Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

November 9, 2013

Yolanda whispers of tomorrow

by Melissa


vulnerable lives strewn like umbrellas in the

gutter after the typhoon clears our area

of responsibility, we can’t take anything without

destruction somewhere in the end.

the truth of our world

splayed across a shopping list

a shattered window

the poster of a politician’s face

they satisfied themselves with the chase

and the meal afterwards

a shrine or the event itself?

today’s news  in a puddle of water and gas.


tomorrow will she rage tears in the darkness?

wailing, forgotten in the corner with the cost of rice

always rising like the rich, failing

pitched inevitability like a tent city.

the world falling around her

(ravaged as they say only ever in the wake of a hurricane

passing off the western seaboard)

her story shunted aside

in the banquet of another day as usual

traded for a fucking dollar

consumed naked and fast

like a perfect slice of white bread.


please god, tomorrow will she breeze by the window?

a touch that travels wet along the coast, a peal of joy in her name

the harvest falling under our tongues

as lovers before the waves surge then

balancing history on the edge of her lips

a moan lifting like a puff of smoke

from the hearth where nothing is wasted

messenger to the world, to the very soul

of a world beyond cries in the darkness.

where truth swells like an awareness seeping steadily

into the wellspring of our being together.




August 25, 2013

The Balikbayan and her Daughter: A Common Dreams Manifesto

by Melissa

The balikbayan returns to her homeland through her daughter, a naive smile plastered to her face.  Cheerfulness: the responsibility of home-coming.  Two years and a few crises of identity later, she is still here, trying not to over-represent her experience of the third world.  It is not hers to represent, afterall.

She will go to the Million People  March and rage against corruption nonetheless; however ambivalent she feels about the government (not her own).  In the Philippines, we can understand corruption as a beyond-state practice.  One among many weapons in an arsenal of theft.   Beyond the boundaries of sovereignty;  beyond taxpayer jurisdiction (“I deserve because I pay”);  and beyond (real and imagined) efforts of an Aquino Government to ‘straighten the road’.  Corruption here happens as a historical practice, along the spectrum of small and large thefts that make up the history of these Philippine Islands.  A thesis.  Perhaps made worse by power centralizing in all the wrong places, she admits the family names of Marcos and Enriles…  Nevertheless, tracing the causality of corruption ends in the same annals of history that begin with colonization.  Deep roots.

And the balikbayan (not her daughter) shrugs her shoulders and drinks the last dregs of her cup of Proper Tea, the Canadian way.

The problem with tax embezzlement is both a question of burden and responsibility.  For the record, she pays her taxes quarterly…  So, she argues, the practice of taxes in the Philippines is illusionary at best, shrouded in the thinnest veil of sovereignty.  The social contract of taxes is supposed to be clear cut.  We pay them.  Life goes on.  A virtuous cycle of exchanging part of her income for the hospital she uses occasionally, or the school she might someday send her kids to.

But in the process of third worlding something changes.  Life goes on whether we pay tax or not…  The truth of it is we don’t need tax, we just need credit.  What we really need are foreign investments.   A good credit rating.  International standing.  So we waste the opportunity for public funds through tax-free holidays in Export Processing Zones and automatic debt appropriations.

But where’s the protest about that?

It’s difficult to locate her anger, somehow schizophrenized in the generational loyalities between here and there.  Imperialismo ibagsak! Scrawled in red below the skyway on the route to Muntinlupa.  The concrete post stood for a nearly a century waiting for a tax allocation.  Preach sister, she thinks absentmindedly at the red letters as her taxi crawls along the West Side Highway.

Her mind drifts to a future Philippines.  A fantasy wherein all the politicians that Want to Have Their Pork and Eat it Too are exiled to Saskatoon , Saskatchewan only to find an angry mob of Filipino-Canadians with pitchforks and protest songs.

Not to say that these people in government aren’t to blame. Of course they are.

It’s just that the protests can’t stop at Malacanang (or more likely at the arches before we even cross the bridge at Mendiola).

The question is of burden and responsibility, the blame so wide and long and deep.

The balikbayan takes some responsibility and lets God take the rest.  She pays taxes to another government, her duty as an immigrant.  She still loves her country.  You can love from afar, afterall.  She sends boxes filled with chocolate, shampoo and rubber shoes.  She shrugs her shoulders.  That’s life.

Maybe the embezzler justifies his actions as responsibility to his family?  The thought of it, and we all recoil in disgust.  But the fantasy of responsibility works this way.  We are responsible to those we love, those we know, and then those we don’t know.  In that order.

The nation, however loved, is estranged through the process of migration.  The balikbayan and her daughter, strangers in the motherland.  Yet, our responsibility to the nation is premised on love and not the other way around.

The daughter takes responsibility differently.  She’s a cynic in matters of the heart.  “Love?  What about Truth?”  she said one time, crying on Skype to a serious boyfriend who could not believe she was willing to uproot her comfortable Brooklyn life for the streets of Manila.  That’s life.

The Truth no-holds-bar: life in the third world becomes a little less liveable every day.

And so we move away from the third world, or the truth, or both.

This ‘moving away’ has become the tragic definition of upward mobility.  The privatization of our dreams.  We learn the only way to get ahead is through the individual pursuit of life.  Bayan be damned!  Another migration statistic, another dollar to justify the mall-ification of the urban landscape (as if we’re fooled that this is any less third worlding).

But “True Journey is Return” as they say.  A mantra for those who willingly choose displacement.  It reminds her that somehow her presence might matter in all of this.  Not simply because she has the privilege of quality public education, the means to buy and read books, the luxury of critique, but because her story as a Global Filipino sits uneasily beside Jeanne Napoles on Flight 103 from Los Angeles.

Both of them might be globe-trotting, transnational Filipinos, privileged by birth to pursue their dreams.  But one inherits public money from the third world to buy herself expensive shoes.  The other one inherits public goods from the first world to write essays in the third world 😉

The choice should never be between private dreams and public responsibilities.  Here’s a manifesto for common dreams.

Perhaps, the process of accountability works in parallel form to responsibility.  First we hold accountable those we love, then those we know, and finally those we don’t know.

So let’s start with the politicians.  Those we love to hate, those whose intimate familiarity reminds us of the past.  Que se Vayan Todos, if it were up to her…

But that cannot be the end.

The question of tax burden and responsibility goes beyond the fact of embezzlement.  Ultimately good governance ought to be measured in terms of whether life is worth living in the third world.

How do we hold history accountable to the present?  How does she hold herself accountable to the generations of common dreamers that, today, call her Ate?

January 2, 2013

lights, camera, family!

by Melissa

Family is central to the story of the Philippines…  I have been immersed in this truth on various occasions since I last wrote.  In November there was Undas-  All Saints and All Souls Day.  This is the day where everybody goes to the cemetery to visit  family members who have passed on.  There are flowers and candles and food for the dead.  There is music and food for the living too.  The cemetery is alive!  I went too, to visit my Lolo at Lola in the public cemetery in Alabang.  It is ”apartment style” five or six tombstones on top of each other…  On the way we passed tens of thousands of people and a carnival with a ferris wheel-turned-rollercoaster.  My Tita asked if I wanted to ride but I declined!  It was going so fast!

I wish I had pics of this… but I have a strange  complex with pictures that involves some combination of  a) remembering to bring my camera and b) having the guts to take pictures and c) a philosophy of not wanting to live for the future

Sometimes I feel like I purposely don’t bring a camera so I can stay in the moment… And I sometimes get chided for this by friends and family.  But really, it still happened, right, even if you don’t have proof!

On Undas, we did a full rosary in the crowded space in between  the vertical columns of graves.  I was touched somehow that a few onlookers joined us in the ceremony.  Can’t hurt to have a few extra voices join the chorus.

Since then, its been the holiday season.  Christmas here is a two month ordeal.  I have had the privilege of celebrating with the Lantern Parade at UP, my dad visiting, a few spiritual gatherings for 2012 and the solstice, multiple meals with family, and of course the ritual of gift-giving.

With my family in Alabang, just like last year, I played the role of sexy Santa- giving gifts of clothes, games, toys.  This season I also got to do a bit of gift-grabbing during my office Christmas party and also with the Duwendes.   This entailed buying gifts to exchange and then flipping cards to see who can grab the most gifts.  Haha.  I ended up with a pair of blue shorts, a notebook, a malong, and a reusable bag…

I tried to minimize the almost-garbage quality of Christmas too… wanting to participate and yet maintain an environmental conscience.  Its hard to do this with the amount of plastic that emerges here (everywhere) for the holiday season. I guess if you only have 20 pesos to spend, all you get is plastic.  But there is an alternative.  I ended up buying many last-minute gifts (on the 24th) under the bridge in Quiapo.  There are many stalls selling Philippine handicraft made of wood, bamboo, shells, and indigenous fiber.  There’s a tradition here of thrift, making the most of something…   but it seems as though there were few customers on this last busy shopping day.  I added that to my bucket list of things to do in the Philippines:  visit the ports, where cheap goods from China etc. are dumped for the Philippine market.  It really changes everything.

There’s one kind of almost-garbage though that I’m into here: cheap LEDs.  At all the events and public places in Manila, there are always these vendors selling lights.  The kind derived from glow sticks, quite exclusively for kids and stoners.  Lights are a simple pleasure here, and I suppose, I have fallen in their favour.   My favorite being  the slingshot LED parachute that goes 100 feet in the air.  This is my guilty-pleasure 20 peso piece of plastic…P1030422

November 5, 2011

urgency and the act of writing

by Melissa

Here is the beginning of an attempt to live in the open-  to be involved in the important political and economic conversation happening around DEBT.  I am one voice.  I am here in the Philippines for research and discovery.  I am tuned into the Occupy Wall St movement happening in NYC-  a city I love dearly.  I am in support of Occupy Toronto, happening in the city of my birth.  I have prairie roots and Philippine dreams.  I want to make analytical links between all these geographies, connected already in complex ways by instruments of  money, people, ideas, desire…

I feel a sense of urgency about everything-  especially the debt crisis-  this blog is an attempt to write it out, to share this sense of urgency in a way that might contribute to the (good) necessary transformations that can come through crisis.  I believe in evolution-  in our capacity as humans to embrace a new sense of risk and a deeper realization of love.