On Fantines, railroads, and perished dreams

This essay was published as the runner up of the recently concluded online essay writing contest, Imagining My Future,  hosted by Kendii, in partnership with The Immigrant Entrepreneur.  If you wish, you may check my essay at Kendii’s site, through this link: Imagining My Future.

Every morning, by the time sunlight shines and enters my eyes, I am constantly reminded of how exhausted I was the day before, while struggling over the pain cycling within my arms and my knees, as if I did a lengthy fitness routine for hours. Every time I ride the train leading to the university, thoughts of failing constantly reign over my head, while trying to recall the main points of the political and economic books I read over the past weekend.

But then, while I was contemplating about my academic fate and about my social responsibilities, my mp3 player began transmitting a popular jazz tone through my earphones. It was ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ of Les Miserables musical playing all over again; then I harassed the replay button and sang the famous song despite the noisy, torrid environment inside the train. Even if the other commuters were either merely observing or were already judging me, I did not halt my singing, because, for me, that moment was, but destined to release all my negative feelings.

When I pushed the magnetic ticket towards the tiny hole of the ticket gate and pursued a short, successful exit from a 10-minute worth of hell, I recalled Fantine in that particular scene — alone and depressed, wearing rugged clothes, starving and ailing — delivering powerful stanzas with her lungs out, as if that moment could be her last to decry all the curses the world had cost her.

Moreover, at that very moment, I pitied her fate and began rethinking about mine. I began thinking about what had brought me to acquiring great dreams and taking the railroad that is full of inevitable obstacles. This long road, soon, has led me to higher expectations as I conquer each level of serious challenges and eventually, to more paths of reality and uncertainty.

Years before my high school graduation, I cited a variety of careers I wished to make as effective ways to prosper, beginning from public health research or civil engineering to business administration and accountancy; but changes in the course of time also paved way for my advancement in other areas, such as mathematics and literature. I even wrote in our Class Prophecy, which was published at our school’s commencement exercises souvenir program, that I will be a Bangkok-based landscape photographer someday!

But sadly, annoyingly, and unfortunately, in the end, when I decided to choose UP Manila to be a political science major, my ‘dreams’  dashed away in a cold instant. All my desires to solve math and physics problems all my life abruptly perished; and when my first try for love failed, I gave up capturing photons and stopped turning them to high-quality masterpieces.

My first semester in UP flew by; and my only consolation for not landing over my preferred study track was the strong fact that I am studying in the country’s premier state university. The prestige kept me within the rooms of happiness, but when winds of second semester entered swiftly like a thief, I am not anymore satisfied with whatever I was studying. And as I spent sitting on the same wooden chair day by day, my desire to shift to another degree program —and even to transfer to another campus — bloomed, after which I tried to garner the grades necessary to fulfill my aim.

But little did I realize that my almost two years of stay in the university had been instrumental for me to visualize my future self and that the people around me had been supporting me for whatever I truly desire. My degree program and my university indeed had been my inspiration to spark change in the society I currently live in. I remember that sometimes, my friends ask me, “When will you be transferring to BS Math or BS Biology?” but I most of the time respond with only either a nod or a smile. Whenever I feel the hardships of life, I remember how the farmers of Hacienda Luisita fight for their rights to land ownership, despite the fear that has been haunting them for decades. Whenever I feel oppressed, I remember the Aeta children of Mabalacat, Pampanga, who welcomed our medical mission-team with open arms, without the thought that we might be just another line of oppressors, preparing to take everything that they have, including their identity. Whenever I feel sick due to the sickening environment inside and outside the campus, I remember the dying patients, whose voices are seldom heard, inside the Philippine General Hospital, and the ailing children and elderly, who travel distances to reach health centers or hospitals, residing at the country’s far-flung areas.

Thus, after several series of realizations, I became more determined to finish this undertaking. I began planning to enter medical school, to practice community medicine upon graduation, and to finally serve my fellowmen.

But, what if one day, I would be like Fantine whose dream never came true? What if everything would be just a dream – a dream never fulfilled? What if every challenge I encounter along the road would soon lead to my downfall?

Sometimes, I pray to God that I do not want to suffer the same fate Fantine had experienced. Perhaps, I may sometimes feel ostracized because of the career path I chose, but I know someone out there is willing to help me out whenever I ought to surrender. The tuition and other fees in medical school are probably high, but now, I am studying very hard to maintain the grade necessary to obtain a scholarship. The road towards my graduation and entrance to medical school may be tough, but I am determined to do my very best, because the true of state of our nation serves as a calling for me to serve the under-served and represent those who are often neglected by the government.

Perhaps, people around me may never be proud or contented for my choices that are divergent from theirs, but I hope that in the near or far future, all of our hearts will soon converge, like the railroads of a train terminal, in pursuit of a common, beneficial goal.

I hope that someday, Fantines can no longer be found on the streets and begging for alms and sympathy of the passers-by. I envision a world that is unified in curing the diseases of our society, in raising the discourse, and in building better relationships for all people, regardless of our countless differences.



Speech 11, fun, and underlying lessons


Before I lined up and enrolled for my fourth semester of stay in the University, I already predicted that the next five months would be academically toxic and crucial. Furthermore, finding a course that will serve as the best avenue to release this debilitating mixture of feelings induced by repetitious moments of failures — or to at least partially unload a burden of another intense semester — was another challenge I had to face. Adding up to my frustration towards my ineptness in the social sciences (but I am still struggling), unfortunately and annoyingly, is the plain fulfillment of this prediction, for, even if I began changing my study habits, most of the courses I took acted like machine guns showering students with bullets of written requirements — if not, with brain-draining exams or quizzes.

However, on the positive side, there is this one course/subject — which typical students may overlook — that I never planned to take, but I enjoyed the most. In that class, everyone was obliged, individually, to deliver their chosen pieces and to unite as a group to come up with a meaningful performance. Yes, this class may sound like your ordinary high school literature subjects, but for me, every second I spared was enough to turn my life towards abrupt changes.

I hate whatever performance that compels me to stand on stage with all eyes fixing on my actions, but the Course is more than a matter of (re)building confidence and/or self-esteem. When we delivered our narratives, I realized that each one of us presented a unique, personal revelation — words that hold the key to our real-life character and to our present understanding of prevailing circumstances. It could be the same memory that shifts us back to the horrible pain caused by a bitter lost, a beloved’s death, heartbreak, deprivation of second chances, and constant failures. It could also be the mere joy we feel as we journey towards our chosen destinations. It could be the stories hidden within the depths of our hearts, waiting for the right time to be unearthed.

Moreover, as the term slowly progressed, I realized that my Revelation lies behind the lines of written in the short bond paper intended for my Narrative. I fathomed that, undeniably, there exists a thin thread connecting heaven and earth, and that even though there are situations that impale us with sorrow, there are still countless reasons to be happy.

And perhaps, the best thing I ever observed throughout the semester is the burning passion among the members of the class and that, whenever we are called to act, no one ceased to cooperate. Whatever will be the result of this term, I surely will heave sighs of relief, for I know that I’ve gone into a very interactive class, with our one-and-only lovely and passionate Speech 11 professor and lots of crazy people!


Photos are from my lovely Speech 11 classmates, Tanya Mindo and Jara Rogacion.

Kabataang Makabayan, Paglingkuran ang Sambayanan: A Theatrical Production Review


The Kabataang Makabayan (KM), being the “national seeding machine for the Philippine revolution” (Reyes, 2014) and one of the “critical forces of the Philippine revolution” (Communist Party of the Philippines, 2014), serves as the crucial opponent of the “semi-colonial and semi-feudal conditions” (Sison, 2013) prevalent in the country. And as a part of the organization’s celebration for its Bonifacio Day-inspired establishment in November 30 (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, 2014; Reyes, 2014), around five decades ago, it organized a theatrical production entitled “Kabataang Makabayan, Paglingkuran ang Sambayanan!” held last January 30, 2015 at the University Theater, University of the Philippines, Diliman.

With 20 or 50 PHP-worth of ticket in the audience’s hands, the atmosphere among those who were unaware of KM’s nature was marked with lowered expectations in terms of the event’s form and with an apparent chaotic behavior as the crowd rapidly grew in numbers.

The production staff did well with writing the script, because it vividly portrayed the history of the KM, from the advent of the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune up to its continuing nationalistic struggles against imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat-capitalism.

However, one must note that ordinary students comprised almost half of the total horde of viewers, and the observer, despite being fully-attentive in watching the scenes shown on the stage, might had heard of the repetitive questions regarding the three concepts mentioned at the previous paragraph, which are, of course, difficult to grasp or understand. However, such act should not be rendered annoying, because one may witness that the play had sparked interests among the youth attenders, thus paving a way for further encouragement.

The costume could have passed the standards of the viewers, and it was obvious that the staff had been so much resourceful with their wardrobe. But the main problems of the production were the lack of acting skills, of smooth transitions, and of a good sound system. There were times when the actors failed to effortlessly recall their lines, thus creating short lapses. The transitions at the first and the second parts were partly messy, but the actors managed to impress the audience with the performance of the singers at the latter parts of the play. Lastly, the sound system was pretty terrible, as one could hardly comprehend the dialogues, especially of the lead characters.

However, it is also important for people to understand that despite the slight muddle in some parts of the production, the KM proudly voiced out their history by means of communicating with the audience, therefore leaving them with an impression that they must focus on the content rather than the form.

The beliefs of the KM are the foundations of modern activism, which, in turn, made the relevance of the organization brightly highlighted as the problems that occurred in 1964 and during the Martial Law remained as undying plagues to the Filipinos, because, corruption and poverty were never erased as generation changes (Tan, 2015). The actions of the KM went beyond armed uprisings, as they also delivered educational discussions to the vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed masses, leading to the highly-inspired formation of other organizations that courageously protect the inherent rights of these people. Therefore, the KM has been a valid living reminder to the youth that as long as the state continues to be an instrument in exploiting the masses and the nation, the struggle has not come to an end yet.


Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. (2014). Rise Up! Celebrating Kabataang Makabayan and 50  Years of Youth Organizing. Retrieved from http://bayanusa.org

Communist Party of the Philippines. (2014). Long live the Kabataang Makabayan on its 50th  anniversary! Retrieved from http://www.philippinerevolution.net

Reyes, N. (2014). 10 Awesome Facts about the Kabataang Makabayan. Like a Rolling Stone. Retrieved from https://natoreyes.wordpress.com

Sison, J.M. (2013). Kabataang Makabayan and its Relevance Today: Message to the League of Filipino Students and the Nagkahiusang Kusog sa Estudyante. Retrieved from http://josemariasison.org

Tan, M. (2015). KM@50. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved from http://opinion.inquirer.net

At a snail’s pace


I used the snail as a fresh metaphor to describe the progress of our country in terms of different aspects and the most recent news, about our country’s average Internet speed. Photo Courtesy of Google.

This youngblood article of mine was published in the opinion page of the May 27, 2014 issue of the broadsheet, Philippine Daily Inquirer .

Almost a decade ago, during my grade school years, a typical summer day with my companions meant gathering together and roaming around Fort Bonifacio (now called Bonifacio Global City, but we usually called it “Kampo”). It would be a bit of luck if the sky was filled with cumulus clouds, which at least could reduce the threat of a torrid, almost deadly, atmosphere.

The main conflict of my character as a chief explorer of our group was how to escape the very sight of my parents because they always wanted me to stay at home and hit the books. I was thankful for the highly-popular afternoon show at that time (which was also their favorite), for it gave me the chance to run off as quickly as possible.

The narrow street leading to Kampo was near ours, so I had to improve my speed and agility whenever I learned that either my father or my mother was chasing after me. The street was sandwiched by rows of old wooden houses with thin steel roofs, and the murkiness of the water in the small canals indicated the presence of pollution in the urban area. But my mind and my body were already habituated to the stinky odors and the peculiar marks of a poor community due to my desperate goal of eluding these two “house cops.”

At the end of the street, my friends would be patiently waiting for me to arrive; exhilaration would grow among us as one by one we saw one other’s shadow. A challenge I had to overcome was climbing the enormous gray wall facing Kampo. It was a piece of cake, but honestly and ironically, up until now I still have a hard time climbing up to a sturdy branch of a small mango tree. I believe it is the adrenaline in our body that allows us to behave like ninjas even for a while.

After the struggle with the obstacles, without any more decision-making, we would automatically travel along the hot pavements and roads. Often we went up the hill and gathered wood and other materials for a tent. An inquisitive boy, I “hunted” for tadpoles and my favorite mollusks and put them in separate jars. Whenever a traffic marshal appeared, we would run as fast as we could, if possible ignoring all, even the itchiness inflicted by the tall talahib.

One time when I was caught, my excuse was that I was conducting an experiment for a science project. And I murmured to myself: “You’ve always been moving like a snail.”

A month after my encounter with the marshal—sometime around June—I did the same routine by myself. But this time, neither of my parents blocked my way, and they were no longer surprised by the jars of snails I brought home and stashed under the plastic dining table. (I abruptly stopped catching tadpoles when frogs began multiplying inside our compound. It was indeed a chore to try to drive them out completely.) As I keenly watched a snail moving to and fro in the miniature muddy environment that I had created, my father would tease me and laughingly say: “Snail soup will be your breakfast tomorrow morning.”

I actually never did a thorough study of these mollusks. I only observed them slowly flashing back and forth from the corners of my eyes for I was not an expert in malacology.

The years that quickly flew with the changing wind have transformed me into an older version of who I was 10 years ago. The hills where I had found the snails are no longer there. The grasses cannot anymore contain the small white butterflies I once chased and enclosed within my hands. In short, modernization began to revolutionize the area.

Recently I visited a park in Bonifacio Global City and my heart hopped with amazement and joy when I saw and observed a snail hiding itself behind a plant’s tiny, leafy stem.

Suddenly I realized that our country’s progress has been moving at a snail’s pace.

From all over the world, we have been crowned as one of the slowest in almost everything. We are known for having slow service in government agencies because of the employees being underpaid, and the long lines in their offices are obvious evidence. Who can forget the sluggish pace of justice for the victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre and their families, as well as those in other cases? And most of us may see a development in a certain part of the metropolis, but does that development include and benefit the urban poor?

Some of our not-so-honorable government officials keep insisting that our country is rapidly progressing. They also crow that the economy is improving due to the increments in our GDP and GNP, and that some surveys indicate that the poverty rate is declining. But we are saddled by the burden of thieves in the government, who, while professing to be public servants, are servants of their own greed and luxury.

Reality will always be reality, and the more we rely on statistics than the actual conditions of our countrymen, the more we deviate from the actuality of their conditions and their being trapped in a slow, chaotic society.

A recent piece of news is that the Philippines, with an average Internet speed of 3.6 mbps, is ranked the slowest among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and 155th of 190 countries in the world. Some of us who easily get riled by this type of connection express anger and disappointment through wordy rants and meaningful protests.

But I know that being branded as the “slowest” is no longer new to our ears.

I have wondered even before whether the snail possesses the virtue of patience because it has to take a long time to crawl from one side to another. I can see it also in my countrymen: that although we progress ever so slowly, like a snail, we still manage to adapt to our conditions and live. But I know that patiently waiting and thinking and acting like a snail will never be enough; it is the perfect time for us to find a long-term solution and speak up for our rights.

I am hoping that someday we will all manage to finish this race at the end of this empty street, but not anymore at a snail’s pace.

Link: Youngblood-Philippine Daily Inquirer 

Sueju Takeshi 武