatic--Rachel was shouting her vocal cords out, especially when we heard that Sir Acy Yago passed the Chemistry Board Exams with flying colors. Tenth placer. I wasn't really surprised. Si Sir Acy pa?

Congratulations, Sir.

Lazy Sundays in UP


Sunday afternoons in the University of the Philippines (UP) have something different in them--a lazy quality perhaps--that makes people want to doze off for a few hours. Sleeping is utterly irrestistible, but there are times when you've got to oppose the urge to "drift away" especially when you have exams the next day. By God's grace, I will most certainly enjoy this time of sleep.

UP does look wonderful, even under the heat of the scorching Philippine sun. Why I said that, I don't know, but one thing's for sure: to live in a forested area like UP campus is, in effect, a far better privilege than to inhabit polluted places like Philcoa (which, by the way, is still in UP).

And so, dear readers (if you do exist), excuse me for I shall now sleep.

Sighing as sembreak looms

I still couldn't believe my ears whenever I hear people around me say, "Yey! Patapos na naman ang sem." For one, I still have lots of things to do before that; second, my mother told my brother and I that we will not go home to Marbel during the break; third, I couldn't feel it in the air.

Time just flies so fast, don't you think? And the more you think about it, the more you get baffled by what you've done with your life. I, for one, ask myself questions like, "What have I accomplished this sem? What do I need to improve on?"

I don't know...my thoughts just drift from place to place, so forgive me, dear readers (I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person reading my blog--if that's the case, it's perfectly okay with me), if you couldn't get something important in this entry.

I can only sigh a sigh of relief whenever I hear people sighing like the way I do.

Lessons learned in panic

Today I’ve learned another lesson—in a way, it’s a reminder—and the more I think about it, the more beautiful it becomes.

I studied hard last night in preparation for my math exam, the fourth one. I spent quite a few hours studying it—I started at 4:00 in the afternoon and ended at 30 minutes past midnight. Don’t get mistaken: I had breaks in between, for meals, for bathing, for tooth brushing . . . need I elaborate? But the fact is, I’ve studied.

Hard.

I woke up at 5 am the next morning. I knew I had to be early so as to salvage the time: Sir Vry comes quite early during exam time and I knew I couldn’t waste even the extra 15 minutes, a bonus for people who come early. I walked all the way to Math Building (from Yakal) because there was no Toki jeep in sight. It was still too early that everything still felt sleepy. Still I charged on.

And then the exam…

When I browsed through each of the questions, I said, “Thank you, Lord. It looks easy.” It really did look easy…I knew I had studied every bit of it.

The first parts of the exam was breezy; everything went on as planned. But come test three, I knew I was losing my hold on it. We were asked to graph the function, find the asymptotes (vertical, horizontal and oblique, if they exist) and determine the relative extreme values. I think I must have spent more or less 30 minutes in that part: I still solved for the first and second derivatives. “Why is this so difficult?” I asked myself because I couldn’t get the right answer.

And then, through careful browsing of the test paper, I was jolted out of my wits: the first and second derivatives were already given: all I had to do was find the critical numbers, the possible points of inflection, and then determine the signs, etc. 30 minutes na lang ang natira, and I still had to answer twenty or so questions.

I panicked.

Man cannot understand the entirety of God’s mighty plan for His life. I can only thank Him for doing what He does best.

Dreamlike temptations

The clock read 1:03. His gasping was the only sound that could be heard, for everything seemed at peace at this very wee hour of the morning. He sat on his bed…his night clothes soaked with cold sweat; his palms were moist. The dream was too vivid that his mind replayed it over and over again.

The reality of the dream was too tangible for imagination.

* * *

There he was, holding hands with a seemingly-innocent girl. He felt something else…something utterly indescribable that made him feel as though he was doing wrong, that he was offending someone. It was an uneasy feeling, and he wanted to tell the girl about it, but he couldn’t muster enough strength to do it.

He didn’t want to be branded a coward.

“Let’s do it…” The girl motioned him to come inside a room. She clutched his hands, now cold and sweaty; she had this power to command him to do everything she wanted him to, and though he hated it, he couldn’t do much but give in.

They spent a hour and a half inside the room, and when they went out,  the girl, satisfied, said something that made his spine tingle, his heart beat a hundred times faster, and his conscience troubled.

“I didn’t take any pills.”

* * *

But dreams remain in that wide expanse of thinking. He felt like going back to sleep—he has a seven o’clock class later. What made him sleep was the fact that the Lord might never allow this to happen. His restraining hand is a testimony of His wondrous mercy that is renewed day after day after day.

When he woke up, it was already 8:34.



UP, UPCAT and life

Dr. Butch Dalisay, member of the distinguished faculty of the Department of English and Comparative Literature of UP's College of Arts and Letters, writes this interesting piece about UPCAT, his pride in having passed it eons ago, and his thoughts on the current circumstances in the University.

Excellence and equity, revisited
PENMAN By Butch Dalisay
The Philippine STAR 08/29/2005

My recent piece on my mom remin-ded me that it was she – a 1956 BSE graduate – who brainwashed me very early on about the absolute necessity of getting into UP if I was to be worth anything in my adulthood. She managed this by the simple expedient of playing a 78 rpm record of Push On, UP! – flipsided by UP Beloved – on our phonograph for what seemed to me like morning, noon, and night, even before I was old enough to tie my shoelaces. Soon I was playing the record myself, oblivious to its lyrics but happily agitated by the perkiness of the fight song. And there were, of course, the 1948 UP Highlights Yearbook and the 1956 Philippinensian that survived the 15 house moves we made in 30 years.

These memories crossed my mind several weekends ago, when the UPCAT (UP College Admission Test) was administered to about 70,000 hopefuls around the country. Droves of high-school seniors descended on Diliman and UP’s other campuses, torn between the anxiety brought on by the exam and by the thrill of reconnoitering corridors they might soon inhabit. It didn’t seem that long ago when I, too, sat in one of those halls – the auditorium in Benitez Hall, the College of Education – with pen in hand, writing my future in an answer sheet.

It’s that very same auditorium where the policy-making University Council meets. There’s a move among some well-meaning members of that council to give underpaid and overworked UP professors a little boost by according plus points (what we call a palugit, which comes into play at certain stages of the selection process to account for such affirmative-action beneficiaries as students from the poorest regions and members of cultural minorities) to the children of UP teachers in the UPCAT.

Some of my colleagues might strangle me for saying this, but I think it’s a terrible idea. Except for clearly marginalized and disadvantaged sectors – whose presence on campus helps make UP a truly national university – no one, not even and not especially our children – should gain special entry into UP. We can grant similar privileges for admission into UP’s elementary and high schools – which after all were conceived to be, and remain, pilot schools, teaching laboratories for our College of Education. We can vote ourselves pay raises (if and when we find the money for them, and if Congress musters enough sense and focus to let us do it). But we shouldn’t privilege ourselves to the detriment of others when it comes to college admissions, or we might lose the very moral authority we fall back on when it comes to criticizing corruption in other branches of government.

One of the things I felt proudest of when I was serving UP as Vice President for Public Affairs not too long ago was to be able to say "Sorry, but no…" to the entreaties of high government officials seeking special favors for their wards, especially post-UPCAT. No one gets into UP for being the son, daughter, relative, or protégé of a senator or congressman, no matter how highly placed, and no matter if they control UP’s budget, which we need to defend annually in Congress.

That was matched only by the pride I felt, many years earlier, of having my daughter Demi pass the UPCAT purely on her own account. UP parents – whether faculty members or not – ought to be able to savor that pride without feeling that their kid got in with a little help from a system meant to serve not insiders, but the people at large. I hope the new UP administration finds the wisdom and the will to nip this misguided initiative in the bud.
* * *
Speaking of the UPCAT (and following through on a piece I wrote about it in May last year), other steps are underway to review how well it has worked, and to determine if it remains relevant to our needs and realities. Such periodic reviews are fine – indeed, essential in a world, society, and educational landscape that have changed much over the past 30 years.

Students are going to college more poorly prepared than ever, in terms of basic skills (science, math, and language) and of "cultural literacy" – an awareness of (leading to an engagement in) the backgrounds, issues, and elements of our nationhood. When critics (and even professors) bemoan what they see as a deterioration in the quality of our college students and fresh graduates, they often forget to note that these problems began much earlier – in ill-equipped elementary schools, poorly-trained and underpaid teachers, and yes, parents who expect teachers to shoulder the task of education 100 percent, to whom glancing at their kids’ report cards and dispensing their baon is duty enough.

And when we range our graduates’ performance against those of other universities in the region and the world, we also con-veniently forget that we "cheat," in effect, by requiring only 10 years of elementary and high school education before shoving our kids into college. (Compare that, for example, to 12 years in the US and India and 13 years in Norway. Of course we’ll argue that we Pinoys can’t afford to pay for the extra years, and besides, we’ve all managed to get by – which is exactly where we are, just getting by while our neighbors have been moving on.)

That said, what’s the nation’s leading public university to do?

As in the past, much of the debate that will inevitably attend the review will have to do with the competing claims of "excellence" and "equity" – code words both for sharply defined and emotionally charged positions. "Excellence" would mean the survival and progression of the intellectually fittest – the university would take in and educate only the very cream of the high school crop, with no considerations given to such factors or qualifiers as economic status and geographic origin. "Equity" on the other hand would give some importance to those very factors, applying weights and counterweights to ensure a more democratic mix and achieve socially desirable objectives. It’s easy to see how both positions can be defended – and overplayed.

"Excellence" recognizes the fact that however you look at it, a university is an intellectual enterprise, whose business is the production of an intellectual elite. That elite can then – if it so wishes – help uplift the lot of others. Excellence is efficient and cost-effective. You’ll expend less time, effort, and money educating someone who’s already smarter than most to begin with. With just so much to spend on public higher education, the government could gamble its stash on those students most likely to succeed – and on the university most likely to help them succeed. For professors, it’ll be a pleasure dealing with students who can absorb anything you say in an instant.

"Equity" would be the battle cry of those who believe that, as a publicly funded institution, a state university has an inalienable responsibility not just to the pursuit of knowledge but also to the promotion and practice of democratic ideals. That includes a conscious effort toward some degree of fair representation – if necessary, through affirmative action–for the country’s regions and ethno-linguistic groups as well as economic classes, with an emphasis on helping those already minoritized and disadvantaged for having been born poor and far away from the best elementary and high schools. It will take more work and resources to bring these students up to par with their thoroughbred peers – but if we don’t go the extra mile for them, they (and the majority of our people that they represent) will only be left farther behind.

Speaking as a UP alumnus and professor, I’m convinced that a combination of both factors – not necessarily a 50-50 proposition – should serve the university and our people best. A compromise might be achieved, for example, and as had been earlier proposed by some quarters, by applying purely "excellence" factors – UPCAT scores – to the first 1,000 or 2,000 (out of 6,000) passers, and additional "equity" factors to sort out the rest.

While I have to admit to a personal bias for equity considerations, I seriously doubt that democratic representation alone will achieve anything substantial (and our Congress is the best proof of that). There are state colleges and universities in practically all our provinces – way too many of them, in fact – that can meet the needs of most of our students where they are, as they are. Can the nation – and even the poor – best be served by holding back the academic potentials of its leading university in the name of pluralism?

On the other hand, "excellence" can very quickly become a euphemism for more than an intellectual form of elitism, for turning UP into a haven for the sons and daughters of the rich, who would have had the best preparation for the UPCAT in high schools blessed with all computers and library books anyone could wish for. If no equity factors were to be considered, UP would be filled in no time with Metro Manila-based PSHS, Ateneo, and La Salle graduates – the parents of many of whom, ironically, could very well afford to send them on to top-flight private universities for ten times the tuition they would pay in UP. You’d have to wonder if this is what the government allots UP P4.5 billion a year for (less about P1 billion for the Philippine General Hospital) – money contributed by ordinary taxpayers all over the country.

We’re not quite there yet, thanks to the UPCAT’s present observance of equity considerations. As far as I know, we’ve been able to maintain a rough 50-50 ratio between public and private schools among UPCAT passers. When last we looked, based on self-reported family income (and dispelling the notion propounded by some politicians that UP has already become a school for the rich), less than 4 percent of UP students come from families with incomes of more than P1 million – not a lot these days.

That could change if we pull out all the stops altogether, and I for one hope that doesn’t happen. Sure, it takes more effort and it’s often plain frustrating to teach the poorly prepared – but that’s the mission I feel I signed up for, in the hope that these people will make more of a difference to their families and communities than another well-scrubbed boy from Greenhills. The day UP truly becomes a rich kids’ school is the day I leave it – for Ateneo or La Salle, to at least be commercially recompensed for what I’m doing (although I doubt there’ll be a place in either school for this stubborn agnostic).

Looking back

This is an email I sent to friends on November 8, 2004. I was just reminded of how faithful the Lord truly is—day in or day out. I hope you too will be reminded of that precious truth.

It is finished.For three agonizing days, I have been enrolling.

For students in other schools, this must be an exaggeration; here in UP, it is as normal asseeing protesters demanding for Gloria's resignation.

For three days, I have lined up for queues just to get the subjects that would interest me. These queues are long; the processing ofdocuments and the like is so slow you'd wonder if there's progress at all. For three days, I have rushed to and fro the large, wide campus that is Diliman.

There's always the adrenaline rush when I hear that subjects are still open for pre-enlistment.

"Saan? May open pa bad'un?"

"Ilan pa ba ang available?"

"Magpe-petition ba kayo for EnviSci?" Oblivious to everything else, I would follow the flow of people; again, lining up for the nth time for my turn. Often, my actions would end in futility. It was as if I was going to have a nervous breakdown. "Isang MST nalang." I was, in fact, relying on my efforts, not entirely dependingon the One who sovereignly controls everything. I texted my brother tohelp me; he replied: Lance, patience is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Trust in the Lord. I remembered the things I studied in my quiet time the night before: The Lord engineers all our circumstances; the events that happen are ordained by Him. Or, as Kuya Lito puts it, "He directs the steps and stops." He does this to test our faith, so that trusting Him would be as natural as breathing.

Why don't we trust in Him? Is it because we are, in fact, underestimating His power? Are we thinking so low ofHim? Today, I write this as a person convicted of the sin of doubt. Not just once, I doubted the Lord. I have so many things to be thankful for, especially this: I am enrolled, at last. "Welcome to UP," they tell me. But more than this, it is my prayer that someday, my faith will become like Martha's. "Do you believe this?," Jesus asked her. She said,"Lord, I believe you." Praise be to the Lord!

Sore, sore throat

I have sore throat, and unless you were born in another galaxy, you’d be able to relate to this wretched pain I’m going through. There’s one thing I’d like to say: second to toothache, a sore throat is the worst physical pain practically all humans normally experience.

Okay, so maybe that’s not as painful as, say, having a brain tumor or having your right limb cut off—just like that beautiful character, Sophie, in Kill Bill 1—but you do get my point: the pain is unnerving, intolerable, and  almost omnipresent; it has to be cured immediately.

I called up home to ask what to do. Tatay told me to gargle hot water with rock salt. I did just that, and the pain subsided, albeit for a while, but it came back after a few hours. My friend, Paul, told me to buy Deflam (like Strepsils) because, he says, his mother once had sore throat, and that product was so effective that she was immediately cured.

Once in a while, I still dissolve Strepsil candies in my mouth.

This has led me to learn the following lessons:

1. The ability to swallow painlessly is a skill that we ought to be thankful for.
2. Tap water doesn’t really taste that bad.
3. When someone talks too much, there’s always that possibility of incurring something like—a sore throat.

I’ll sleep early tonight. It has been a tough day.

Punctuality and Math

It was a lame start: what could be more lame that waking up late on a day that requires nothing less than punctuality? Jolted out of my wits, I jumped out of my bed, looked at the premature yellow rays of the morning sun, checked my clock(which is really my phone), and upon knowing that I had only 30 minutes to take a bath, walk, and review my notes (30 minutes to do all those!), I knew I was in that state called panic-but-not-really-panic. I hurriedly scrubbed my face with soap, shampooed my centimeter-long hair, put on a red shirt and denim pants, and wore my socks without drying my feet.

"Lord, tani hindi ko ma-late." (Lord, I hope I don't get late.).

That was the first stretch, the preparation--and so inevitably came the second part: the 15-minute walk to the Math Building. I went out of the dorm at 6:35 and was quite expecting something as miraculous as a Toki Jeepney on a Saturday, but there was none. I had no choice but to walk, jog, and run and a combination of all of them while still scanning my notes and trying to stick the derivatives of the sech and csch inverses into my head. Prayerfully, I asked the Lord to help me--at the back of my mind, I was thinking, "Lord, You know what's best for me." After all, His grace is sufficient especially in times when we reach the end of our capacities, our weaknesses.

When I arrived at Math, I ran all the way to Room 303 which was on the Third Floor. I was surprised at seeing a rather small number of my classmates--only a fourth of the seats were occupied--and there was no sign of Sir Palma yet. It was another 10 minutes, I think, when he finally arrived.

The exam was good for two hours, but I thought I wouldn't be able to answer all questions (amounting to 70 points) on time. The first part of the test was on calculating the limits of functions (both trigonometric and polynomial) where I found the greatest difficulty. I tried everything possible (or I knew was possible)--the L'Hopital's Rule, the limit laws, et al--but there was no bright light to be grasped: I didn't have concrete answers.

I decided to move on to the next parts which were comparatively easier than the first part. When I knew we had to graph functions, I felt something called dread: I hate graphing. I said, "If If I can't graph this by definition and transformation, I'll have to do plugging, even if that means Sir Palma will kill me (this part is hyperbole)." But the Lord's grace was sufficient--I was able to move on.

I forgot to mention that at the beginning of the exam, we were told to skip two questions. I half-rejoiced at the mere thought of skipping two problems, but I forgot all about such announcement in the middle of the exam (I was too stupid not to have read what was written on the board!). And so I answered one of them, a problem on parametric equations and finding a point in the intersection of the tangent line to that curve. It was so hard but I was able to get an answer anyway. I wasted almost 15 minutes reviewing and re-solving the problem, but of course, it would be of no use.

Two hours came to pass, and when Sir Palma told us we had two minutes left to review our answers, I bowed my head and closed my eyes, and prayerfully thanked the Lord for the answers I've written.

"To You alone the be glory, Lord."

Then I went out of the building, the heat of the morning sun touching my face with a comforting warmness that made me feel as if it was truly the Lord caressing me.

Almost a year now

It's always the internet that people use when looking for something. I mean, you can practically learn everything from this wide cyberspace they call the world wide web. There are so many things that will surprise you, of course. Some websites are fascinating, others interactive, and some are so packed with huge bulks of information that may just as well cause information overload.

And of course, there's my blog: a collection of entries that speak a lot about me and about the things that happen to me. It's short of one year now since I last started this.

And now, it's time for an evaluation: have I truly glorified the Lord through this? Have my readers--if there are such people who exist--known the Lord more because of what I've written?

I hope and pray that it's a yes to both questions.

Yakal Christian Fellowship


I'm afraid these are the only photos I have of some of the regular attendees of the Yakal Christian Fellowship, a dorm-based fellowship in Yakal Residence Hall of UP Diliman.

Let's start at the left photo at the top, then continue in a clockwise direction: it's Jaylord with Ate Lavinia and Jeiel during our Rummage Sale at the UP Village Barangay Hall.

Next photo shows me, Manong Ralph, Ate Lavinia, and my high school classmates and still college schoolmates, Vanessa and Shean during our dinner at Ihaw1.

Then, it's still at that dinner: Manong, then Ate Joan, then Kuya Derf, Kuya John and Kuya Reymar.

And lastly, I and my brothaaah, Ralph.

Break

A breather.

That's what I choose to call this ten-minute break I've given myself. It's a terribly short one, and part of me desperately wants to continue this until tomorrow, but I know I have to study: I need to.

I've just been to Molave to study Elementary Analysis I, aka Calculus, aka as Math 53 (the second in the horrible UP Math Series) with Stephanie and Ralph, my classmates who, like me, are not as prepared as we ought to be. Besides studying Math, I have to finish my Physics Lab report to be submitted tomorrow, prepare for a possible Chemistry Lab Post-Laboratory quiz, and many more.

Please don't blame me for cramming...close friends would surely disagree with that. You see, I tend to do things ahead, but the things I'm doing now are the things that I had started doing two days ago but still remain unfinished to this date.

I thank the Lord for the internet connection I have in my room; it was disconnected for almost three days, but now it's back.

I guess my ten minutes will be over in a little while. I still have emails to check, and Paul is in my room. Tumatambay na naman.

Greener grass


He is dead.

"I WANT to be remembered as someone who planted the seeds of change."

He said that he did not want accolades, and that his greatest legacy would be his dream of a new Philippines devoted to the basic tenets of democracy, fair play, decency, dignity, honesty and honor in public service.

But he is dead. "And where are the seeds of change?" we may ask.

His son gives us a wonderful answer: Let the seeds spread. The grass will be greener the next day.

I learned of this untimely death while I was browsing through the Inquirer-GMA website. Shocked, I read the whole story and felt downtrodden after. He was a great political Filipino icon: he didn't take sides when that was what the others did.

So that was the reason why, all along, I didn't hear the intelligent, sensible eloquence of Roco these days. He was confined in the hospital, perhaps waiting for his day of death. I think he'd make a good president, but how can he be one if the majority of this ignorant, self-seeking voting public would choose to elect actors instead of true leaders?

* * *


Haven't you noticed? Two of the President's opponents in last year's election are already dead.


When the going gets tough

I've just arrived from my Physics Laboratory class where I had an exam. I had two exams today, by the way: math and physics, and both were equally tough. I'll have my PE class (which is the popular Pinoy sport called arnis) in a moment, but I'm still wondering if I can manage going there without collapsing. Maybe I'll give my time a break.

It's a miracle--and I say this with much conviction--that this day ended without me getting insane, or has it?

I didn't get much of a sleep last night, it was rather a nap. I went to the University Main Library, that huge, domineering piece of architecture in the middle of the campus, with my brother and Kuya John (who hails from my North Cotabato) to study. You see, for those who haven't discovered it yet, the Lib is so conducive a place for studying that almost all bits of information rush into your head like electromagnetic waves. But there are always exceptions, and I think, to my dismay, that last night was. Maybe it was the Lord's way of jolting me out of pride because I admit that most of the time, I rely on my own abilities, and what He must have wanted to teach me was to depend on Him, even in answering the easiest questions. I tried reviewing the basics of differentiation (I'm taking up Calculus, by the way) and continuity, but there was so much to be done, and over all, I did a half-baked job. But that's beside the point.

Heavy load

This week was like a heavy, loaded backpack that strained my spine, beating my body to its fullest extent so that I almost thought of nothing else but rest. Early in the morning, when I'd wake up and notice everyone still sleeping, I'd feel as if another burden, this time a different one, had been placed on me, and that as the day would progress, that burden will increase until I could no longer bear it.

This week was likewise emotionally stressful. Jef Sala, a good friend and a brother in Christ, has left the country for good. His family is already in the US and his parents have decided that he'd study Pharmacy there. I asked him why he wouldn't take up Molecular Biology, but apparently, peoples' minds change. I wouldn't be able to see him vis-a-vis, unless of course we do the webcam chat, something which the University's Terms of Network Service prohibits.

This week was mentally stressful. My brain, if it is still functioning at its prime, must look like a rotten mashed potatoes inside. There are just so many things to remember, from derivatives to tangential acceleration to oxidation to the Mol Bio Central Dogma, and I can't seem to process everything.

* * *
Thank you, Lord, for the lessons You've been teaching me.

Dependence

Tough times call for toughness. And when you can't seem to respond to the call of the times, then you may be lost and in dire need of help.

The past weeks have been rather arduous for me. I had two exams in a week in equally tough subjects. I tried studying to the best that I can but my efforts were rendered futile when I took such exams. My head was practically an evaporating dish: it was as if everything evaporated. Whatever happened?

The Lord is humbling me, I guess. I have been relying on my own, even forgetting to pray before I study, thinking that I could manage things. But I am mistaken in this regard: on my own, I am nothing. I can do nothing.

It will do us well to depend on God alone.

Technology

Technology often drives science, science drives medicine, and medicine is always pushing society into ethical corners.—Dr. Mark Hughes, Researcher

The issues concerning the modification of the genetic make-up of animals have already sparked enormous controversies. I am not surprised, therefore, to hear that familiar clash of ideologies and opinions—this time, in louder, more forceful tones—now that the issue has been directed to humans.

The area of debate is essentially this: we have the technology to manipulate the very codes that determine our genetic make-up and there is a wide variety of options out there, some of them still untapped, but do we have the right to meddle with it (our genetic make-up), let alone with other people’s bodies, especially our children? Some people would even ask, “Do we have the right to play God?”

It would do us well to remember that the discovery of the DNA revolutionized the way we think of life. Sometimes referred to by the scientific community as a breakthrough in the field of technology, the study of the DNA is a possibly more useful area than, say, nuclear technology. But coupled with its growing importance are the moral and ethical issues that inevitably go with it. For instance, let us look at the area of engineering healthy children from defective genes shown in the Discovery production, Making Babies Genetically Correct. Fatal hereditary diseases strike one in 50 North American families, but for the first time, couples with damaged genes were given the reason to hope.

It is, to me, a contrasting picture altogether: here is the mother with a sick, dying child. She wants to cure her child and incidentally, to have a healthy baby free from such genetic disease—morally, there is nothing wrong with her intentions. But the problem lies with the means through which she would accomplish this end: she would choose the genetic make-up of the child by sorting out the embryos that carry the harmful gene. Let us extend this idea: here is a couple wishing to have a baby boy who will grow 6 feet tall, think like Einstein, and look like his father. Time will come when this will be very possible (I’m not sure if we have the technology to carry this out now), but will it be morally and ethically acceptable? Are they playing God by choosing the kinds of children that they would want to have?I am afraid they are, in a sense.

As in the first case (the mother with the sick child), a disease had to be treated. When life is in question, the answer should immediately be to save it! If, in the process of saving such life, another life—or more accurately, embryos that will later on live—is destroyed, then no life has been truly saved at all. Risks like this are to be minimized first before we allow it to continue in full scale. The second case is something that is, for me, morally unacceptable. I find it unfair because had my parents decided to create a child with so and so characteristics—those which I do not have—then I would not have existed at all. The natural flow of nature will be inevitably disrupted, and parents will take full control of even the genetic make-up of their children—something I cannot swallow.

But this is how things are going. Technology is growing too fast such that we already find difficulty catching up with it. To take immediate sides on the issue of genetic engineering is rather improbable—there are always gray areas that open the same questions, or even more complicated ones, and finding the answers to these questions are hard. "

The stories were true-to-life, a fact that made all of them painful to consider even for a moment. Two couples with children who had genetic diseases were searching for the means to cure them, in hope that they might be spared of the pains of life and possible an early death. The most promising answer was, of course, genetically manipulating the embryos such that the resulting child would not have that recessive trait and so on. It is, to me, a contrasting picture altogether: here is the mother with a sick, dying child. She wants to cure her child and incidentally, to have a healthy baby free from such genetic disease—morally, there is nothing wrong with her intentions. But the problem lies with the means through which she would accomplish this end: she would choose the genetic make-up of the child by sorting out the embryos that carry the harmful gene.

Let us extend this idea: here is a couple wishing to have a baby boy who will grow 6 feet tall, think like Einstein, and look like his father. Time will come when this will be very possible (I’m not sure if we have the technology to carry this out now), but will it be morally and ethically acceptable? Are they playing God by choosing the kinds of children that they would want to have? I am afraid they are, in a sense. As in the first case (the mother with the sick child), a disease had to be treated. When life is in question, the answer should immediately be to save it! If, in the process of saving such life, another life—or more accurately, embryos that will later on live—is destroyed, then no life has been truly saved at all. Risks like this are to be minimized first before we allow it to continue in full scale. The second case is something that is, for me, morally unacceptable. I find it unfair because had my parents decided to create a child with so and so characteristics—those which I do not have—then I would not have existed at all. The natural flow of nature will be inevitably disrupted, and parents will take full control of even the genetic make-up of their children—something I cannot swallow.

But this is how things are going. Technology is growing too fast such that we already find difficulty catching up with it. To take immediate sides on the issue of genetic engineering is rather improbable—there are always gray areas that open the same questions, or even more complicated ones, and finding the answers to these questions are hard.