Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tondo blood

circa 2010 Tondo, Manila, self portrait 103

When I was a young lad, my cousin, Kuya Cris, would drag me along the streets of Tondo in Manila, introducing me to left and right huddles of guys in their drinking session under the streaming sun and often I would hear him say “Oh baka makita ninyo ‘to dyan naglalakad, walang tatalo diyan ha. Pinsan ko ‘yan!” 

During then, I didn’t understand what he meant, even the occasional forced-drink of Tanduay and Gin from grimy glasses handed by some topless guy with sprawling tattoo marks, either on chest or in their bulging arms. But whenever I would snob the guys or would hesitate for the offered drink, Kuya Cris would nudge me and I knew I have to oblige. 

Kuya Cris was a former drug addict. Every nook and canny, he told me, in Tondo, where crystal meth and drug sessions is to be found, he had a map of them in his mind. Because of that, he was and is still close to them bad boys. Drug pusher, addict, snatcher, hired killer, rapist – name it, he said, “I’ve been with all of them.” Some turned friends, others became enemies to watch out for. 

Tondo is a familiar place since childhood. My lolo and lola, coming from Ilocos, lived there for a period of time. It’s the place where my mother and uncles were brought up. One of my uncles even became head of Tondo police station. 

It is in this story that I remember what my Kuya Cris once told me. I was crying then because of some stupid reason, I was young by the way. It’s still fresh in my mind what he said that day and maybe, I'll never forget: “Lalaki ka at may dugo kang Tondo. Dapat matapang ka.” 

To my surprise, it was the same line that was mentioned in the latest reprise of the movie featuring the late gang lord and modern day Robin Hood of Tondo – Asiong Salonga. 

The story of Nicasio “Asiong” Salonga is not new to me. One of my uncles, my Tito Erning, is friend to Bong Salonga, son of the man himself Asiong Salonga. It is a curious tale, a story about a man who lived surrounded by guns, women, money and other gang lords while remaining popular to the brethren of Tondo; as if a savior, a Messiah that could alleviate poverty and ironically, even violence at its kingdom. The name Asiong Salonga created a mark in my young mind, and recently, I finally met him. 

I am often amused by his story. Who wouldn’t? For someone whose serious child ambition is to become an assassin, who plays with toy guns with all the scathing sound of bullets firing angrily to an invisible nemesis, Asiong Salonga is a hero. A name that sends chills even to authorities, Totoy Golem, Toothpick, Erning, Zapanta – I’ve heard them all, and watching them in theater screen as the era of Tondo bloodbath and gangland violence passed by in front, suddenly I was a kid once more, reliving the former ambition of a macho feared image. 

Allow me to digress a bit from my thesis statement, but the recent Asiong Salonga movie is really good. No, I wasn’t paid by anyone to say that. The photography employed is not just pleasing but tells so much about the story. Congratulations also to Manong Jesse Lasaten for delivering such awesome scoring to the music and Mr. Carlo Mendoza for the amazing cinematography. 

So back to my storyline. I’ve lived with that warning. That having a blood of Tondo requires you to be brave, especially in the face of your enemies. Hide your weakness. Don’t cry. Suck it up. Avenge. 

And then I became 18. And you all probably knew what happened. The gangster fell in love, and everything changes. 

I lost the strut, the arrogance, the swag. I became a soft faggot. Someone who became understanding, someone who now bends his philosophies and pride to comply with some asshole, someone who acts to please the other one – I looked at myself and no more I could find the gangster. He died. 

Maybe life really is ironic. Love killed him, now love will resurrect him. Maybe it’s time to sharpen the swords, pick up the bullets and let the roaring guns trumpet. I forgot that people may not have guns, but one mistake and you’ll have yourself killed by people around you. Worse, it’s the same people you trusted. Or the same people you gave your heart to. 

Tell you what, literally, next year, I’ll be having my own gun. My uncle promised he’ll help me acquire the necessary license. He’s a former police official. Within our family compound, our house is the only one where guns are not kept. Most within our clan are police officers, that’s why; others just have them for protection. Uncle said it’s time for me to take the responsibility of acting as the head of house since my father is abroad working his ass out. Somehow, I’m flattered by this. Maybe finally, they’re seeing the man I’ve become. Finally. 

A gun may not equate to courage, but sometimes it helps. I just want the old me back. I just want to live again with that mantra: “Pag may dugong Tondo, matapang.” I’m tired of getting hurt. I’m tired of crying. I’m tired of not fighting back. I don't know what this means, what will this declaration brings, but one thing is sure: I'm never going back to that softer me. Now I'm Désolé Boy - the gangster. Bang bang!

Nilusong ang kanal na sa pangalan niya’y
tumawag alang-alang sa iba tsaka muna
ang paawat sa mali na nagagawa na tila
nagiging tama ang tunay na may kailangan
ang siyang pinangtatamasa lahat sila’y takot
makakapaso ang iyong galit mga bakal na may
nagbabagang tinga papalit-palit sa hangin
na masangsang nakakapanghina ang nana at
hindi mo matanggal na para bang sima ng
pana na nakulawit subalit sa kabila ng
lahat ay ang halimuyak lamang ng iisang
bulaklak ang siyang tanging naghahatid
sa kaniya sa katinuan at hindi ipagpapalit na
kahit sino man. 

-Hari ng Tondo by Gloc 9


Friday, December 23, 2011

All along the watchtower

self portrait 102

It’s been more than a year and a quarter since I thought I lost everything. And since then, I’ve been everywhere you could imagine. Been undressed by kings, been to the bottom of the seas, been to the kingdom of hearts, been to different bat caves and sometimes, even to the depths of a howling Inferno. I’ve seen things, great and bad. And what I understand is that there is little understanding of happiness in everything. 

Happy are those who sleep with demigods, then those who pretend to be emperors. And then there’s the cabinet maker, those who lick their black mirrors and then those who see visions of future. Chief among these, I’m curious to the savage state of those who are drunk from the cocktails of romance. 

This I pretend to understand, for I thought that happiness lies at the bottom of its crystallized glass. And so like Alice, I drank from the many strange bottles I saw. “Drink me,” the bottles said; printed in full bold colors attached to their necks. Neither turned me giant; capable of picking the tree of triumph. Neither turned me small; enabling me escape through the narrow hole leading to the illusive freedom of reality. 

You see me and people tell many things about me. To some, I am miniscule rabbit; others thought I’m a glaring vulture. Consequently, these tend to equate to my idea of happiness. 

I couldn’t blame them though. 

This holiday season, there seem to be an additional present for every single one I get. Often you will hear people say “I hope you find happiness,” “I hope you’ll get hitched soon,” “I wish for you to find the right guy,” and many other variations of it. Honestly, it’s the same desire I silently wished for a distant time ago. It’s a silent prayer to no one in particular since I never really included it to my prayers to God. 

I’ll tell you what most of you do not know. Strip of all names, all cloaks of grandeur and the high ambitions I speak off, I am, first and foremost – a kid. 

A boy in his early twenties who has specific fixation over leather boots, who enjoys mini RC cars and glows every time an M&M mascot is in sight, is what lies behind philosophical speeches, high political commentaries and drama anthology worthy write ups. As my iBlogger friends recently discovered, I adore those wide eyed cuddly stuffed toys, swoons over giant wheels and tend to get nervous whenever a clown is in sight. 

I am but a kid. And I may have wished for a romantic relationship, even frustrated myself over the idea, but I no longer lean on that kind of longing. I’ve walked the narrowest of the narrowest road and have seen one of the worst images there are, and at last I’ve learn to content myself in small things. 

When you’re happy with the small stuffs, happiness is easy. Happiness not only becomes yours but you yourself, you become happiness. 

I am my own happiness, so to people wishing me a boyfriend or a partner to gain happiness, thank you, but no more that I want one. 

I’ll tell you my idea of happiness. Whenever I could run and play barefoot on the seashore, whenever my friends and I would take a bath and sleep together, whenever I see stars hovering over dark clouds, whenever I get new books, whenever I eat hand to mouth, whenever I listen to strangers tell their stories – that, I am already happy. 

Bad decisions from the past does not make me any less of a person. Or being mistreated. Or being misunderstood. Or being misjudged, being mistaken and rejected. Or being single. I am as good as you are lovers; probably even happier than most of you are.

So long as there are free cakes to taste, so long as jokes would always come, so long as stealing one’s donut is not punishable by law and Timezone won’t be swallowed whole by the Earth, I think I will be fine. If not, I think this time, it’s best I teach my feet how to fly.

"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief.
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief."
Businessmen they drink my wine, plowmen they dig my earth.
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

"No reason to get excited," the thief he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us who think life is but a joke."
"But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate."
So let us not talk falsely, the hour is getting late."

-All along the watchtower by Bob Dylan

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rolling on cam


I can't say that I hate watching myself on television, but I must admit I'm very uncomfortable with the idea. Even with family home videos, it's too painful for me to watch myself on screen. The gestures, the voice, even the slight rise on my brows whenever I talk, feels so morbidly wrong.

My formal debut on television would probably be on the now defunct ABS-CBN debate show Y Speak. Every member of my family and friends back then in 2005 were able to watch it. Save for me. And then many more follow, obviously, as I was a former activist and the fact that I'm a broadcast communication student made the appearances more often than I would like to.

And then I entered Entertainment Television Group. And boy, my ordeal doesn't end with late night tapings, the derogatory words my Executive Producer shoving on me and the occasional tantrums of my pretentious actors and actresses. Whenever the paid talents weren't able to deliver their lines or simply dragging the entire production out of their crappy acting, or when the production cost is already skyrocketing, or a quick revision on script is need and the undying flashbacks, my director would often throw his headset, shout on top of his lungs and say "DB, take over. Wardrobe bihisan nyo na."

I didn’t and I won’t like it.

Now, it was our anniversary/Christmas party the other day and I know some of my readers here were able to share my nervousness as I was tweeting about my ultimately dreaded dance number. I already knew it’s going to land an item c/o our respectable reporter Sir Mario [Dumaoal] on TV Patrol. However, it didn’t occur to me that my face would be shown, in tight shot and in full more than five seconds, on national television during primetime news hour.

Of course it was hilarious for most people – except me. Instantly, I received tons of messages, SMS, BBMs, on FB and others telling me the obvious – “You were seen dancing like crazy on TVP man! Waddup with that?”

Friends, not only here in the third world but also those who are from Chicago, LA and Singapore didn’t miss my seconds of shame. What a joke!

I find it very ironic. For someone whose ambition’s trajectory leads to becoming a TV news reporter [and a popular one at that], being seen on the screen should be something I still need to learn to master. Maybe it’s still a question of confidence. Maybe it’s still an issue of not fitting with the society’s dictate of what looks good and not. Or maybe it’s just a habit.

But I will remember that being on television is not the ultimate goal here, or looking damn beautiful with it. I must remember that there’s a higher reason why I have this kind of ambition. For now, I’ll probably give all the fun to friends and relatives seeing my gorgeously hilarious face on screen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Conversation of a prince and an outlaw

Self-portrait, 101

This is a fairy tale.

And like any other tale, it begins with a once upon a time.

Once upon a time, there was a young prince like no other. He grew up to be a fine man though nothing really exceptional. His hair and eyes black as night, his skin as fine as any wood. He stands like a sentinel in battle and speaks like a politician in pew.


“I never really believed in fairy tales, sire, if you asked me. “

“But I came from a fairy tale, and you won’t believe in me?”

“That is neither here nor there.”


One day he heard of a famine brought about by a raging dragon, so destructing that he sets out in a journey not knowing how and why, though one thing is sure - he will fight the devil.

So he left the confines of his castle, rides his horse with his sword on the waist, and trails the treacherous road to the realms of the unknown.


“You mean you don’t believe me to be a prince?”

“Pardon my uncertainties but you don’t look like one.”

“It seems to me that you have turned yourself into a stereotype.”


On his way, he saw a few people. He met his fellow princes. While some are vengeful, others prove to be frauds. Soon he surrounds himself with friends. A noble, a priest, a virgin, a whore, a thief, a clown and a piper, to name a few. And all they set together to find dragons of their own to slay.

And then the prince chokes on the apple.


“I see no favor in dressing in capes and proclaiming I’m noble.”

“And yet I must look clean and well so the town’s people won’t suspect.”

“Well, you may pass on being a beautiful stereotype but my conscience won’t allow it.”


The prince slept for years. While he is aware of himself, he is neither dreaming nor awake.

And then at one fine day, he spits the apple chunk and rises from the crypt. He picks up his sword, joins his joyful friends and sets out again to find the dragon to slay.


“If only one could agree for a dragon-bait, it must be well.”

“And I goddamn refuse. I am as capable of rescuing you as you are of rescuing me. I’m an outlaw, not a hero. We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.”


Once upon a time, there was a young prince. But the story does not end with a princess on his side, or even with another prince, or with a kiss or in a happily ever after.

In fact, it doesn’t end at all.

with lines from Tom Robbins

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