“All about book lovers and PIstahan revelers” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Aug. 5-11, 2015; page A5)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of August 5-11, 2015

All about book lovers and Pistahan revelers

What’s the cheapest way to transport yourself to another world? For many people, the answer still remains the reading of a book. Every year, on August the 9th, most holiday-themed websites declare that specific date as “Book Lovers Day,” while a minority of sites say that Book Lovers Day is on the first Saturday in November. Anyway, if you’re a true and seasoned book lover yourself, I’m sure you don’t mind celebrating it on both days, right? For the dedicated reader, one can never read enough, so one doesn’t stop reading — as time and inclination permit.

While researching about some trivia on books, here are some facts I have uncovered: Barbara Bush’s book about her English springer spaniel, “Millie’s Book,” was on the bestseller list for 29 weeks. Millie was the most popular “First Dog” in history. Dr. Seuss wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” after his editor dared him to write a book using fewer than 50 different words. Edgar Allan Poe introduced mystery fiction’s first fictional detective, Auguste C. Dupin, in his 1841 story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Ghosts appear in four Shakespearean plays: “Julius Caesar,” “Richard III,” “Hamlet,” and “Macbeth.” Frank Baum named “Oz” after a file cabinet in his office. One cabinet was labeled “A to N,” and the second was labeled “O to Z.” Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind between 1926 and 1929. In her early drafts, the main character was named “Pansy O’Hara” and the O’Hara plantation we know as Tara was called “Fountenoy Hall.” (http://corsinet.com/trivia/k-triv.html) We thank Ms. Mitchell for reconsidering the name options for both the iconic heroine and the plantation. “Pansy” O’Hara does not hold as much gravitas and defiance as “Scarlett” O’Hara, and we couldn’t imagine the plantation being named anything but “Tara.”

As for me, my book-reading trajectory started with Nancy Drew mysteries like “The Mystery of Lilac Inn” or “The Hidden Staircase” when I was in the 2nd- 3rd grade. By 4th grade, I was already reading Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High Young Adult (YA) romances. During the summer vacation before my 5th grade, I finally cracked open a paperback that’s just lying around the house being ignored by me for the past three years: “Mist Across the Moors” by Lilian Peake, my first Mills and Boon romance. I was 10 years old and all I could think about after reading it through was: that wasn’t so bad. Now here’s the “bad” thing: I wanted more of those prefab book romances from then on. It’s a good thing that there’s a library nearby, and I had the luck to have a neighbor who has a lot of Mills and Boon and Harlequin paperback romances. Throughout the years, I’d like to think that my reading tastes have acquired some sophistication. It turns out that after surfing the net, what I considered guilty pleasures before are now popular bestsellers in their own right, for example “A B N K K B S N P L Ako?!” by the facetious yet mysterious Bob Ong and seven other books penned by him are dominating one Goodreads list, with only Dr. Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” to break the top-ten sweep. Bob Ong’s prose in the vernacular is about keeping it real, poking fun at himself and society in hopes of triggering self-reflection and perhaps positive change among his readers. (But what if we find out that “Bob Ong” is actually a pseudonym for a female writer? Just throwing it out there.)

Book Lovers Day being observed on August 9 every year, right at the mid-beginning of summer, it’s not really hard to celebrate the spirit of this holiday. Just find a cool and quiet spot, grab your favorite book, crack its spine somewhere and start reading. Sometimes, though, you’re looking for a certain book, or sometimes a book finds you. In my case, I found a whole book store, a veritable gem in the Mission St. – 6th St. area in San Francisco, CA in the form of Arkipelago Books. Owned and operated by Ms. Marie Romero for the last 20 years, Arkipelago Books is housed within the Bayanihan Community Center at 1010 Mission St. Within such a limited space, you’d never guess at the untold literary and assorted other treasures just displayed in an orderly manner in the book shelves: from hard-to-find Filipino cultural titles on colonization to more pop books on gods and “aswangs” to shirts to DVDs to “tubaws” and basket-weave backpacks. As part of the Arkipelago Books’ outreach every year, you can find Tita Marie in her usual booth at the annual Pistahan Festival, held every second weekend of August at the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco. You can get in touch with Arkipelago Books at (415) 553-8185 or arkipelagobooks@yahoo.com

This year is the 22nd Annual Pistahan Parade and Festival and the theme is “Home Away from Home.” Whenever it’s near Pistahan time once again, I couldn’t help but look back on how I first got involved as a volunteer with this yearly Filipino-American cultural event. It was the year 2006 and I had just won first place in an international poetry contest in Las Vegas. Coming back to Hayward, I was surprised to get a letter from the Filipino American Arts Exposition (FAAE) through its President Al Perez. News travels fast. Apparently, FAAE is extending an invitation to me to be one of the “Pistahan Centennial Awardees” on the strength of my winning poetry. My grand-prize winning poem was called “Villanelle of a retired overseas Filipino worker.” FAAE was asking if I was willing to create my own float (“carroza”) and to join the parade during the first day of the Pistahan festival.

On the day of the Pistahan parade in 2006, my family – Dad, Mom, and my youngest sister – borrowed a pickup truck and enlisted the help of neighbors and friends of the family in the general design and movement of the vehicle. I remember Ernesto P. and his brother helping us out, as did Tito Ramon and Tita Mellie Ebriega of Pittsburg, CA. Dr. Antonio Nolasco of Milpitas was also there with his wife and boys in a touching show of support. I remember waving to the Market Street crowd in my improvised Filipiniana dress — blue almost-floor length denim with lavender tulle butterfly sleeves, anyone?— and distributing photocopies of my winning poem. That year, 100 of us in the roster of Centennial Awardees were honored and presented to the crowd at the Yerba Buena Gardens.

Loving the experience so much, especially the feeling of being among my fellow Filipino-Americans, I decided to come back the following year as a volunteer. My Mom and I helped distribute food to the VIPs and the parade participants. We braved standing for long hours and donning aprons, and we did this for two consecutive years. During another year, we volunteered in the Baybayin artist Kristian Kabuay’s pavilion. The following year, I helped out in the Heritage Pavilion and have been choosing to volunteer there ever since. This year, I signed up for the chance to work with Ms. Kat Mulingtapang, my energetic pavilion manager, again.

So: book lovers and Pistahan revelers, kitakits sa Pistahan 2015 at the Yerba Buena Gardens!

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Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings (fee required), email me here: blessingsandlight725@gmail.com

“Setting the record straight on ‘partners and marriage’ ” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Feb. 4-10, 2015; page A7)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona

For the week of Feb. 4-10, 2015

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON “PARTNERS AND MARRIAGE”

With Valentine’s Day almost close at hand, please join me in rehashing an old love story – the story of how an urban legend of sorts came to be, and how we will finally put it to rest. You see, this story began nearly 18 years ago in the nooks and crannies of Metro Manila, back when the internet was not yet as sophisticated as it is now and when the rules are just beginning to be laid down.

“Partners and Marriage” was apparently an essay that was circulated via email around 1997. Its practical yet poetic content spoke to the hearts and minds of so many readers. If you use http://www.goodsearch.com and type in “partners and marriage and Calasanz,” click on the top result, lesturla.wordpress.com/2007/06/01/partners-and-marriage, and you will be taken to the introduction, the “background of the story,” the essay, and then the “rectification” by Mr. Calasanz. According to the blog owner, this essay is “for those in a relationship, wanting to be in a relationship, those who just got out of a relationship, or want to get out of one, even those who are in an “it’s complicated” status, you’ll definitely see more clearly by reading this.”

Before the blog proceeds with the essay, here’s the urban legend part. It states that Eduardo Calasanz was a student at the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines, a higher learning institution run by the Jesuits. He had a so-called Father Ferriols as a professor, who, apart from being the Philosophy department head at that time, was also known to be popular for his mind-opening classes yet notorious for the grades he gives. Despite Father Ferriols’ notoriety, students still took his classes for the learning and deep insight they take home with them every day, but they may grumble about not being able to do something about the grades he gives. Ateneo has a letter-grading system with A being the highest, D the lowest, and F for flunk. When grade-giving time came, Father Ferriols apparently had this long discussion with the Admissions and Records people because according to the legend, he wanted to give Calasanz an A+. Either that or he does not teach at all. Calasanz got his A+.

What follows in that blog is the essay itself which you can read in its entirety through the link I mentioned earlier. Here is how it starts: “I have never met a man who didn’t want to be loved. But I have seldom met a man who didn’t fear marriage. Something about the closure seems constricting, not enabling. Marriage seems easier to understand for what it cuts out of our lives than for what it makes possible within our lives.” The essay goes on to make several key points: the importance of choosing one’s partner well, being long-time friends first before realizing the attraction to each other, laughter as an indicator of how much two people would enjoy each other’s company in the long run, or the importance of looking for a partner who deals with the world in a way one respects. The way the writer crafted this essay, you’d find yourself nodding your head in agreement with most of his insightful statements.

But you know what the biggest clincher was? It was not even written by Mr. Eduardo Calasanz, to whom it is attributed. To be fair to Mr. Calasanz, who at the time of his rectification was himself already an assistant professor of Philosophy at the Ateneo, he did say that he was not the author of the essay, which he received sometime in 1997. He liked the article so much that he forwarded it to a lot of people. He noticed that it did not carry a byline but nobody claimed ownership. The forwarded essay assumed a life of its own until according to Calasanz, the “bio sketch” about Father Ferriols and his A+ grade was appended to the piece. According to Calasanz, this was pure urban legend! Then a friend of a former student of his informed him that the source of “Partners and Marriage” is a book called “Letters To My Son: A Father’s Wisdom on Manhood, Life, and Love” by Kent Nerburn. “Partners and Marriage” was actually Chapter 26 of this book, originally published in 1994 and then it went back in print two years ago.

I am here to confirm to you the truth of the preceding statements. As I write this, an actual copy of the book “Letters To My Son” by Kent Nerburn lies beside my work desk, borrowed from La Sierra University via that trusty interlibrary network Link+. If you Goodsearch Kent Nerburn, you will find that he has authored many nonfiction works of superior quality that have an accessible vein. His academic background is impressive and he was a renowned sculptor first before he was a prolific multi-awarded writer. As I read through chapter after chapter of “Letters To My Son,” I reflect upon the universal sentiments in Nerburn’s words. We can all learn from him through these epistles to a son he obviously loves so much that he wants to guide the child/man’s growth with his words of hard-won wisdom. The book, of course, is not just for “sons” – it could be a life manual for individuals and families looking for sound values to guide their choices in life.

So in this pre-Valentine column, honoring the Mercury retrograde inspiration to review, recount, and revise, we have just revisited several things that Mercury rules: communication, the written word, emails, and the Internet, among others. We have corrected an inaccurate perception in the interests of accuracy and proper attribution. I encourage you to read, if not the whole book, then at least the chapter on “Partners and Marriage.” We may be at different stages on the spectrum of commitment or relationships, but the commonality is that we are all in the midst of precious experiences that define our humanity. I pray for our collective growth in love.

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Photo by Mary Gow-2015. Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings (fee required), email me here: blessingsandlight725@gmail.com

“HOLIDAY FORUM: WHICH LOVE LANGUAGE DO YOU SPEAK?” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Dec. 24-30, 2014, page A7)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Dec. 24-30, 2014

HOLIDAY FORUM: WHICH LOVE LANGUAGE DO YOU SPEAK?

Whether you call this season Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Nativity, Midwinter, Noël, or Pasko in Tagalog, this is a time of rejoicing, thanksgiving, and the traditional giving and receiving of gifts. So before we go on, please allow me to greet you first: Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat!

I credit my professor in our “Passion and Purpose” class at Chabot College, Prof. Cherise Martinez-McBride, with alerting me to these “Five Love Languages” by pastor and marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman. The first book in his continuing series was published way back in 1992, “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts,” so I’m sure that some of you may already be familiar with these love languages. However, I will operate on the assumption that we all need a refresher course, especially since this season is a great time to express our love and appreciation to our nears and dears, whether family, relatives, and friends. Are we really speaking our loved one’s language when it comes to the emotional expression of love?

According to Dr. Chapman, based on his over 30 years of counseling couples, he determined that there are five distinct love languages:
1. Words of affirmation
2. Quality time
3. Receiving gifts
4. Acts of service
5. Physical touch

These languages are not only “spoken” by married couples, although the original books were geared towards spouses. These languages are also applicable to singles, children, teenagers, and co-workers, to name a few other groups. Here are brief descriptions of each love language. If you want to take the interactive profile quiz so that you can be sure which language/s you speak, you can go to http://www.fivelovelanguages.com

1. Words of affirmation — According to Dr. Chapman, “One way to express love emotionally is to use words that build up… Verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are powerful communicators of love (Chapman, p 43).” You don’t have to exaggerate. Words of affirmation could be as simple as, “You look stylish in that dress,” or, “I really like how you fix my lunch box that I take to work with me every day.”
2. Quality time — If this is your love language, you appreciate time spent with your friend or partner doing something that both of you like to do. It also means focusing one’s attention, no fair glancing at your cell phone while your partner is talking, and maintaining eye contact to denote that you are here in the present. Quality time is about communicating, both speaking and listening.
3. Receiving gifts — If you think that this particular language is just about receiving “expensive” presents, you may be half-right. If you consider that the costly gift is an investment towards the longevity of your relationship, then money may be no object indeed and you would have made your partner happy. However, if your partner’s language is receiving gifts, then he or she may also be yearning for the gift of your presence — yes, of you just being there. Gifts could range from simple or handmade (a fresh flower plucked from the garden, an origami swan, etc.) to complex or expensive ( intricate jewelry, a dinner in a 5-star restaurant, etc.). The most important thing is that you put your partner’s needs and desires first because you genuinely want to see him/her happy.
4. Acts of service — This means doing things you know your partner would like you to do. As Dr. Chapman puts it, “Such actions as cooking a meal, setting a table, washing dishes, vacuuming, cleaning a commode, changing the baby’s diaper, dusting the bookcase, keeping the car in operating condition, paying the bills, trimming the shrubs, walking the dog, changing the cat’s litter box, and dealing with landlords and insurance companies are all acts of service. They require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love (Chapman, p. 118-119).”
5. Physical touch — This language is spoken by people who feel loved and comforted when they are in close physical contact with their spouse, through holding hands, kissing, hugging, and sexual intercourse. These are all valid emotional expressions of one’s love for the partner, but most especially if it’s the language that your partner speaks.

What is the point of learning about these five different love languages? Well, first of all, we have to know ourselves. Do you know what love language you speak? You can use Goodsearch.com to look for free tests that you can take to evaluate yourself or go to http://www.fivelanguages.com. Next, ask your partner to take the test, too. Hopefully the test you both took will be the springboard to a stimulating discussion between you about your similarities and differences. You need not be discouraged if you somehow interpret the results to mean that you and your partner are “not compatible.” Really, it’s about learning to speak a second language. You won’t be adept at the new language at first, like for example, someone like me whose primary language is Tagalog trying to speak Deutsch, but with practice then I’ll get better at pleasing my partner by speaking his language.

Let me tell you a story of a couple whom we will call Julius and Carrie. Julius, a hardworking top management type, is the kind of person who gives directions by telling you the distance of their house from the nearest gas station in meters of measurement, like let’s say “200 meters north of the Shell station.” Carrie, on the other hand, would just tell you that their house is right across a sari-sari store called Aling Tinay’s as soon as you round the corner on the left. Julius’ primary love language is acts of service, and so since Carrie takes care of her housewifely duties, being a good wife to him and a great mom to their two boys, he thinks that everything’s OK. However, it turns out that Carrie has been unhappy for a long time. She says that no matter how hard she works around the house, she rarely hears anything like acknowledgment or appreciation from Julius. Now could you guess what Carrie’s primary love language is?

This wonderful season, I encourage you, my dear readers, to be agents of love by spreading the valuable lessons we’ve all learned along the way. The world we live in can be confusing and fearful, and it may be easy to give in to cynicism and doubt. Please don’t. Instead, choose to believe. Choose to hope. Choose to love. So yes, I say, Merry CHRISTmas to all of us!

*******************************Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings (fee required), email me here: blessingsandlight725@gmail.com

(Photo Credits: http://www.taylorpublications.com)

“ADVENTURING AGAIN AT ANGEL LIGHT BOOKS” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Nov. 19-25, 2014)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Nov. 19-25, 2014
ADVENTURING AGAIN AT ANGEL LIGHT BOOKS

It was the third Sunday of November. Per Angel Light Books and Gifts Store tradition, the third Sunday of the month is when the Angel Light Metaphysical Fair is held. The Angel Light Store, located in Berkeley, is “your one stop store for all your Metaphysical needs,” like their business card states. I would have to agree. The Angellightstore.com business card has a color picture of the Archangel Chamuel (the archangel of peaceful relationships/love), as well as the important data like the address: 3347 MLK Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94703; the phone number: (510) 985-1600; and the email: info@angellightstore.com. I think that when you read further, at one point you will feel the urge to at least check out their online store, or maybe even the Angel Light School of Metaphysics which offers certifications and courses in the psychic and healing arts in-house or online. If you’re curious, please check it out: http://www.angellightschool.com

I already wrote a column about this book store in the May 28-June 3, 2014 issue of the Manila Mail, but here’s an update. Let’s go back to the Angel Light Metaphysical Fair to which I recently went and which regularly happens on the third Sunday of the month. There were a couple of readers present: Ms. Eloise Hill and Ms. Helena Mazzariello, as well as a Reiki Master, Ms. Catherine Walters who gives free Reiki sessions. During these fairs, a 15-minute reading only costs $20 which I think is very reasonable considering that these effective and experienced professionals charge a much higher price during regular individual sessions with them. You can check out all their offerings on their respective websites: Candle Stone Tarot (www.eloisehill.net), http://www.spiritinjoy.com (Ms. Helena Mazzariello), and http://www.guidedchange.com (Ms. Catherine Walters).

This is my first time to go to one of this store’s fairs and I guess I was a bit overwhelmed. There were times during the sessions that I felt I’ve spaced out and missed hearing some important points that these readers wanted to get across to me, but as Ms. Cathy told me later, “It doesn’t matter. What your conscious mind may miss, your subconscious mind retains.”

My first 15-minute session was with Ms. Eloise Hill. She is a writer, psychic (clairaudient/clairvoyant/clairsentient), and tarot reader. She was an acute-care nurse for a number of years before deciding to write and nurture her more intuitive side. She is the author of a couple of the Eileen McGrath Tarot Series of mystery books, “Eight of Pentacles” and “The Queen of the Barley Moon,” now available at Amazon. She also teaches individual classes and courses on Thoth Tarot 101, Divination 101 (rune-casting, tea-leaf reading, and palm reading), Wicca 101, Chakras 101, and Astral Projection. She hosts the Psychic/Tarot Faire at Angel Light every first Saturday of the month. For my reading, I chose for her to do a tarot reading for me. Ms. Eloise uses the Thoth deck so I’m not quite familiar with the imagery since I work with the traditional Rider-Waite deck myself. But hey, I was there with a mindset to learn new things and expand my grasp of the metaphysical, after all. The points I would like to share with you from Ms. Eloise’s sessions are: 1. It looks like the next 3-6 years would be more favorable for me. 2. I must learn not to “over-give,” but to balance giving and receiving. 3. I will be reconnecting with my strengths, and will have the strength to let go of habits or mindsets that do not serve me anymore. (Quitting smoking, anyone? More exercise and less food intake, maybe? Charging for my readings instead of giving them away for free most of the time?)

Next, I had a psychic reading and aura cleansing with Ms. Helena Mazzariello. She is an artist, clairvoyant, healer, and teacher. Among the readings she offers are: clairvoyant, past life, aura/chakra, Ascended Master, pet, house healings, Akashic records, plus female energy tune-ups, substance addiction healings and deprogrammings. She told me that the aura around me is a distinct shade of blue (she didn’t know it was my favorite color) with a bit of red thrown in, which is good for action and assertiveness. She taught me how to ground myself from the very top of my head (crown chakra), down to my feet, and way, way down below the earth where I must let go of these certain brown-colored “depressed” energy that’s not even my own. Upon reflection, I do admit that in the course of my listening with compassion to other people like my tarot clients or my friends, sometimes I tend to feel their pain too much and end up feeling depleted and sad myself. Now Ms. Helena tells me that there is a way to shield ourselves from other people’s energy, to establish some boundaries, and to ground ourselves. She asked me, “Do you meditate?” I answered honestly: no. Ever the optimistic one, she told me of one very simple and effective type of meditation: the shower meditation. Yes, take a shower! The water sluices down from the top of your head and the water, carrying all the negative energy, goes down the drain and deep into the earth. Cleanse your aura, take a showah, right? (Grin.)

Finally, I sampled the free Reiki session offered by Ms. Catherine Walters. Ms. Cathy, aside from being a Reiki Master, is also a clinical hypnotherapist. She began the session by giving me an orientation about what Reiki is, especially what it means: “rei” means universal, and “ki” means energy (also called “chi”). In effect, Reiki is the universal energy all around us, and Ms. Cathy is quick to qualify that she is just the conduit. During the actual session itself, I was seated in a swivel chair with Ms. Cathy standing behind me with her hands on my shoulders, explaining that although the hands can be placed anywhere, she chose the shoulders for their proximity to the heart. She began to speak about energy and healing while her hands were on my shoulders. Later on, I told her honestly that at some point I must have spaced out because although I was hearing her voice, I couldn’t understand what was being said. That prompted her remark about our subconscious catching it anyway if our conscious mind ever missed anything. We discussed gratitude and appreciation (there is a difference, she said) and how to make my crown chakra (masculine) work with my throat and heart chakras (feminine). They must work together, not just one or the other, and she said that I would reach a lot of like-minded people through the written word.

As for the owner of Angel Light, Ms. Valencia Chan, here’s her bio from the Instructors tab of the School website: “Valencia has owned and operated Angel Light Books and Gifts since 1989. An avid metaphysician, she has studied in depth topics including astrology, tarot, crystals, and feng shui. She received her certification in astrology in 1987 from Experience Astrology in San Francisco and for Feng Shui in 1996 from Feng Shui Design in Grass Valley. Being Chinese, feng shui has always been an integral part of her culture. Her knowledge of crystals includes attending workshops from various teachers, studying from an extensive library of books and most of all from her personal experience of selling and giving away thousands of stones over the years. “I’m always amazed at how the perfect stone will find its way to the person who would most benefit from its power.” Valencia teaches How to Read the Rider Waite Tarot Cards, Astrology 101, Feng Shui 101, Crystal Awareness, Stones Awareness, and Chakra Awareness.” There are more classes, fairs, and special events scheduled in the near future. The store’s website is quite updated so please check it out for the details, and the gracious Ms. Valencia is always just a phone call away. I definitely had a great time at the Fair and will come again one of these days! (pilipinasblitz@gmail.com)

“REMEMBERING DR. JUAN M. FLAVIER, DOCTOR TO THE BARRIOS” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Nov. 12-18, 2014) (Image courtesy of tumblr.com)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Nov. 12-18, 2014

REMEMBERING DR. JUAN M. FLAVIER, DOCTOR TO THE BARRIOS

When Dr. Juan Flavier passed away last Oct. 30 at the age of 79, he metaphorically orphaned many a physician and health professional who considered him as their inspiration for serving in the rural areas of the Philippines. Dr. Flavier was an early pioneer of bringing medical service to the far-flung barangays of the country, writing about his experiences with the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) in his first book, “Doctor to the Barrios.”

Dr. Juan Martin Flavier (23 June 1935-30 October 2014) was a senator from the Philippines (1995-2007), and before that he served as the Secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) from 1992-1995. Flavier was born in Tondo, Manila then moved to Baguio City where he studied at the Baguio City National High School. He obtained his medical degree from the University of the Philippines Manila-College of Medicine, and his Masters in Public Health from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in 1969. From 1978 to 1992, he was the president of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR).

In his first non-fiction book, “Doctor to the Barrios,” Dr. Flavier shares his experiences about his medical service to the village folk in the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Cavite, both located in the Luzon island. I read this book on my own when I was still in high school. His subsequent books feature certain individuals in the barrios with whom he has formed friendships, including many humorous anecdotes and “parables,” as well. In the follow-up book, called “My Friends in the Barrios,” here is an excerpt from his foreword:

“When I joined the PRRM, I did so without previous exposure to the barrios. All my earlier life had been spent in cities – Baguio and Manila. So when I began to visit barrios and meet farmers, the experiences were intriguing and fascinating – it was a new world. Their language was poetic and different. Their ways did not conform with many of my own. Their humor and values made strong impressions on me. The strategy of knowing the farmers as a starting point for rural reconstruction made me aware of their humanity.”

President Fidel V. Ramos appointed Dr. Flavier Secretary of the DOH in 1992. Flavier’s sense of humor and upbeat personality helped launch many a department initiative with nationwide impact: Oplan Alis Disease, Oplan Sagip Mata, Kontra Kolera, Yosi Kadiri, Doctors to the Barrios Project, Pusong Pinoy, Stop TB, Family Planning, Araw ng Sangkap Pinoy, and many others. Dr. Flavier resigned from his post in order to run for Senator in 1995, and then again in 2001, becoming the 21st President pro tempore of the Senate of the Philippines. Aside from a perfect attendance record in all Senate sessions, Dr. Flavier authored and sponsored landmark legislations such as the Traditional Medicine Law, the Poverty Alleviation Law, Clean Air Act, Indigenous People’s Rights Act, Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, Barangay Micro-Business Enterprise, National Service Training Program for Tertiary Students of 2002, Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, Plant Variety Protection Act, Philippine Nursing Act of 2002, and the Tobacco Regulation Act. (Wikipedia)

In the Journal of Infectious Diseases (1997;175(Suppl 1):S272-6), Dr. Flavier co-authored a study with Rudolf Tangermann and Maritel Costales titled “Poliomyelitis Eradication and Its Impact on Primary Health Care in the Philippines.” According to this peer-reviewed journal article, “through good routine immunization, the incidence of paralytic polio has decreased to low levels in the Philippines even before the national immunization days (NIDs) were initiated.” Since 1992 and I remember this quite well, there have been NIDs for polio eradication, promoted by Dr. Flavier himself in television ads about the Oplan Sangkap Pinoy. He was able to mobilize not just the health sector in volunteering for these events, but also the government in general, the nonprofit sector, big business, the Boy and Girl Scouts, and even TV and film actors and actresses. The study abstract further says: “National Immunization Days had a direct positive effect on child health through supplementary immunization with oral poliovirus vaccine, measles vaccine, and tetanus toxoid for childbearing-age women, as well as through the distribution of vitamin A.” The bottom line was that with improved surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) and virus detection, wild poliovirus has not been isolated since May 1993. In addition to AFP cases, neonatal tetanus and measles are now being reported through the AFP surveillance systems in several regions. This was just one of the many successful health campaigns under Dr. Flavier’s leadership at the DOH. On the DOH website itself, Dr. Flavier is described as “perhaps the most popular Secretary of Health.”

I was still a medical student at the UP College of Medicine when Dr. Flavier was appointed Secretary of the Dept. of Health. At that time, there was an explosion of knowledge about community or grassroots medicine, utilizing modalities of alternative medicine like the use herbs, acupressure/acupuncture, reflexology, ventosa (cupping), and others. I remember being interested in all of those and would have wanted to explore some of them further, but it was not to be. Meanwhile, Dr. Flavier at that time was a ubiquitous presence in the media, promoting one DOH initiative or another, and the common tao can’t help but adore his jolly and positive presence. It was inspiring to see him at work. His charismatic personality endeared him to the masa. Clearly, in this diminutive man (in height only, not in spirit), the masses have found a champion for their health concerns, the personification of the government’s concern for the health and wellbeing of all Filipinos. Because of Dr. Flavier’s can-do and caring attitude, the attitude of most Filipinos became less resistant toward the government’s campaigns for health preventive measures. True, Dr. Flavier did incur the wrath of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the country for promoting the use of condoms and HIV prevention, but even an informal survey of Catholics at that time would reveal that the faithful think that the Church’s stand against artificial contraception was a little bit extreme.

When I was researching for sources for this article, I was dismayed that I cannot get a hold of any of Dr. Flavier’s books. The only hard copy I was able to borrow was his second book, “My Friends in the Barrios” from the Cal State East Bay (CSUEB) library. I tried Amazon and Alibris, wanting to buy his autobiography but it was out of stock. Maybe you and I could request the publishers to reissue Dr. Flavier’s books, especially in the light of his passing. Those books are timeless and I believe that we can all benefit from knowing how it is to serve in the rural communities which comprise at least 70% of our native country. Here are the books authored by Dr. Juan M. Flavier:

1. Doctor to the Barrios, Experiences with the Philippine Reconstruction Movement (1970)
2. My Friends in the Barrios (1974)
3. Back to the Barrios: Balikbaryo (1978)
4. Parables of the Barrio: Vol. I (1988)
5. Parables of the Barrio: Vol. II, Nos. 51-100 (1989)
6. Parables of the Barrio: Vol. III, Nos. 101-150 (1991)
7. Let’s DOH It!: How We Did It (1998)
8. From Barrio to Senado: an Autobiography (2009)

Dr. Juan Flavier’s diplomatic approach to the novel things he learned as a newly minted barrio doctor all those years ago paved the way for those of us who wonder how to mobilize community support for our projects and initiatives. Among the community-oriented lessons I have learned from reading Dr. Flavier’s books are: Start with where they are and what they know. Seek out the authority figures in the community and find out if they would work with you. Do not automatically assume that what you learned in medical school is superior to folk knowledge. Form friendships, be respectful, and be approachable. Simple lessons, sure, but these are the foundations of Dr. Flavier’s success as a barrio doctor and informed his legislation later as a Senator. He leaves behind a legacy of a life simply lived but with maximum impact on the Filipino psyche. His wisdom and humility will be missed.

Rest in peace, Dr. Juan Martin Flavier. You said, “Let’s DOH it!” With your exemplary life, Dr. Flavier, you surely did it and more.

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Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings, email me here: pilipinasblitz@gmail.com

“Off-the-top-of-my-head Book List: The Top 10 (or more)” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Sept. 17-23, 2014)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Sept. 17-23, 2014

OFF-THE TOP-OF-MY-HEAD BOOK LIST: THE TOP 10 (OR MORE)

In a typical knee-jerk reflex, I will now react to the tagging going around Facebook nowadays. As I understand it, the person posts his/her Top 10 books that made a lasting impression on him/her but not to overthink it. Then she will tag other friends of hers so that they in turn can name their Top 10 books, and so on.

Well, I am anticipating that somebody would be tagging me soon, or if not, then I might as well tell you what my Top 10 books are, so that you in turn can email me about your list and we can learn from what each of us recommends. There are some caveats here: first of all, I’m not really a fan of e-books. Most books on my list are still with me and I continue to re-read some of them as the mood hits or time permits. I can hold these books in my hands, turn the pages, and smell the pages as I flip through them if I want to. Another warning is that my list will probably be more than 10 separate books – but not if I group them by author or genre. Having said all that, here are the top books on my list with some explanations as needed.

1. A. Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs – taught me the basics of astrology and character delineation when I was 11 years old
B. Linda Goodman’s Relationship Signs – bought in the year 2000, this book gave me the confidence to draw my own natal charts for family and friends because of the ephemerides (planetary tables) included in it
C. Linda Goodman’s Venus Trines at Midnight – Linda wanted to be known not just as an astrologer but as a poet, too. This slim volume gives her wish justice.
2. Watership Down by Richard Adams – This tale of a hardy band of talking wild rabbits and their adventures first captivated me when I was 12 years old. I believe I revisit this tale every 12 years hence. Bigwig was my favorite, and of course the Chief Rabbit, Hazel. It goes without saying that rabbits have their own language which Adams fleshes out very creatively.
3. Marie Laveau by Francine Prose – This novel about a powerful medicine woman in New Orleans at the time of the Civil War captured my imagination when I was about 12 or 13. The mystical passages, the mention of astrological signs, the gossiping among the “colored,” and the characters from their world of voodoo and superstition all inspired me to examine the supernatural and the metaphysical. It broke my heart that Marie (a Scorpio) can’t hold on to her man, Jacques (a Taurus) (thereby astrological opposites) because they forgot to invite the voodoo goddess of love to their wedding. The goddess therefore lured Jacques to be with herself and not with Marie. With her new man, Christophe (an Aries), Marie learned her lesson and lit an altar to the goddess so that she may not take this one, too. Scorpio and Aries are both ruled by Mars. Christophe and Marie went on to have a child, Ti-Marie (an Aquarius), who eventually took over her mother’s practice. Oh, and have I mentioned that when Marie holds her healing dances in the plaza in the evenings, she has a long and big neon-green snake hiding in her lustrous long black hair? She uses the snake to heal.
4. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD – This autographed book secured by my Mom after she attended Jamison’s lecture at Cal State East Bay inspired me to form the first ever support group in the Philippines for outpatients with mental illnesses. It’s called the Biopsychosocial Support & Interaction Group (BISIG), established on Aug. 13, 2000 in Metro Manila. BISIG still exists and is still based in The Medical City (TMC) in Pasig City.
5. A B N K K B S N P L Ako? By Bob Ong – Funny, whimsical, and nostalgia-inducing adventures and musings of a student from grade school to college and back again.
6. The Portable Magritte with an introduction by Robert Hughes – a collection of the works of my favorite Surrealist painter, René Magritte
7. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – What’s all the fuss about being purebloods and mudbloods? Down with racism and discrimination, even in Potterworld!
8. The Purpose-Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren – Even though I’ll be the first one to admit that I swear no allegiance to any religion, not for a number of years now, I’ll also admit that once upon a time, this book made a lot of sense to me. I have kept the notebook where I jotted down my answers, Biblical passages, and reflections for each of the 40-day commitment requested by the book. Once in a blue moon (rare!) I look at what I’ve written (circa 2003) and the gist of it still resonates somehow, if not the details.
9. The Crossfire Series: Bared to You, Reflected in You, Entwined with You by Sylvia Day – If you want pulsating passion with heart and imagination, look no further than this romance-novel phenomenon who looks beautiful in her inside-cover-of-the-book photo, too. Sylvia Day’s novels are definitely better than E.L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey,” which after Volume 1 I already found boringly repetitive.
10. On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, MD – With my Aries Sun and Pisces Moon both in the 8th house of death and transformation, I wonder no more why I am fascinated by death in all its beauty and ferocity. For Dr. Kübler-Ross to verbalize the “stages of grief” is to me a truly groundbreaking phenomenon, although she said later on in her life that those stages do not follow a neat linear pattern, i.e., they can happen up and down the scale, all at the same time, some of them some of the time, etc. In other words, the experience of grief is unique to each of us. What we share is the universality of being affected by it at all.

Now that I have shared my Top 10 book list with all of you, would you please honor me by sharing yours? Don’t worry about me, I can take it, whatever profound book you dish out that I haven’t read yet. I consider myself a perpetual learner and a literacy advocate. Believe me, somehow I will always find time to read a book or two – but only upon your recommendation. Hit me with your hit list: pilipinasblitz@gmail.com
Maraming salamat and Abyssinia next week!

(Image courtesy of Pinterest)