Ninong Oca Francisco

Today is first death anniversary of Oscar D. Francisco, whom I prefer to call Ninong Oca. (He is one of the primary sponsors to Lea’s and my wedding.)

This piece about Ninong Oca is overdue. I should have written this in the wake of his passing away one year ago. I did not even pay my final respects at his wake, for the reason that I could not take seeing him like I will not see him live forever, for as long as I live.

Ninong Oca paved the way for me to discover my political destiny. I was involved in Youth Volunteers for Popular Democracy (YVPD) in the late 80s when he was looking for an ‘computer encoder’ for all his type-written pieces as well as those handwritten on yellow paper. (It’s no secret that Ninong Oca — in the company of Ninong Steve — has not learned how to use a computer. Though, I’m aware that he once tried to learn, but in vain.) With the blessing of my political officer then, I grabbed the opportunity to work with Ninong Oca even as his encoder.

Time flew past from then on. As I said, I found my political destiny through him. My involvement with the peasant movement started to grow when I joined him at PEACE Foundation as staff of the National Training-Organizing Desk.

He also broadened my perspective, literally because he would bring me along to his various trips abroad, in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Through these travels, I learned a lot of things and met people that I look up to up to this day.

It was almost like wherever Ninong Oca went, I went with him. In the barely 10 years of companionship, there developed a brotherly rapport between us. I feel that he enjoyed the company of Alex Soto and me. He really liked the “Bruce” company. He was Bruce Willis, I, Bruce Walis, and Alex, Bruce Co (as in brusque). Though I wonder if he realized that he himself took Alex’s identity (as Bruce Co) a number of times.

Two of the things I like the most about Ninong Oca are that:

1. He was brave enough not to hide his sentimentalism or his being human. I saw him cry a couple of times. One time was when a comrade criticized his being ‘magarbo’ (luxurious) in lifestyle despite the poverty of the peasants.

He cherished friendships. I remember him saying that like me, he liked the song “Kahit Maputi na ang Buhok Ko.” He would sing it along with me a la LSS (last song syndrome). He would ascribe the song to his company with Bruce Co and Bruce Walis.

2. He didn’t believe that “men are not monogamous by nature”. I remember the time when we watched a program where the topic was male human beings’ tendency not to stick with one partner. Guests at the program, who were all showbiz personalities, would practically agree that indeed men are not monogamous by nature. I told that I didn’t agree. I asked him, “Do you agree?”. He replied: “Of course not.”

I’m sure the spouses of Ninong Oca and mine vouch for that, that we have been true to our convictions up to this day.

Memories of Ninong Oca will remain etched in my heart. I owe him what I am today.

Virtual beer for the soul

“Want a beer?”

This invite from friend Arnold T. has been sitting in the queue of requests on my Facebook account. In fact, I also got a couple of “booze mails” already which I just ignored (sorry to friends who sent them) and failed to send virtual drinks to others as a way to “pay it forward”.

But that invite from Arnold is still there. I just feel amused at the sight of his avatar. He looks like a genius monk (baldheaded and wearing eyeglasses) with the neck of a bottle of Red Horse touching his forehead. That reminds me of my personality back in my college days. I was a person who could not last being a religious person in the midst of a mundane world of Quiapo, where MLQU was located. Love for beer and company of barkada, the very precursors of over-indulgence, were the main factors why I couldn’t even pretend to be like an ascetic. I have to admit that I was heavily influenced by fellas (some of them better off) to get hooked to mundane stuff like being in drink binges. I also have to admit that, in turn, I was an influence to others my junior.

The only consolation I had (for failing to be a faith worker) back then was my being a social activist. I spent two years in college (and then many years in my NGO work since then) being part of the larger community that wanted real better change in society. Guilt of not loving God eloped me from then on.

The love for beer extended to my being part of the country’s labor. Over ten years ago, I made it a habit to frequent a jazz bar in Malate after work, drinking at least four bottles of San Miguel Beer pale pilsen. Sometimes I did it with co-workers, sometimes I did it alone. (I developed love for jazz along with my addiction to drinking.)

I tend to believe that drinking beer with your clique is both a social function and a personal pleasure. It eases tension accrued from work and at the same time reinforces one’s sense of belongingness. But (and this is a big but), when done on a frequent basis and in an excessive manner, the social and personal functions turn into life’s dysfunctions, like work tardiness and health problems.

This is a hard lesson I got from decades of making romance with beer. I guess that my being a father since 1998 has also contributed to my dwindling passion for it. I’ve had to scrimp on my hard-earned money to ensure steady provision for my family. That means that I only drank (or threw drink parties) when there were reasons to celebrate like my kids’ first birthdays and baptismals. And the last of the factors is my health. Predisposed as I am to heart and liver diseases, I have to fight off the temptation to engage in a (heavy) drink now that I’ve already reached 40. (They say life begins at 40.)

Last week, I was able to track KSA-based Larry W., my best pal during my third and fourth years in college, through Friendster. He had been my great influence when it comes to drinking lots of beer like it would run out of supply tomorrow and forever. He asked me over email to see him in December this year and engage in a binge like we did in college. I kiddingly said yes.

OK now. I just ignored Arnold T’s beer invite just because he did it in the spirit of Octoberfest. It’s already November now. But perhaps, when I get another round of virtual booze requests from him and other Facebookers, I’d just oblige. Because, however vicarious, virtual drinks taste like food for the souls of the physically-challenged beer lovers.


I salute today’s young generation for their creativity and courage to go out on a limb to get themselves heard.

I think it was the second time around that the Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Kabataan did the naked protest on the same lingering issue of unaffordable quality education for all. It somehow worked for Arroyo who lambasted the education officials for the backlog in classrooms nationwide. It somehow worked as well for the Congress who increased education budget by four billion pesos.

Be that as it may, I was totally shocked to have seen my fellow men (although they’re definitely much younger than thirtysomethings like me) completely bare.

Going public naked from the waist down never crossed my mind. I can only admire those capable of doing it.

I remember when I was in Grade 2 school, I was one of the talkative pupils. Our teacher caught me chatting (even when I was doing it silently) with a seatmate while she was teaching us. She angrily asked me and my seatmate to stand up and go in front of the class, together with three other boys caught in the same ‘misdemeanour’.

We were totally clueless as to what she would do to us as a penalty. I was the first kid in the row, so I was the first one penalized: She unbuttoned my short pants and pulled them down, enough to expose my penis. All four other guys were meted the same draconian penalty. I remember one of us struggling against the teacher not to proceed with it. Two of us cried. I sobbed.

The class voyeurs were not united in reaction. Some laughed, some were evidently relucant to see in dislike (maybe they were religious or taught by their parents that seeing dicks their young age was bad).

From there on, I have developed a sense of embarassment even of the thought of exposing that part of my body to many people. Yes, I have done it several times, for instance, with colleagues in a group shower room but I think I will never do it in public.

I wish today’s teachers have improved their ways of instituting discipline in the classrooms. They must cherish their profession as a God’s calling for them to develop confidence, not embarassment, to their protege. As for my kids, so far, so good. They have so far been treated by their teachers like human beings.

Now, back to the topic. The question is: Is an ordinary man (I mean, one that has not been traumatized like me) willing to show his wares to the public, just for a great cause? Or, to put it more bluntly, can a thirtysomething or fortysomething at the very least sacrifice privacy (if that’s the apt phrase), even to the point of revealing a secret about his manhood, for a great cause?

I don’t know, but maybe, if naked protest is the ONLY way to change the society, I may give in. I wonder if you guys agree.

Kiddie rewards

I read in Reader’s Digest May 06 issue a story about a Filipino-Vietnamese lady recounting her war-stricken young years in Vietnam under the care of her matriarch nanny. The story vividly described how she and an aunt, in a daily errand to bring food to her grandfather, would cheat death against the bullets coming from the practicing Viet Congs.

She said that for every food delivery (which was done on daily lunch basis), she received five cac (Vietnamese centavos). That reminded me of my own experience. No, I did not even have to be threatened for a reward.

When I was six or seven (in 1973 or so), my grandfather once visited our household. My father was proud of my being bright (I don’t know whether he was right, but I think to my parents I was indeed excellent when compared to my older brother as well as to any other kid they knew of; I was lucky to rise above the rest, then). Grandpa was interested. He gave me a challenge – write my name on paper – and he’ll give me a reward if he’s satisfied with my writing.

I felt like a hungry dog drooling for a small piece of food dangled high. So I took on the challenge. I fumbled with my bag and found my writing pad (that used by Grade 1 and 2 pupils, marked alternately by red and blue lines separated at almost half an inch.) The dog in me was confident that jumping for the food was a cinch. So I wrote my complete name (actually, not complete as I did not spell out my middle initial) on my writing pad.

True to form, Grandpa was impressed. He was surprised at the precision of my strokes, which did not go beyond the guide lines. So, for a reward, I received from him five cents. After thanking him, I immediately got out of the house euphoric and thinking what I would do with my money. I chanced upon a fishball vendor and impulsively bought five pieces of fishball. (The price of a fishball then was one centavo per piece.)

That ‘rewarding’ experience taught me that being bright brings home the fishball (my equivalent for the idiom ‘bring home the bacon’). It pays to have a talent.

My eldest son – Martin Howell – seems to have inherited his father’s good penmanship. But I have not rewarded him for such flair. His parents have not cooked up an incentive scheme except that for every recognition day when he and siblings receive a medal, Mom and Dad will treat them to McDo (sorry but McDo’s great-tasting chicken and cheeseburger are enough to exempt it from the list of entities against my patriotism).

I remember some activist friends advising me against ‘capitalistic reward’ system, because with that system, children are conditioned that every accomplishment is equivalent to financial reward, which should not be the case. I agree, but rather slightly. I guess that today’s parents are challenged to strike the balance between monetary and non-monetary rewards. Lea and I thought that our kids should be raised so that they would become enterprising yet socially responsible persons.