Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. IV,    No. 42      November 21 - 27, 2004      Quezon City, Philippines











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Copyright 2004 Bulatlat


Personal Essay:
Finding Joy in A Time of Crisis

Writing about one’s life could be a struggle if he or she wants to avoid being kitschy, trivial and too self-absorbed. The task even becomes more daunting if there is an attempt to make a personal essay socially relevant. At this point, I beg the reader’s indulgence as I try to explain the historical circumstances behind my current preoccupation with journalism, politics, economics and wedding preparations.


I was already resigned to a life of what Joy jokingly calls “single-blessedness.” Nothing wrong with being single, I once thought, given the state of low wages and high cost of living, not to mention the possible distractions of being married in pursuing one’s advocacies.

At that time, I honestly cannot picture myself, say, changing a baby’s diaper in the middle of writing an important article or watching cartoons with the family on a national day of protest.

Everything changed, of course, when I found Joy. Literally.

Ours is a typical situation of a man and a woman finding each other – “falling in love” is too corny, sorry – but the marked difference in the plot is that the twist is found at the beginning of the story.

In the mid-1980s, we became iskolars ng bayan (scholars of the people) when we studied at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City. In her third and fourth year, she transferred to UP Miag-ao (located in the Visayas region) where she became chair of the student council. I, on the other hand, wrote for and later edited the official student publication in Diliman.

Given that we moved within the same activist circle, we may have been introduced to each other especially considering that she would visit UP Diliman from time to time to coordinate with other student leaders and campus journalists on various local and national campaigns. To each other at that time, we were just nameless comrades who had common ideological, political and organizational convictions.

Upon our graduation in the early 1990s, I stayed in Manila to work as a teacher and journalist while she returned to her home in Tabaco City in Albay, Bicol (located in the southern part of Luzon, 11-hour bus ride from Manila) to help in the family business and to work for a government bank. She continued her commitment to serve the people by helping finance the development projects of farmers and other basic sectors. I did the same by writing about their plight.

Thanks to the web, we met!

At first glance, the prospects of meeting were bleak not only due to the physical distance but also our common disinterest in marriage and having children. In the age of new media, however, distance is never a factor in communication.

While we earned different college degrees – hers is Fisheries while mine is Journalism – and engaged in diverse professions, we had a common interest: the Internet. We both opened an account in Friendster, an online community, after being coaxed by our respective circle of relatives, friends and acquaintances – hers by a well-meaning cousin and mine by some faculty members and students.

In the second quarter of 2004, she found my Friendster account by accident when, out of curiosity, she checked out some profiles in the Gallery section. Intrigued by what I wrote, she sent me a message asking if we knew each other. The correspondence started there, and soon enough we used other forms of communication like SMS, e-mail and landline.

We eventually met in the first week of May 2004 and unlike the situation in the 1980s, we did not consider ourselves nameless comrades anymore. It was a typical story of courting, constant dating and mutual caring. Soon enough, we agreed on a life-changing decision that reflects the change in our mindset as regards mutual responsibility and children.

We agreed to end 2004 by saying adieu to our being single!

Doing the pamanhikan

Indeed, ours is a friendship that ominously started in “high-tech” Friendster and an engagement that is appropriately highlighted by the “old-style” pamanhikan (from the root word mamanhik or “to entreat”).

According to Guidebook to the Filipino Wedding by Luning Bonifacio Ira (1990), pamanhikan is the Filipino tradition of “asking for a girl’s parents’ permission to wed the affianced pair (citing the definition of the Diksyunaryo ng Wikang Filipino, 1989).” Even in this modern age, we were forced to comply with this traditional ceremony, as this was required by her parents. And so, my mother and I traveled to Bicol to formally meet with her parents in early November.

Ira notes that in the past, “(t)he courtliness of our Malay forebears seems particularly honed for the handling of delicate matters, as in the forging of kinships. During the official call, the elders use metaphorical and indirect language; or once did. Whatever the language in current use, it is the form of the ritual that’s still adhered to.”

Fortunately, her parents already knew of our plan to get married, their advice being constantly sought on wedding details. They already had an implicit approval especially given our age and level of maturity. Consequently, the pamanhikan mainly focused on what we expect to happen on the wedding day and the two receptions planned (i.e., one in Manila and another in Bicol).

Modern age notwithstanding, I still went through the phase of the paninilbihan (service rendered by the man to woo his girl’s family’s regard) during my stay in Bicol.

Ira states that for the duration, “the groom-to-be makes every effort to be `in good’ with the bride-elect’s family, especially her mother. He makes himself available to drive for them, facilitates errands, and in general initiates the dutiful stance of a regular family member (that indeed he is about to become). He may be perfectly unaware of it but in this he is merely following the old courtship code among the Tagalog.”

My task was easy to remember: I did not have one as my future in-laws took care of everything. I helped clean their house and washed all the dishes after every meal. They did not require much from me, since Joy and I maximized my short stay by planning our wedding and attending to some details like invitations and souvenirs.

Aside from writing about politics and economics and teaching Journalism, I am now preoccupied with wedding preparations but I have no complaints. I have found Joy in a time of crisis, as well as an excuse to write about it. Bulatlat 



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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