11
May

Our COVID-19 story

Prologue

Our story began on April 7, 2021, when my brother’s mother-in-law died due to COVID-19. She was a very active barangay health worker. Friday before Holy Week of 2021, she went around her barangay handing out stuff, and then joined her family at a daughter’s house in Bulacan. My brother and his family did not join.

Back then, not joining was a blessing in disguise, as most of the family got COVID, but the mother-in-law went critical. She had the red flag symptoms – slept a lot, new confusion – and needed medical attention. She was rushed to Caloocan South Medical Center last April 7, and like many others was placed under a tent, as the hospital was full. She died under that tent, like many others who were unlucky, victims of a government that was vastly and woefully unprepared and grossly indifferent.

When she died, they were unsure if it was due to COVID. She had to get tested after death, and to add more insult the family had to find someone to do the test – I dunno if the hospital couldn’t or refused to do the test. The family got her tested the night she died, and the result came out a day later – positive.

She wasn’t cremated immediately; it would take a week, as most crematorium were busy.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Arbet W. Bernardo (@arbetb)

My brother and his wife had to witness the cremation, together with another sister who also did not join the family in Bulacan. (Everyone else were quarantined in Bulacan.) The original schedule was 6PM, but due to a mix-up in scheduling by the mortuary, cremation took place at 8PM. As it was ECQ, curfew was at 8PM, so my brother and his wife went home and just viewed the cremation through Facebook.

The beginning

The sister-in-law went out several times since then: for the pasiyam, to look for a columbarium unit (with her sister), to pay for the unit (with her sister), and finally on April 21 to get herself tested as requirement for her to go back to work.

She is the patient zero in our family because she was the first one who tested positive for SARS-Cov2 virus.

She started showing symptoms on April 19, starting with itchy throat. As this was common for cough, she ignored it. Only when her antigen test showed positive did it made sense.

My mom took care of her kids when they went to witness the cremation, and dropped by their house several times before she got tested. When her test result was disclosed, a part of me panicked. My mom was a close contact, and then I am a close contact of my mom.

So the first thing I did was to call the city’s COVID hotline.

I called the first number and it was busy. I called the second number but no one answered. I called the first number again, and this time someone answered. After telling her my concern, she just asked me to note down the numbers of the health center nearby and some barangay health numbers.

Wow. That’s it. The hotline was just a glorified yellow pages.

After that fruitless call, someone did send an SMS using the second number after I called them.

I replied with the required details. Nothing happened. Maybe because it was after office hours? *shrugged*

On the same day, another sister-in-law had low grade fever and itchy throat. We thought it was coincidence, as both sisters-in-law had no close contact at all.

The next day, my brother, husband of second sister-in-law, also had fever. Another coincidence, since they are husband and wife after all, so no big deal.

But the biggest concern was to get everyone tested. In Caloocan, you need to contact a barangay health worker first before you can be scheduled for RT-PCR swab testing. As patient zero’s late mother was a barangay health worker, she managed to contact the health worker assigned to the barangay, and we were scheduled for swab testing the next day, April 23.

The city has “free” RT-PCR testing from Mondays to Fridays (the virus takes a break on weekends), but in reality it is Philhealth who pays for the test. The test sites are at Caloocan People’s Park (for south Caloocan) and Caloocan Sports Complex (for north). In reality, only senior citizens, pregnant women, and persons with disabilities are tested in People’s Park; the majority are bused in to Philippine Sports Stadium mega swabbing site in Ciudad de Victoria, Bocaue, Bulacan.

(The free antigen testing is just recent, after DOH acknowledged that antigen tests are as good as RT-PCR tests. PDF of DOH Memo.)

We were told to be at Caloocan People’s Park by 8AM. The barangay patrol (a tricycle, really) picked us up and brought us to the waiting area.

This is the waiting area at the Caloocan People’s Park. No segregation between asymptomatic and symptomatic people. Spacing was not as far as I’d be comfortable with. (If you squint you can see the buses in the background.)

The seniors, pregnant women, and PWDs were asked to move to the left side. Why they weren’t made to sit there in the first place is beyond me. Others were called by batches and made to get on the bus.

On the way to Bulacan.

We (me, my brother and his wife; my mother and my youngest brother were tested in People’s Park) arrived at Philippine Sports Stadium at around 9:30 AM. We first stayed in the bus in the parking lot across the street, and then the bus entered the area but we’re made to stay until there was no queue outside the stadium.

While waiting, we were made to fill up a small slip of paper, indicating our personal details plus the email address of the requesting LGU.

We got off the bus when there was no one in queue. There were five stops: queue outside, sit down at the portal, sit down at tents just outside the testing hall, registration tent, then sample collection.

Waiting outside the registration area.
The tents for registration and sample collection.

We were done after an hour. We were brought back to People’s Park using the same bus. The atmosphere inside the bus was festive, as there was a large group of people from the same area.

After getting off at People’s Park, we waited for the barangay patrol to pick us up, to make sure we won’t go anywhere. We waited for more than 30 minutes; if we walked we would be home in less than 10.

As it was a Friday, it was an interminable wait – they said results could take 2-5 days. They did not say if calendar or working, but knowing government, it’s working days.

Saturday, April 24, my mom exhibited symptoms. As she’s a senior citizen, this crushed my heart, being a pessimist worrywart. She was still hopeful, thinking she’d be negative, but I know she was already positive.

Monday, April 26, D Day. I found out that it was Red Cross who processed the test. I got my test results online (through this site), and thankfully I tested negative. My brother got his results online as well, but unfortunately he tested negative. His wife tried searching for her test results, but no results were found. I couldn’t find the results for my mom and younger brother as well.

Tuesday, April 27. The barangay health worker (BHW) finally got most of the test results. Unfortunately my fears were validated – my mom tested positive. The health worker asked if we want to have those who tested positive transferred to an isolation facility. I asked where, but the BHW couldn’t provide an answer; they have to file a request first, and only upon approval will they know where.

Look at the above Facebook post from our mayor. Some schools were converted to isolation facilities, and it’s quite possible you will not be alone in a room, and the toilet will most likely be shared. There are other isolation facilities that have individual rooms for each patients, with aircon and toilets for each room. As we cannot be assured we’d get the better rooms, we decided to just quarantine at home.

Each patient contacted the Office of the Vice President’s Bayanihan e-Konsulta project, and all of them got callbacks. All of them got COVID care kits except for patient zero (she called up on the home stretch of her quarantine); only my mom and patient zero got a call from a doctor; and the volunteers tried their best to make followup calls (it’s supposed to be twice a day), but I know they are swamped with cases, and thankfully we only got mild symptoms.

The BHW checked on us twice a day, asking for temps. No questions about oxygen saturation, symptoms, whatever we need. That’s the entire extent of government action on COVID-positive patients.

Fourteen days

It was harrowing and stressful 14 days for me. I had to look after 4 patients and at the same time keep myself safe. I am not a prayerful person, but I relied on prayer every day, praying for better health for everyone.

Every morning I was this:

First order of the day was to check on my mom. The constant symptoms were clogged/runny nose and cough. Headaches and fatigue came in on the fourth day since the first onset of symptoms; body pain on the sixth. Every day, every new symptoms, my heart sank deeper and deeper into despair. I check on other patients either virtually or outside their door.

To prevent myself from sinking further into despair, I buried myself into watching Netflix and Viu. I started re-watching The Untamed. I installed and uninstalled mobile games, and settled into EverMerge. I read on articles on how to care for COVID patients and how to keep oneself safe in the process. I prayed like there’s no tomorrow.

We go to the nearby public market every week for a week’s supply of meat and vegetables. After a week, we ran out. Relatives stepped in and bought stuff for us. Even my co-workers chipped in, despite the fact that I am not COVID positive. I was hoping someone from the barangay would step in and volunteer to help us, but I guess that’s asking too much.

We got relief goods on two separate days, total of three packages, and barangay made sure to emphasize goods are courtesy of politician M and politician S. #election2022

As the end of the 14-day quarantine approached, everyone get better until they no longer have symptoms. Amazingly, patient zero’s husband (my brother) and their children presented no symptoms, and the husband tested negative despite being in the same house as patient zero all throughout the quarantine. I guess wearing a mask works (more on this later).

Will StaySafe keep you safe?

With regards to contact tracing: I have no idea how it works. We were never asked where we’ve been for the last 14 days. We were not told to contact people who were in personal contact with us for the last 14 days.

Prior to the test, my mom and I went to the market on April 21, the day patient zero got tested. My mom was already double masking at that time (I made her wear a KN95 mask over a surgical mask since the March 2021 surge started) plus face shield (which I think does not really provide much protection), while I wore a KN95 mask.

We also went to the grocery last April 18. I used the StaySafe app before I entered the grocery. When my mom’s positive test result came in, I checked the app to see how I can report that I was a close contact of a positive case.

So here’s the main page of the app.

I clicked on Update Now, and I was presented with a list of common COVID-19 symptoms.

As I tested negative and had no symptoms, I selected None of the above then tapped UPDATE.

In the next screen, you are asked several questions.

I selected the first two options, then tapped UPDATE.

I was shown the home screen again. I have no idea if the app sent a message to the server to alert other users who were also in the grocery on that day. I have no idea if those people got contacted.

Will the StaySafe app keep you safe? I’ll let the (former?) contact tracing czar speak about the app:

Insofar as the DILG is concerned, nasa study and learning status pa po sila. Yan po yung talagang kulang pa po ang documentation na binigay ng StaySafe kaya hindi pa po natin makumpleto at masabing categorically na highly reliable na po itong StaySafe.

Benjamin Magalong


End of (14) days

Our quarantine started on April 23 (the day we got tested) and ended supposedly last May 6, but we were only told we’re done a day after. We were told to wait for the official certification, to be issued Monday, April 10, but we were free to go out for essential tasks. So off to the market last Saturday, and groceries last Sunday.

Monday came and no paper in sight. Apparently, the health center does not know the contact tracer who processed our case information. They assumed (1) we knew and (2) took a photo of our case info sheet. I only found out today, May 11. Luckily I did, and sent the photo to the BHW. We got our certification today, including certification from health center doctor: for those who tested negative, that we completed 14 days of home quarantine and remained asymptomatic all throughout (I don’t know how they determined that, since they never asked me); for those who tested positive, that they completed 14 days of home quarantine and assumed to have recovered based on DOH Memo 2020-0258 dated May, 29, 2020. (PDF of the memo, see page 3, paragraph 9.)

Epilogue

While supposedly those who tested positive for COVID are considered recovered after 14 days of quarantine and no longer require repeat testing, some businesses require a certification from a medical doctor that the person is fit to work, and some even require a negative RT-PCR test. This test costs starting from four thousand pesos – not cheap – and with the patient technically jobless and no pay for 14 days, and got no medical attention, isn’t the barangay certification enough, based on DOH policy? Not all businesses and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) will cover the cost of this extra testing and certification. In short, poor people who got COVID gets poorer because no-work, no-pay, and then will be required by employer to get tested at employee’s expense. This is unfair and unacceptable.

Why can’t DOH amend its policy so that patients can be tested after their quarantine? Why is this regime so stingy when it took out so many foreign loans? Why are they insisting that mass testing = testing everyone? One year into the pandemic, haven’t we built up our testing stockpile that we need to scrimp and save and deny testing to those who had recovered, when we allow private enterprises to ignore state policy and insist on their own recovery policies? Both public and private sectors are cruel to its citizens and employees.

We are lucky that everyone in the family who tested positive got mild symptoms only. I’d probably go insane if someone got severe symptoms, knowing how stressful it was just caring for patients while trying to keep yourself safe. I don’t understand how government officials remain indifferent when some of them got COVID and at least one of them got critical. Are they really that pathetically uncaring about people who got sick with COVID? Maybe that’s why they are unconcerned about the number of people who died, and even dared to compare our numbers against other countries just to justify their failed response to the pandemic?

We are forever grateful to everyone who helped us – from relatives to friends to co-workers to barangay personnel to those who collected samples. Thank you.

Recommendations

Based on our experience, here are my recommendations for improving our pandemic response on the local level (because nationally it is hopeless).

The city should be more proactive when new cases are reported by residents. I think the hotline should instead call the necessary people instead of the resident making the calls. They can collect the necessary data and forward this data to the right people. If the hotline will just state phone numbers to call, the mayor should revise his pinned post to instead list down the numbers of barangay health centers and health workers instead. That would save residents one phone call.

With regards to the waiting area at the People’s Park, I hope they can sit asymptomatic and symptomatic people separately, and make senior citizens sit directly near the entrance to the park, not to make them sit with other people then ask them to move later. Compare that to the recent OVP Swab Cab testing in Marikina, where in the first photo, the area for symptomatic persons is clearly marked, meaning people without symptoms are separated from people with symptoms. I hope the city can emulate this arrangement.

With the just-recent pronouncement by World Health Organization (after a year of overwhelming evidence of its viability as transmission mode) that the SARS-Cov2 virus can be transmitted through the air, I hope the city rethinks busing in people. They can probably hire non-airconditioned buses or make sure asymptomatic people are separated from symptomatic people, or make sure the buses have adequate means of ventilation. We must prevent transmission while being on the bus – it would be highly ironic if you tested negative on that day only to be infected while on the bus and show symptoms later.

There is also an issue in data encoding. For the three of us who got tested at Philippine Sports Stadium, two of us immediately found our test results online. I presented my old SSS ID while my brother presented his driver’s license. His wife presented her unified multipurpose ID (UMID), and the reason she did not find her results online is that whoever encoded her data included the acronym “CRN” in the system, and instead of typing a dash, a semi-colon was entered instead. (For those who are unfamiliar with the UMID, your ID number is presented this way: “CRN-xxxx-xxxxxxx-x”.)

At the People’s Park site, they don’t even encode the ID number at all. No wonder I couldn’t find my mom’s test results online.

I hope that they make sure their data encoding is consistent and checked, to prevent errors. After all, it’s GIGO.

Don’t get me started on contact tracing. This regime can’t even come up with a mediocre contact tracing system. They can’t even have a coherent message on StaySafe – one person says its OK, another to contradict. It’s been a year, and no wonder we had this tragic surge. I have no recommendation about contact tracing – it will take a series of blog posts and systems analysis and design documentation. All I can say is, based on our experience, there’s no contact tracing system. At all.

I know that some barangay health workers (BHWs) and barangay health emergency response team (BHERT) workers are volunteers, but it doesn’t mean they don’t get the right training and proper compensation. The LGU should make sure they are properly equipped to monitor patients in their locality (in case of home quarantine). For example: not all symptomatic people get fever (my mom didn’t), so just monitoring body temperature is not enough. BHWs should also monitor for oxygen saturation. I think oxygen saturation is a better metric to monitor and better indicator if patient requires immediate medical attention or not. (Fever can be managed through medicine, low oxygen saturation is more complicated and requires professional care.)

With family members needing to go out to report to work, it might be necessary to wear a mask when at home until everyone gets vaccinated. It can be expensive, as cloth masks might not effective enough in such close quarters, so I hope the LGUs can help in providing residents surgical masks at least.

The city of Caloocan can improve its health care system, especially its city hospitals. These hospitals should be at least be able to test patients for COVID-19. While the North Medical Center has a molecular biology lab, I hope the South can have its own lab itself. Given the pandemic, the city should allocate more resources to its hospitals so that they can help as many people as possible.

We want patients to eat healthy. While relief goods are appreciated, we should move away from canned goods and instant noodles. I understand we maintain a stockpile of these goods precisely because they last longer, people would appreciate it more if fresh produce and fruits are included. Patients need to build up their immunity, and fruits and vegetables can help. It would also help if the LGUs can maintain a stockpile of common medicines to address COVID-19 symptoms like paracetamol and hexetedine.

LGUs can at least replicate Bayanihan e-Konsulta’s system. Care kit packages go a long way in helping patients, as most of the time they are unprepared in addressing symptoms. And once they are locked down, they can no longer acquire much needed medicines and other resources. I hope every barangay can maintain a volunteer corp that can help in patients’ errands like purchasing medicines or paying bills, especially those who do not have the means to be online.

Hopefully, LGUs can plug the holes that the national government refuses to address. While resources are limited, LGUs can direct volunteers to where they are needed. The emergence of community pantries shows that people will help when they know how and where they can help. With the bayanihan spirit in action, we can help alleviating the difficulties that COVID-10 patients in poor communities face. Let’s help each other, as the national government will not.

And lastly: please, leave politics out of the pandemic response. Be equitable in providing resources, not concentrating help on bailiwicks. Every Caloocan resident should be treated equally. regardless of where they are residing in the city. Thank you.

29
Mar

On komiks and brick games and pocketbooks

When I was in high school (way back decades ago *sigh*), it was the time when Luzon was suffering from lack of electricity. No electricity for hours, as long as 12 hours every day. So most of our time there was no electricity. No electricity meant no radio and no TV. We sought different forms of entertainment then.

My mom used to buy read komiks from the palengke at Blumentritt. I remember some of the titles like Aliwan and Wakasan. Every Friday, I bought Pilipino Funny Komiks (for Combatron, mostly). When I was in my first year, my values education teacher called me Zarbot, an android character from the serial comic novel of the same name, just because my name sounded like Zarbot. Zarbot appeared in Aliwan, and his claim to fame was that he’s prolly one of the most sexually active robot characters out there.

Most of the komiks back then are collections of serialized comic novels, stories being continued on the next issue. Komiks were released regularly, mostly weekly. I had to wait weeks for the next issues, because my mom did not buy them regularly. During Saturdays, I always waited for my mom from her palengke run, hoping she bought komiks. And when she did, I read them immediately, and lagi akong napipingot sa tenga because inuna ko pang basahin yung komiks instead na ayusin yung pinamili nya.

Love stories were the most common serialized novels in komiks. Inevitably, there were love scenes, but mostly not explicit. For explicit ones, there were bomba komiks as well – yep, komiks were for porn, as well. I’d seen an issue or two. My mom obviously did not buy them, but as any male teenager would tell you, we have ways. *wink wink*

Aside from komiks, my mom also bought pocketbooks. Some of these local pocketbooks were thin volumes, stapled instead of bound, with glossy cover. They were mostly love stories. I remember reading them on our stairs, malapit kasi sa bintana kaya maliwanag at pwede magbasa. She kept these komiks and pocketbooks at the eskaparate where bread and biscuits were kept.

Of course, there were porn pocketbooks. *wink wink*

And nobody of my age would have escaped the phenomenon called brick games. These were handheld devices with monochrome displays, powered by AA batteries. They all were variations of the classic Tetris game by Nintendo. Pag may Game Boy ka that time, mayaman ka. Eh since di lahat can afford magka Game Boy, ayun, bumenta ang brick games. The more games in a handheld, the more na sikat ka. Eh 4 kaming magkakapatid so imagine the chaos – agawan eh. Di uso sa amin ang time sharing haha.

So yeah. Internet at that time was almost non-existent, and mobile phones were too large to be called mobile. And since there was not enough electricity back then, TV and radio time were limited. Bihira pa portable radios nun, madalas pa AM band lang. Saka magastos sa battery. So we were left with komiks and pocketbooks and brickgames for distraction and entertainment.

I don’t get the fuzz re: komiks right now. I guess it isn’t an upper class thing.

4
Mar

Looking at the window in front of me

There’s a wooden bench lying on the roof, sideways, its four feet pointing to the west. A maya bird perches on one of the foot, chirping, then flies away.

This has been a regular scene ever since I started working at home Mondays. Around 7am, you can hear them on the roofs, chirping. I once tried taking a picture, but the window screen’s too dusty. I really have to find time to clean it.

I wanted to put a water bath for them at the roof, and a small container of food for them. I don’t know what’s stopping me from doing so. I guess laziness.

I cherish these times. I dread the day when the cats are back to their jump-on-walls-and-roofs-and-wail-and-have-sex routine. They usually do so in the middle of the night.

Now listening to vinyl. Currently playing: Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Birds have flown away. Back to work.

21
May

On death, 3

I met him I think twice. The first time was during an art exhibit. I was invited by an artist-friend, and he was invited by another artist that is also friends with my artist-friend. After the opening, we had dinner at Chowking, then videoke at Malate. They drank the night away while I listened to their drunken singing. We went home way past midnight.

The second time was another drinking session/dinner in Makati. Over bottles of Tanduay Ice (for them) and iced tea (for me) and lechon kawali, we exchanged stories and jokes. Well, they exchanged stories and jokes, while I just listened. I was socially awkward; I still am. After the drinking session, we took a walk around Makati, passing by his house, then we had post-dinner dinner at McDonalds. That was the last time I saw him – a towering figure, laughing like a child.

Most interactions after that were online, usually on Twitter. I just read his tweets, made several replies, and that’s it. Most of his tweets were about food. I think he liked Japanese food, basing this on his tweets.

And just like meeting friends online, sometimes dropping off is inevitable without anyone noticing. I dunno what happened next – maybe it was a sign that I should have noticed. Just checked: I still follow him on Twitter, and he still follows me. But I can’t remember any single tweet of his in recent days. Must be due to bandwidth issues. I noticed that I am not getting all tweets on Tweetdeck – there were obvious gaps in conversations, etc. So I thought he got bored with Twitter and had decided to move on.

Last Saturday, I was with college friends that I haven’t seen in decades. Over lunch, I got a text message from a friend, informing me of a very sad news.

For many of us, we don’t get the point of killing oneself. Everytime we hear of news of someone taking his own life, we usually ask why. What is it that pushes some people to terminate his life? Is there a problem that can only be solved by death?

I can’t answer for others, but this I know: for a desperate person, for a person who feels that he is most alone, for someone who thinks that no one cares, for a person who thinks his interminable life is an endless stream of loneliness and despair – yes, eternal, dreamless sleep is a tantalizing option.

Have you ever felt that your life is going down the drain? Did you ever have the feeling that once people found out about your darkest secret, they’d shun you, ostracize you, avoid you like making eye contact with you means instant death? Have you felt the cold embrace of loneliness in a sea of people? Have you despaired for attention from people who you think are ignoring you? Was there a long stretch of time where you’ve felt you’ve been abandoned by family and friends?

For some people who have been under the yoke of depression, yes, death can be the only option.

Yes, because I’ve been there.

But yes, I am still alive. I dunno why. Maybe I was a coward. Maybe things got better. Maybe because I had thought about my situation, accepted my fate, and moved one. I can’t say I am out of it; no one can. Depression, like death, is treacherous. It attacks you when you least expect it. But it’s been more than a decade since what I termed the Black Years of my life. Where taking a shower, looking at the water going down the drain, was a metaphor of my life. Where seeing my brother with his friends brought crushing blows to the heart. Where walking in a sea of people brought crushing waves of utter loneliness.

Yes, I thought death was a relief. But I am still alive.

Not everyone was as lucky. Including him.

It must be a terrible blow to family and friends. The sad thing about depression and suicide is that there are no obvious signs. Most of us are not aware about it. Even if we were, detecting it would be hard. You can never tell if someone is just sad or terribly depressed. And even if we find out, we might find ourselves helpless, or worse, indifferent.

After someone made the decision to leave this life, all we have, aside from memories, is regret. Have we been so full of ourselves that we fail to notice? Have we lacked love for this person? Have we taken him for granted? All we have are questions, and we might not get the right answers, or any answer at all.

I used to read a lot about depression and suicide. I have books, pages yellowed, some passages highlighted. I have photocopies, properly filed and stored in envelops. I read about my situation back then, and resolved that never should another suffer what I had went through.

But life has a nasty habit of dumping us with experiences that we can’t even discern the essentials from the mundane. In my case, studies and later on, work. I thought I could help someone who is depressed when I find one. Now, I don’t know anymore. What I do know is that someone that I know took his own life.

That’s what family and friends have after a suicide – unanswered questions. And that’s all I have now.

25
Dec

My Christmas/New Year wish list 2011

If you are feeling generous this Christmas season, then my wish list is for you. πŸ˜€

NEEDS
1. An Olympus XZ-1 digital camera
2. An IDE enclosure for laptop optical disk drive
3. A salary increase
4. A DLink Network Attached Storage or Buffalo LinkStation Network Attached Storage
5. A display cabinet/case for my toys
6. A Perfect Grade Gundam Astray Red Frame or Perfect Grade Strike Freedom Gundam

WANTS
1. Some Master Grade Gundam kits
2. A 1TB external portable hard disk drive
3. A condo unit
4. An ergonomic gas lift chair
5. A Sony Ericsson XPERIA PLAY or XPERIA arc s

And of course, peace on earth and good will to all. Thank you.

Have a merry Christmas (for believers) and may the season be bountiful and happy for you.

Much love,
Arbet
xoxo

9
Sep

AJ Matela, 1982-2011


(Photo courtesy of NiΓ±a Fuentes.)

Thanks to Ms. Janette Toral, I got to meet AJ Matela.

I can remember that night. There I was, a wallflower to the core, meeting new bloggers (and not-so-new friends) old and young. There was this tall lanky guy in gray long sleeves, tie, and dark gray slacks. He stood out among the sea of bloggers in casuals, so you won’t fail to notice him.

Then Ms. Toral decided to humiliate us all by introducing ourselves, in front, using a mike. I had to use my usual spiel. You know, “My name is Arbet, but you may call me Loggins. But never combine the two.” It got the expected response. I really wanted to just vanish, I am not really used to speaking in front of people – ironic for a once-upon-a-time teacher.

The the corporate guy stood up, introduced himself as AJ, and then said “I blog at Bakla Ako dot com.” I had to do a double-take. Him, gay? As I have said in the blog post linked above, “Mas macho pa boses nya kesa sakin!”

I got to meet him intermittenly after that, during blog events, several Philippine Blog Awards nights, Plurkfiestas and bump-into-each-other-randomly events. When I dropped out gradually from blogging, I had not seen him since. We got to talk on Twitter and Plurk, and some random text messages.

Then last year, he dropped out of his social networks, and that’s when I’ve heard he was sick and hospitalized. It was distressing because he was the second friend of mine who was hospitalized back then, and more distressing – both were near death, though not of the same time. I am glad both recovered, though I was shocked when I saw AJ in photos after his hospitalization.

The last time I saw AJ, it was virtual – he opened a Google Hangout session, and so I joined. I knew how he looked like before I joined the hangout, and I was still surprised by how he looked. He’s been a lanky guy, and he looked gaunt. Never got to talk much that time, as the connection was intermittent. I did not know that it would be the last time I would see and talk to him.

Several days ago, I was informed by friends that he was again in the hospital, and that he might not make it. There was supposed to be a dinner in his benefit last night, but I was not able to go.

And when I got online today…..

I’ve talked about death before, and the way we deal with it. When my paternal grandmother and paternal aunt died, I was saddened, but no tears fell, no surprise nor shock. If a loved one suffered from lingering illness, and knowing that there won’t be a cure, you were confronted with death everyday. You do not know if tomorrow they will still wake up. You do not know if you are prepared for the inevitability of death. You do not know how you’d deal when death comes. You do not know how you’d live after they are gone.

And death forces us to deal with regrets – the laughter and tears that will no longer be shared, food and movies and books to enjoy, seeing the sunset and frolicking in the sea – lost time with a loved one brings the most regret.

I do have regrets: I could have spent more time with him, talked with him more, visited him at the hospital, visited him at their house in Rizal. Yes, there are regrets, but these are nothing compared to the memories shared with AJ. Yes, there are regrets, but AJ’s gone, and all we have are his memories.

AJ’s a brave man, one of the bravest men that I know, even braver than so called straight men. When and where gays are ridiculed, he stood tall and proud. When he was in the hospital, he fought a fight that lesser men would not dare fight.

I admire AJ’s unwavering and unfaltering faith, despite the fact that the leaders of his faith call his kind unkind and un-Christian names. And I am sure his faith has prepared him for this new journey, and I am sure he is happy where he is now.

See you again, AJ. Now you have to pray for us.

“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. . . you– only you– will have stars that can laugh!”

And he laughed again.
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure. . . and your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you. . .”

And he laughed again.

“It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh. . .”

Antoine de Saint Exupery, “The Little Prince”

19
Jul

Misleading credit card bill

So, which of the two should I pay? If the guy who answered the call is to be believed, it should be the first one. Then why label the second one (the smaller amount) as TOTAL?

I’ve been paying SCB in full when I use my SCB card. The SCB bill always confuses the SM tellers. It confuses me, too, and that confusion leads to my previous rants.

So last month, the installment amount was Php2650.31, and the total payment due was Php2585.74. Naturally, I paid Php2600 because I thought the amount that I should pay for was the Total Payment Due. Then to my shock, for this month’s bill, I was charged Php70 interest. For what, my brain asked.

So calling the not-so-helpful SCB guy, the amount due for last month was Php2650.31 and not the Total Payment Due (which was Php2585.74). I kept on arguing and I felt my blood pressure rising so I did not bother anymore. Instead, I had my first card cancelled, and will have the other one cancelled as well, once I have completed the installment payments.

Maybe the way the bill is structured is designed to confuse the cardholder and thus earn more from people like me. Let this be a lesson for future Standard Chartered credit cardholders. There are better cards like BPI.

26
Apr

Throwing in the towel

I must admit the past few days has been emotionally bleak. They reminded me of the Dark Years of my life. The signs are all there – irritable, gets frustrated easily, always gets bored, cannot seem to do what one does easily previously, envious of other’s happiness, feels lost, and an unexplainable feeling of loneliness and emptiness.

My life during the years 1997-1999 were documented in three volumes of journals, erratically written, some entries long, some entries short; there were days where pages are blank. Reading the 1997 volume was draining, because my life back then was, according to myself, like water going down the drain. I was very glad when I got out of that episode, but I guess that era has defined who am I now. I don’t like it, but I was lucky I got out alive. Getting on with it was really an option back then; I would not be writing this now if it happened.

There is another issue that I think makes me dysfunctional – I always get feelings of sadness whenever I see friends being happy/getting into a relationship. I guess it is because I am envious. Upon reflection, I got this notion that I’d grow old alone. The Dark Years, after all, began when I started to lose two of who I considered my best friends – one due to my undoing, the other to love. When things fall apart, and failure in college was imminent, that’s how it began. That my life was tragically unravelling and friends became scarce like the proverbial dodo – that brought me to the dark depths of depression. That was the crux of the Dark Years. I dunno how I got out of it, but I feel that this issue remains unresolved; hence the episodes of loneliness. Hence, the feeling of sadness due to others’ happiness.

At one point, I got this realization that if I accept the fact that I’d die alone, these episodes would never recur. As they say, acceptance is the key. I know that for my mental health I should probably accept it, but some part of me refuses to surrender. I don’t know. I feel that this refusal is not healthy.

Some people tell me that I should not feel this way; that my time will come. But I am tired of waiting and exerting effort that just ends up futile. And let’s face it – there are people who got old alone. Also, it runs with the family – I just saw an aunt died unmarried and alone. It is easy – and tempting – to give up.

Do I believe in fate? I don’t know. Because if fate is true, it can be apathetic, cruel, heartless. It seems wrong that someone is born with his future already set, as if that person’s decisions won’t matter. However, there are times when despite your efforts, everything seems futile. This is where I am now.

It is easy to give up. Being a loser brings some bitterness, but what if that is the truth? What if giving up will end all these negative feelings? What if giving up throws away all this baggage that brings me down?

(Written June 2009)

29
Dec

This year’s PBA trophy boy

(Presenting…this year’s….trophy girlboy. Photo by Ryan de Leon.)

Yes, that’s my new role this year.

Just a belated post to report on what happened last December 12. Basically we just handed out awards. It was short and quick and I think everyone liked the pace of the program. Adding Gabe Mercado in the mix, well let’s say this year’s prolly the best program ever.

At Twitter, Ade tweeted that he wanted to see this year: for me to go up and down the stage to accept trophies for winners who are not present (basically my role last year). I replied that it won’t happen. And it didn’t.

Because I was on stage the entire time, my role being the trophy boy.

Anyway, I am happy that the awards turned out well. The venue was small, intimate, and classy (and also the venue of the first Philippine Blog Awards, way back 2007). Kudos to the organizers, from its president, to the overall head of production, to the unnamed scriptwriter whose boring script was rescued by Gabe’s wit, to the volunteers, to the production crew, to the official photographers.

Congratulations to the winners!

MAIN AWARDS

Best Blog in Advocacy Category – Web Safety Philippines by Sonnie Santos
Best Blog in Beauty and Fashion Category – The Reluctant Stylista by Alexandra Lapa
Best Blog in Business Category – Ready to be Rich by Fitz Villafuerte
Best Blog in Culture and Arts – Anik-anik Love by Mitch Mauricio
Best Blog in Entertainment Category – Without Wang2 by Nickie Wang
Best Blog in Food and Beverage Category – Happy Foodies by Ferdz Decena and Oggie Ramos
Best Blog in Gaming Category – Back 2 Gaming by B2Gamers
Best Blog in Hobby and Recreation – Back 2 Gaming by B2Gamers
Best Blog in Home and Parenting Category – iMom by Chats Siao
Best Blog in Humor Category – The Professional Heckler by Loi Reyes Landicho
Best Blog in Lifestyle – The Creative Dork by Robbie Bautista
Best Blog in Literature / Literary Category – City Buoy by Nyl Lim
Best Blog in Personal/Diary Category – Yoshke.com by Yoshke Dimen
Best Photoblog – Gerryruiz Photoblog by Gerry Ruiz
Best Blog in Social, Politics and History – The Pro Pinoy Project by The Pro Pinoy Project
Best Blog in Sports – Filipino Boxing Journal by Kenneth Ragpala
Best Blog in Technology Category – My Silly Point of View by Richard D. Feraro
Best Blog in Travel Category – Just Wandering by Nina Fuentes
Best Blog in Video and Podcasts – Pinoy How To by Buddy and Yael Gancenia

SPECIAL AWARDS

Best Blog Design – The Reluctant Stylista
Bloggers’ Choice Award – CHKSLG
Readers’ Choice Award – Green Archers
Best Filipiniana Blog – My Sarisari Store
Top Blog Post for 2010 – Do They Read Blogs in Heaven? by Yoshke.com

Top Posts for 2010
EXCLUSIVE: GMA Breaks Her Silence by the Professional Heckler
Sometimes We Are Lost by I am Fickle Cattle.
Fireworks, Hormones and this Blog Post by Yoshke.com

Top Photo Posts for 2010
A Solo Traveler’s Photo Story of Backpacking in Palawan by Ambot Ah!
Pahiyas Festival by Biyaheng Pinoy

Top Video Posts and Podcasts for 2010
Krimmy Couple: Of Bad Words and Saranghae by My Korean Boyfriend
Podcast 6: Being Friends with the Ex by Ria Jose
Krimmy Couple: The Korean Eats Balut by My Korean Boyfriend

VISAYAS

Best Blog in Culture and Arts – Michael’s Shades Of Blue
Best Blog in Food and Beverage Category – Flavours of Iloilo
Best Blog in Lifestyle – Ilonggos Network
Best Blog in Personal/Diary Category – The Rookie Blogger
Best Photoblog – Gerry Ruiz Photoblog
Best Blog in Technology Category – Tech Source
Best Blog in Travel Category – Ambot-ah

MINDANAO
Best Blog in Beauty and Fashion – Get Prettified
Best Blog in Food and Beverage Category – Kusina Maria
Best Blog in Lifestyle – Mindanaoan
Best Blog in Personal/Diary Category – Ganda Ever So Much
Best Photoblog – Charmie Tamba P&S Photography
Best Blog in Technology Category – Alleba Blog
Something Geeky
Best Blog in Travel Category – GenSan News Online Mag

With that, let me leave you with this beautiful photo, taken by Fritz.

Happy new year!

24
Dec

My Christmas wish list

If you are feeling generous this Christmas season, then my wish list is for you. πŸ˜€

NEEDS
1. A 1TB 3.5in hard disk drive
2. An IDE enclosure for laptop optical disk drive
3. A salary increase
4. A gas lift chair
5. A camera bag

WANTS
1. Some Master Grade Gundam kits
2. A 500GB external portable hard disk drive
3. A condo unit
4. An ergonomic gas lift chair

And of course, peace on earth and good will to all. Thank you.

Have a merry Christmas (for believers) and may the season be bountiful and happy for you.

Much love,
Arbet
xoxo