An Almost Love Story

It’s been two weeks since Valentine’s Day happened, and the hype for the occasion has already died down.  Gone are the flower and balloon vendors peddling in the streets of the metro.  Restaurant promo packages for couples are no longer available, and people have stopped flaunting and greeting their significant others on social media.  However, it still is February and traces of V-Day can still be felt somehow—February after all is the love month.  Just a couple of days ago, I received a promotion from my telephone service provider for Spotify Premium Duo urging me to subscribe so that “[my] partner and I can share the the love and enjoy uninterrupted streaming of (our) favorite love songs.”  Fastfood giant Jollibee special Valentine ads also pop out every now and then whenever I am on YouTube.  Romantic movies, too are still scheduled to be shown on some cable channels. 

Needless to say, stories of romantic love, regardless whether they are highly delightful or painfully unfortunate, are the main highlight this time of the year.  Of course, however, those with successful endings are preferable and are most enjoyed.  But how about those stories that do not exactly fall into either clear category of happy endings or sad conclusions?  The type that doesn’t really have a beginning or an end because there was never really either one—you know, those “almost love stories”?  Where do they fit? 

In 2019, I got to watch a short film that was related to this topic.  It was actually an advertisement for the Danish footwear brand, Bianco.  Unlike the Jollibee commercials that are either tear-jerkers or just generally heartwarming, this Bianco ad neither celebrates Valentine’s Day nor gives that warm, fuzzy feeling either.  Entitled The Lift, it tells the story of two people who often meet—of all places—in an elevator, stand side by side each other, expressing nothing but silence, which made it seem as though it was the third major character in the story.  The main characters may be quiet on the outside, but things are completely different inside their heads.

I couldn’t help rooting for both characters, wanting both of them to finally have the courage to open their mouths and say out loud what in their hearts were.  I mean, who doesn’t like a happy ending, no?  Alas, their thoughts remained just that—thoughts.  

The film was cute and sad at the same time but not the heartbreaking type.  (I’m not quite certain if “sad” is even the most appropriate word I should use here.) I saw other viewers who shared my opinion.  In contrast, I showed this to a friend of mine, but she didn’t feel the same way I did.  Instead, she had mixed feelings about what happened—or should I say—what didn’t happen between the main characters.  Overall, I guess what makes this commercial nice is that it gives the opposite of what the audience expects but reflects what many must have already experienced, which makes it absolutely relatable. 

Perhaps you yourself have experienced this at one point as well: you meet someone but are unable to express anything at all for not knowing what to say or for fear of rejection.  And this desire for the other (whether for the idealized version of her/him or not) just ferments inside your brain, and quite literally, nothing happens between the two of you in the end. 

In a similar vein, I stumbled upon another almost love story last year that involves themes of silence and overthinking.  This time, however, it is not an advertisement but a short story written by renowned author Haruki Murakami.  On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning is taken from his collection of short stories titled The Elephant Vanishes.  It tells the story of this man, who, as stated in the title, sees a woman and instantly concludes that she is the perfect woman for him.  The man, just like The Lift characters, does not say anything to the woman, who simply walks past by him eventually.  He, however, later on realizes what he should have said to the woman: “that confession starts, ‘Once upon a time,’ and ends, ‘Isn’t that a sad story?’”

Just like with The Lift, I also find On Seeing… sad.  But what really is there to be sad about anyway?  No communication, therefore no rejection and no broken hearts, right?  Or are there?  In The Lift, rejection is assumed.  In the pair’s first meeting, the woman, just before the elevator doors close, infers that the man does not like her type and quickly thinks, “Perfect.  He didn’t notice me at all.”  In On Seeing… the man also immediately assumes that the woman won’t talk to her if he tells her his feelings: “You really are not my 100% man,” the man imagines how the woman will turn him down.  But can you blame them for thinking that way?  Many would not have also said anything if they were put in the same position, would they?  There might not be hearts bleeding profusely in these couple of stories, but hearts most probably have been grazed.

In these two tales where silence, overthinking, and fear take over these characters, I think it is safe to say that the sadness stem not from their seeming endings but actually in the failure of a beginning, of lost possibilities.   But then again, if they had a chance but nothing came out of it, I guess maybe it was never meant to be to begin with.

The Real Tragedy

I looked up at the vast blue sky earlier this morning* and saw some clouds that looked like stretched cotton in it.  The sun hit my eyes and skin, and the wind blew playfully, inviting the plants and some trees in my street to a quick dance.  In short, the weather was perfect.  It was the kind of day that made me wish that I were at a beach, or in a field of flowers, or at a park.  The weather was such a stark contrast to how it was these past couple of days when a typhoon brought howling winds and torrential rains, leaving a trail of devastation to many areas of the Philippines; today made the last two days seem like just a bad dream.


Photo: NASA

Typhoon Ulysses (International name: Vamco) was the 21st storm to hit the country.  It came just a few days after Typhoons Siony and Tonyo, and a little less than two weeks after Typhoon Rolly (International Name: Goni), the world’s strongest tropical cyclone for 2020.  Being a country located in the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is certainly no stranger to storms.  Every year, an average of 20 enter the country: some of them dissipate and cause no damage; others destroy properties and lives.  Super Typhoon Rolly was of the latter kind: it packed 225kph winds with gustiness of 280kph.  It ripped mainly through the Bicol and Quezon areas, where houses had been flattened or washed away by raging floods.  The typhoon came close to Metro Manila, which was even initially placed under Signal 4, but it weakened and spared the capital region from wide-scale damage.  Until Ulysses arrived.

Ulysses visited the same provinces Rolly did, leaving the grounds of the said regions already saturated with rainfall much more dangerously vulnerable.  The typhoon also directly passed over Metro Manila and triggered extreme flooding due to overflowing rivers and dams especially in locations such as Rizal and Marikina.  People could not help comparing the typhoon’s strength and its aftermath to 2009’s Typhoon Ondoy, which also submerged these locations in deep floods even though Ulysses dumped significantly less rain than Ondoy did.

All news outlets showed the same scenes of destruction: flood ravaged villages, houses covered in mud, people either on top of their roofs or wading through chest-deep waters.  These images were truly heartbreaking.  But do you know what?  This has already happened over and over before.  The typhoons just went by different names and paths, but the consequences have always been the same.  Annually, there is—at the very least—one typhoon that would paint such images.  It’s a neverending cycle of destruction, disaster response, donation drives, and rebuilding.  It seems that despite being slammed by one typhoon after the other every single year, however, the country continues to struggle to be more proactive when it comes to disaster preparedness. 

In November 2013, one of the world’s strongest tropical cyclones recorded to make landfall hit the central region of the country.  Known locally as Super Typhoon Yolanda (International Name: Haiyan), it had intense maximum winds of 315kph.  It left thousands of people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.  It was nothing like the country had ever experienced before.  Countless volunteer organizations, NGOs, and private citizens (even those who didn’t have much) mobilized to help out. The international community, too, came to the aid of the country, pouring out millions for the rehabilitation of the region and its people.  But here we are only seven years later, pounded by another super typhoon and scrambling to extend assistance to those who had been immensely affected yet again.  


Artist: Tarantadong Kalbo/ Twitter

Yes, the Filipinos are a resilient bunch of people—able to stand up after calamities and continue to smile despite the pain—but surely, something must change in the way we deal with natural disasters!  Must we always merely pick up the pieces when preventive measures can be put in place to begin with?  I do not claim to be an expert in disaster preparedness; I’m merely someone who has grown tired of seeing the same scenes of despair and destruction almost every year, expressing some humble opinions.  If there are ways that can be done to lessen the damage, then why not try to implement them?

Strictly enforce laws against deforestation.
This should already be a no-brainer. Trees are extremely crucial in absorbing water and preventing soil erosion. Fewer trees mean more landslides and flooding. More action must be done in rehabilitating forests. Parts of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, for example, which helps in weakening typhoons are getting flattened and denuded in the name of “progress.”

Make mining and quarrying more sustainable.
While these have economic benefits, they likewise have negative impacts on the environment and even on public health. Therefore, it is important that these be mitigated in order to strike a balance and avoid large-scale catastrophes.

Plant more mangroves near coastal areas.
A few years back, I had the opportunity to visit the Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park on Bantayan Island in Cebu. It has different varieties of mangroves and bamboos that stretch all the way to the sea. Before my companions and I had a tour of the place, we attended a brief video-seminar where the speaker discussed how mangroves play as an effective barrier against storm surge. When Yolanda, for example, hit the area, the side of Bantayan Island that had a lot of mangroves was significantly protected from devastation compared to those areas that no longer had them.

Invest in disaster-resilient architecture.
After Yolanda, I came across some sketches of and suggestions to invest in disaster-resilient buildings from architect and urban planner Paulo Alcazaren. These, I thought, were brilliant especially his recommendations on building stadia. Evacuation centers shouldn’t be just schools or covered courts because sometimes they, too, get severely damaged. I thought that after Yolanda, proper permanent evacuations would be constructed since—again—typhoons are a fact of life here in the country. However, until now, the only big improvement I’ve seen when it comes to evacuation areas is the use of modular tents.

There are loads more that must be done to greatly improve the country’s disaster preparedness and management programs, and what I’ve just listed are a but a fraction of those.  For instance, better coordination between LGUs and the national government, quick information dissemination, relocation programs, more research (and actually putting that research into good use), bigger allocation of funds on disaster reduction programs, accountability of government leaders, even the simple acts of avoiding single use plastic and keeping the surroundings free of litter, etc. matter.

Unfortunately, typhoons are getting more and more intense as a result of climate change.  Moreover, tropical cyclones no longer weaken that much even after landfall, making them even much more dangerous.  What’s worse is that despite being one of the least carbon emission contributors in the world, the Philippines is among the most vulnerable to tropical cyclones!  In fact, it has experienced the top three strongest typhoons in the world since 2013 alone!  Three!  In seven years!  Unfair, right?

So, the country really does have to step up in order to face future typhoons because the people’s very survival depends on how prepared and responsive the government and the people are.  Because truthfully, the real tragedy in this predicament is not how many lives are lost or how many properties have been damaged; the real tragedy here would be allowing these kinds of horrific things to happen over and over without making people, government/s, and/or private corporations held accountable.  The real tragedy here would be not learning from the mistakes of the past.

* I started writing this on Nov 13 and while in the process of doing so, the Cagayan region, another part of the Philippines also experienced massive flooding because of Typhoon Ulysses.  To donate to the typhoon victims of Cagayan and other areas, you can visit The Philippine Red Cross, Kaya Natin, UNICEF Philippines, and other relevant agencies.  Salamat nang marami!

Nick Cave on Grief, Love, and Communication

Since today is All Saints’ Day and tomorrow, November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, I would like to share a letter written by Australian artist Nick Cave to a fan who sent him a question related to death and communication.  Cave, best known for being the front man of the band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, has a page where fans can ask him any questions that are not merely centred on music or any of his artistic endeavours.  The topics of the queries sent to him on his page called The Red Hand Files touch on his personal life, politics, history, philosophy, and even hypothetical situations and challenges.  Cave’s replies are beautifully and gracefully written.

I am sharing one of Cave’s responses to a fan question, which I came across last year. I thought it might be something fitting to share today especially since November 1 and 2—at least here in the Philippines—are a time to remember the dearly departed.

Issue #6 / october 2018
I have experienced the death of my father, my sister, and my first love in the past few years and feel that i have some communication with them, mostly through dreams. They are helping me. Are you and susie feeling that your son arthur is with you and communicating in some way?
Cynthia, shelburne falls, vt, usa

Dear Cynthia,

This is a very beautiful question and I am grateful that you have asked it. It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence. These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.

I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.

With love, Nick.

The Red Hand Files

cc: theedgeofsound

A Fresher Appraisal

Colonialism is seldom thought of with gratitude and appreciation.  It is typically painted with images of injustice, destruction, and bloodshed—the very things that made all colonization efforts that happened in the history of the world victorious.  It is no wonder then that decades or even centuries after the colonization has ended, there remains resentment in the hearts and minds of those who were subjugated.  Many South Koreans, for instance, still despise Japan for controlling the country for 35 years.  In fact, I personally know children who hold grudges against Japan, retelling stories of atrocities they have learned either from their parents or history books.  The same is true in the case of the Philippines: ask someone what happened during the Japanese occupation and the American colonization, and she/he would bring up details of pain and violence.   Spain is not spared from this, no, especially not her, for Spain had the longest hold on the country—333 years to be exact!

Having been under Spain for that long expanse of time, it’s not surprising that some Filipinos still bear ill feelings towards Spain’s past actions and perhaps, even pin the country’s lack of a strong sense of identity or the people’s negative traits on the former European oppressor.  But should we?

I came across an excerpt* of a work of Nick Joaquin, a prominent figure in Philippine literature and journalism, and a recipient of a National Artist for Literature Award at that, too, which offers a different perspective:

“To accuse Spain, over and over again, of having brought us all sorts of things, mostly evil, among which we can usually remember nothing very valuable “except, perhaps,” religion and national unity, is equivalent to saying of a not very model mother that she has given her child nothing except life.   For in the profoundest possible sense, Spain did give birth to us—as a nation, as an –historical people.  This geographical unit of numberless islands called the Philippines—this mythical unit of numberless tongues, bloods and cultures called a Filipino—was begotten of Spain, is a Spanish creation… The content of our national destiny is ours to create, but the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy, Spain has created for us. 

. . .

Towards our Spanish past, especially, it is time we became more friendly; bitterness but inhibit us; those years cry for a fresher appraisal.”

Should we now look back at all those years with more appreciation? Maybe to some degree gratitude?  I’m not here to give an answer.  It is something that I’m also pondering at the moment.  Real food for thought.




*Unfortunately, I do not know from which work it was lifted as I only saw it as a screenshot from the Internet with no proper credits as well.  Any information will be much appreciated.

Big Fish, Small Fish

Which fish is in a better position? This question filled my head after chancing upon an Instagram story of a certain female European artist. The Story was a video of her singing in a coliseum filled with loads of people cheering and clapping. I don’t know anything about her except her name and a couple of songs, which I can’t understand anyway because they’re not in English. Judging from the size of the crowd and the number of followers she has on Instagram, I can tell that she’s a huge pop star. Interestingly, although I’m not familiar with her, I do know a member of her backing band—actually, I got to know her through him. This may sound a bit strange as backing/touring musicians being more well-known than the main artists themselves being supported is uncommon. The thing is, he is a member of another group, which has already toured some parts of Europe, the US, and even Asia. In fact, he and his band mates have already visited the Philippines twice now: one for a major music festival and another for a co-headliner event. A few of their songs have also been featured in a foreign TV show, a movie soundtrack, and even a video game.

The situation of both of these musicians amuses me. You see, the female artist, although she’s enormously popular, is well-known mostly only in her home country. Based on the information I’ve gathered from some websites, she hasn’t had the opportunity to tour other European cities or anywhere outside of the said continent in the span of her career (she’s been around for quite a while now). On the other hand, her backing musician has been outside of Europe numerous times, yet he and his band are still not that big.
Resulta ng larawan para sa big fish in a small pond
Both remind me of the big fish in a small pond / small fish in a big pond analogy: the female artist being the former, and the male one, the latter, of course. They made me think about success: Which fish would I want to be? Which situation is better? But as I contemplate on these questions, another one arose: Is there really a *better situation* between the two to begin with?

Many people I know prefer to be a small fish, giving room for growth and expansion as their primary reason. Many view it as a progressive thing: small now, get bigger later. The small fish is likewise generally seen as braver, more adventurous, and more experienced. But when I asked them if they were open to the possibility of remaining small forever (since there’s too much competition from countless other small fish) suddenly, some weren’t so sure. On the other hand, some see the big fish as someone who is fearful to go out of her/his comfort zone or someone who has settled and has decided not to push her/himself to grow further. Only a few would like to be in such a position.

Thinking more about the responses of these people, my mind is reminded of a band that I know that recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have put out several albums and singles over the course of their long career. The first thing that popped in my head when I learned that they have been together for 20 years now was their seeming “lack of achievement.” Although they’ve got several albums under their belt, none of their albums have ever been considerably popular; the same can be said about any of the singles they’ve put out. They’ve never enjoyed substantial air time on mainstream radio, and the current number of their followers on a streaming service doesn’t even come close to 10,000. Their shows are still pretty much held mostly only in small bars. If you ask regular people if they know the band, I’m quite sure that the name wouldn’t even ring a bell. One would think that in twenty years (!), they could’ve had at least one song that many would be familiar with, but the situation is far from that. Despite being around for such a long time, they remained tiny, swimming along with all those countless other small fish! They’ve had more than enough time to create something that the masses can remember them by, but they weren’t able to! Is it OK to assume then that they didn’t try to aim for something higher? That they merely settled? Is it also correct then to say that they weren’t bold enough? Not successful enough?

Further contemplation, however, produced a series of other questions: But what if being big isn’t what they’re after to begin with? What if their main goal was and still is to simply be able to produce music that they love for as long as they possibly can? What if *that* is enough … for them?

For many, success is still measured and limited to a financial aspect and by how much power or influence one may possess. But you see, that isn’t always the case. People have different goals and priorities in life, and so the meaning of success consequently varies as well. Quite recently, the backing musician posted a picture of the female musician happily kissing another major music award she had won in their home country. The male musician then stated that he was proud to be in a little corner of the woman’s success.

So, let me go back to my original question: which fish is in a better position? Neither, I guess. Whether or not one is a small fish or a big fish is not important. If you are fulfilled in the spot you are in, then you’re in a good place. In the end, it seems to me that what’s more important is that you keep on swimming.


cc: theedgeofsound

Tagubilin at Habilin

A man without fear — Ito ang nakasulat sa pinto ng isang kotseng nakita kong nakaparada sa kahabaan ng Commonwealth noong nakaraang linggo.  Sa tabi ng mga salita nakaguhit ang larawan ng pangunahing tauhan sa palabas na Daredevil.  Pagkabasa ko rito, bigla ko tuloy narinig ang tinig ng isang babaeng nagsasabing,

Ang tunay na matapang ay lumalaban kahit natatakot.  

Buhat ang linya sa Tagubilin at Habilin, isang tula ng manunula at manunulat na si Jose F. Lacaba na binigyang buhay bilang kanta sa estilo ng spoken word ng artista, mang-aawit, at tagapagsulong ng sining Filipino na si Armida Siguion-Reyna (na sumakabilang buhay na ilang araw lamang ang nakakaraan.)  Ang banayad na piano naman na maririnig ay ambag ni Ryan Cayabyab.

Nalaman ko ito, kung tama ang aking pagkakatanda, habang nakikinig sa programa sa radyo ni Ted Failon at Korina Sanchez sa DZMM maraming taon na ang nakalipas.  Noong una ko itong narinig, naihalintulad ko ito kagad sa Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) ni Baz Luhrmann.  Parehong pasalita at nagbibigay rin ng payo ang mga linya.  May pagkakahawig man ang estilo ng dalawa, para sa akin ay mas mabigat ang tono ng kay Lacaba.

Madaling tumatak sa akin yung mga salita ng tula at hanggang ngayon nga ay naalala ko pa rin ang ibang parte nito.  Heto ang tula sa kanyang kabuuan.  Sana’y maging makabuluhan din sa inyo ang mga payo rito.
* * *

Tagubilin at Habilin

Mabuhay ka, kaibigan!
Mabuhay ka!
Iyan ang una’t huli kong
Tagubilin at habilin:
Mabuhay ka!

Sa edad kong ito, marami akong maibibigay na payo.
Mayaman ako sa payo.

Maghugas ka ng kamay bago kumain.
Maghugas ka ng kamay pagkatapos kumain.
Pero huwag kang maghuhgas ng kamay para lang makaiwas sa sisi.
Huwag kang maghuhugas ng kamay kung may inaapi
Na kaya mong tulungan.

Paupuin sa bus ang matatanda at ang mga may kalong na sanggol.
Magpasalamat sa nagmamagandang-loob.
Matuto sa karanasan ng matatanda
Pero huwag magpatali sa kaisipang makaluma.

Huwag piliting matulog kung ayaw kang dalawin ng antok.
Huwag pag-aksayahan ng panahon ang walang utang na loob.
Huwag makipagtalo sa bobo at baka ka mapagkamalang bobo.
Huwag bubulong-bulong sa mga panahong kailangan sumigaw.
Huwag kang manalig sa bulung-bulungan.
Huwag kang papatay-patay sa ilalim ng pabitiin.
Huwag kang tutulog-tulog sa pansitan.

Umawit ka kung nag-iisa sa banyo.
Umawit ka sa piling ng barkada.
Umawit ka kung nalulungkot.
Umawit ka kung masaya.

Ingat lang.

Huwag kang aawit ng “My Way” sa videoke bar at baka mabaril.
Huwag kang magsindi ng sigarilyo sa gasolinahan.
Dahan-dahn sa matarik na landas.
Dahan-dahan sa malulubak na daan.

Higit sa lahat, inuulit ko:

Mabuhay ka, kaibigan!
Mabuhay ka!
Iyan ang una’t huli kong
Tagubilin at habilin:
Mabuhay ka!

Maraming bagay sa mundo na nakakadismaya.
Mabuhay ka.
Maraming problema ang mundo na wala na yatang lunas.
Mabuhay ka.

Sa hirap ng panahon, sa harap ng kabiguan.
Kung minsan ay gusto mo nang mamatay.
Gusto mong maglaslas ng pulso kung sawi sa pag-ibig.
Gusto mong uminom ng lason kung wala ka nang makain.
Gusto mong magbigti kung napakabigat ng mga pasanin.
Gusto mong pasabugin ang bungo mo kung maraming gumugulo sa utak.

Huwag kang patatalo. Huwag kang susuko.

Narinig mo ang sinasabi ng awitin:
“Gising at magbangon sa pagkagupiling,
Sa pagkakatulog na lubhang mahimbing.”
Gumising ka kung hinaharana ka ng pag-ibig.
Bumangon ka kung nananawagan ang kapuspalad.

Ang sabi ng iba: “Ang matapang ay walang-takot lumaban.”
Ang sabi ko naman: Ang tunay na matapang ay lumalaban
Kahit natatakot.

Lumaban ka kung inginungodngod ang nguso mo sa putik.
Bumalikwas ka kung tinatapak-tapakan ka.
Buong-tapang mong ipaglaban ang iyong mga prinsipyo
Kahit hindi ka sigurado na agad-agad kang mananalo.

Mabuhay ka, kaibigan!
Mabuhay ka!
Iyan ang una’t huli kong
Tagubilin at habilin:
Mabuhay ka!

-Jose F. Lacaba

Not a Starry, Starry Night

Despite the existence of the many distractions of modern life, one of the things that I still enjoy doing is looking up at the night sky. On a clear night, I could easily spot Orion’s Belt, the only constellation I can recognize, I’m afraid. My minuscule knowledge of the stars and other celestial bodies, however, does not deter me from appreciating their light and beauty. Looking at them is a humbling experience, not to mention relaxing. With the world spinning at such a hurried pace, the stars remind me to pause and reflect on things, which may be infinitesimal in the viewpoint of the cosmos.

I’m fortunate that despite living in an urban area, I still get to see stars, and on rare occasions even shooting stars, piercing this black canopy hanging above me. Metro Manila may be suffering from air pollution, but at least I can still see some portions of the sky glittering.  I have met many South Koreans who cannot say the same thing about their own night sky. They have mentioned to me before that they envy the Manila sky because they could see the moon and the stars clearly here. Back in Seoul, for instance, they said whenever they would look up at the night sky, all they could see was darkness. They added that seeing stars for them was a rarity; they would already feel lucky to see some scattered here and there. So, although the number of stars in Metro Manila isn’t incredibly vast to begin with, for them, it is already something to be envious about. Air pollution, they said, is what makes enjoying the stars impossible.


📸: Ivan Gatla.  People living in the rural areas are more fortunate because they get a clearer light show than those living in urban centers.  One of my biggest goals then is to be able to see parts of the Milky Way painted in the night sky just like this one on Calaguas.

I’d always assumed that air pollution in Metro Manila was worse compared to Seoul’s. Mass transportation system in Seoul is definitely better than the one we have here. It has more trains and subways, so they do not emit as much exhaust as the countless vehicles that ply the chaotic streets of Manila. Hearing them tell me that the air condition there is worse then surprised me greatly. But I couldn’t believe that it’s the only thing that prevents them from seeing the sky. There must be other factors. So I told them that aside from air pollution, Seoul must also be suffering from another pollutant: artificial light.

Being a city that is more modern than Metro Manila, Seoul probably has more establishments, soaring buildings, outdoor signages and advertisments, and more lamps dotting its streets. In short, Seoul, I assume, is perhaps brightened by artificial light more than it should be. My Korean acquaintances couldn’t get how light can actually “make the sky dirty,” so I had to explain my theory to them a bit further.

Months after, I saw this image done by David Garcia, a Filipino geographer and geospatial analyst. Here you can see how the areas of the Southeast Asian region come bursting with light at night. Also partially seen on the map are parts of Korea, Japan, and China, and from here I think I can say that maybe my light pollution theory may have some basis after all.

sea_night_dgarciaSo is it really that bad if your location — whether it may be a city or a rural area —  is oh-so-bright and shiny at night?  The answer is yes.  Too much or inappropriate outdoor lighting affects not only our ability to see and marvel at the night sky but also wildlife.  Take the situation of baby turtles as an example.  In order to get into the water, hatchlings follow the light of the moon reflected on the water.  However, artificial lights coming from resorts and houses at the beach confuse these marine animals.  So, instead of heading out into the water, they go towards the direction of these houses and establishments, where they can either be eaten by predators along the way or get stuck there instead and eventually die.    Aside from wildlife, light pollution also has negative impacts on human health, energy, safety, and even heritage.

With more and more places getting flooded with artificial light, I cannot help but wonder how the sky will look like in the future if light pollution is not properly addressed. Imagine, a glimpse of the Milky Way just above our heads but is ironically kept in the shadows because of  massive LED screens showing ads, lampposts, and other sources of artificial light.  Frustrating, isn’t it?  I don’t think I’d ever want to live in a place where the only lights I get to see in the sky are those attached to an aircraft.




You can download Garcia’s map in full resolution here.

Under Southern Skies

Salt water on my skin, sand beneath my feet, the wind toying with my hair, waves greeting my ears. It had been a long while since I had experienced these– five years to be exact! The last beach I visited was in Baler, Quezon, where the ocean let me not only enjoy its gentle waters but also learn some valuable life lessons. After that, I was just stuck in cities and their landlocked dreams the whole time. I was not supposed to go to Cebu, actually; I wasn’t part of the plan, but due to some twist of events, I was the one who ended up being on an airplane bound for Mactan City and eventually Bantayan Island and not the original participant of the scheduled trip.

I toured Mactan City a bit, but it was on Bantayan, an island about 500km south of Manila, where I spent most of my time in Cebu. Clear blue waters, fine sand, limestone rock features, sandbars, and an underground cave that doubles as a natural pool were just some of the sites that I got the opportunity to enjoy . It was my first time to visit Visayas, and I hope that this wouldn’t be my last time to explore other locations in the south of the country.

Have a peek at some of these captured views of Bantayan Island and its neighboring islands.


Flying over Bantayan, an island about 4.5hrs south off the capital City of Cebu. Got here from Mactan using the Cessna Grand Caravan EX plane of Air Juan.


en route to Hilantagaan and Virgin Is.

omagieca 2

At the Omagieca Obo-ob Mangrove Farm. Mangroves along coastal areas are important as they act as a barrier against storm surge. When super typhoon Yolanda, for example, hit central PH in 2013, the side of Bantayan Is. that had a lot of mangroves was significantly protected from devastation compared to those areas that no longer did have them.

ogtong sunrise 2

one of the five dogs I met at Ogtong beach. He was super friendly!


Kelvin Hemholtz clouds! I think…

A Pale Blue Dot*

These days, two major themes dominate the news: violence and climate change. There is endless news about wars, bomb explosions, vehicles mowing down pedestrians, or armed men shooting or randomly stabbing people to death. Every day, too, you can hear news about how huge parts of forests are being cleared, the thinning ice sheets, the rising temperature, or the extinction of a species. Regardless whether you watch the local or international news, you are sure to find at least one story connected to either of these two.

Times like these, I cannot help feeling fearful for the future — if humankind even still has one considering the rate of how people destroy each other and nature in the name of politics, power, and so-called progress. If only people realized that all those are insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

In 1994, Carl Sagan, an American cosmologist and author wrote the book, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space,”* and in it, he gave a different perspective of Earth, a perspective I wish all people would appreciate.

pale blue dot

That tiny speck suspended in a sunbeam is our home.  Photo taken by Voyager 1 in 1990. (NASA)

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.

On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner.

How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.

In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.

Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.

To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”