Kindness rules

On our 8th month in this longest quarantine, setting another uncomfortable fact worthy of citation for the Philippines in the Guinness World Records, it appears that we still think of things and activities (including setting deadlines for academic requirements, asking about rules on attendance, tenure of faculty and research/extension/professional staff, etc.) as if we were in the classic normal. The prolonged agony of waiting for better ways and the obvious lack of direction as to where we as a nation are going seem to give an illusion especially for the more privileged that everything looks alright. But we are not – we are not in the classic, traditional normal. We are still under an emergency – where the new normal is not the traditional normal, where compassion, caring and extending our understanding of our fellow human beings and other creatures are of utmost importance, where you always put your feet in the shoes of others. After this pandemic, students will remember less the modules and items we teach in virtual classrooms. They will only recall the hardships they went through and the learning for life that they picked. Beyond this seemingly endless lockdown, workers and employees (teachers included) will forget all strict deadlines we set and how well we followed and “stuck to the rules.” But we will always recall those of our friends, superiors and subordinates who supported us through this journey through hell. In all of these, through all of these, whether everyone or no one will remember, kindness is the unwritten but most valuable rule. Even in the earlier species of humans, that seemed to be the major key to survival.

Kindness should continue its reign in this pandemic and always.

Bunso ng Inay Ko: III – Masamang Biro

Ayaw tumahan ni Enyong. Sa unang pagkakataon kasi, may mga misyunaryong nagbiro na isasama na raw at dadalhin sa malayo ang kanyang Inay. Biro ng matatanda, pero seryosong banta para sa isang musmos na bata. Mababait naman ang mga misyunaryo na kung tawagin ng mga magulang ni Enyong ay mga “manggagawa.” Manggagawang walang sweldo, simple ngunit maayos ang pananamit, parang mga guro. Walang anumang alahas na suot kahit simpleng singsing, maliban sa simpleng relo. Ganoon din kapayak ang pamumuhay na kinalakhan ni Enyong.

Walang simbahan. Bawat araw ng Linggo sa ganap na ikasiyam nang umaga, ginaganap ang pagsambang pulong ay sa tahanan ng pinagkatiwalaang kapatid sa pananampalataya, karaniwan, yung pinakamatandang lalaki. Walang binyagang ulo lamang ng bata ang binabasa. Bagkus ay may bautismo, inilulubog ng lalaking manggagawa ang buong katawan ng babautismuhan sa tubig, karaniwan sa isang ilog. Kaya wala ring ninong o ninang na aasahang magbibigay na aginaldo tuwing Pasko, kung sabagay, hindi rin naman nagdiriwang ng kapaskuhan o kuwaresma. Kawikaa’y noong kapanahunan ni Jesus, hindi naman siya pinapansin kaya sino namang magtatalâ ng kanyang eksaktong araw ng kapanganakan o kamatayan. Walang opisyal na ipinagbabawal sa ganoong pananampalataya ngunit lahat ng tagasunod ay umiiwas sa mga bagay at kalakaran ng mundo at kamunduhan. Lumaki si Enyong na walang TV, walang sine, walang piyesta. Kung pasko, walang Christmas tree o belen, walang noche buena, tulog lang ang katapat ng bango ng pagkain sa nagkakaingay na kapitbahay. Pero kung Bagong Taon, may media noche, dahil nga bagong simula ng taon at kaarawan ng pinakamabait sa lahat – ang kanyang Inay!

Katulad ng karamihan ng mga Pilipino, Katoliko mula pagkabata ang mga magulang ni Enyong. Hindi man palaging nakakasimba dahil isang sakay din sa kalesa o jeep mula sa baryo hanggang sa Katedral, araw-araw naman ay may kahit kaunting dasal, at tuwing orasyon ay idinaraos ang kahit isa man lamang Ama Namin at isang Aba Ginoong Maria. Mula sa panganay hanggang sa ikatlong anak, bininyagang Katoliko rin. May kumpil rin at mga kaakibat na hakbangin. Ang mga ito’y hindi pinagdaanan ni Enyong. Iba na ang relihiyon nang pamilya nang siya’y ipinanganak. Sa karagatan ng mga batang Katoliko, isang munting pulo ang kanyang kinalakhan.

Para sa karaniwang bata, mahirap ang maging iba o kakaiba. Kung minsan, masarap. Habang nagkukurus o antanda – “Sa ngalan ng Ama, at ng Anak, at ng Espiritu Santo, Amen.” – sagana sa paala-ala na “hindi tayo naggaganun anak . . .” Sa mga panahong nagrorosaryo ang buong klase, gardening o pa-relaks-relaks lang si Enyong, kasama ng mga batang Iglesia ni Cristo. Saradong Katoliko ang may-ari ng iskul kaya noong may kampanya ang Simbahan na magdasal ng buong rosaryo tuwing unang Biyernes, lahat ng mga bata sa lahat ng section, obligado, excused ang mga hindi Katoliko. At dahil hindi maintindihan ni titser yung paliwanag na walang pangalan ang relihiyon ni Enyong, inilista na lamang na Iglesia. Pero hindi pwede, maagang naging isa sa mga paboritong pagkain ni Enyong ang dinuguan. Ganunpaman, itinuring sya ng ibang batang “Iglesia,” bilang parang “kapatid” – mga hardinero’t hardinera tuwing araw at oras ng pagrorosaryo.

Iba pag Pasko, walang exempted o excused sa iskul. Lahat dapat may pang-exchange gift. At bawat bata ay may tatanggapin. Lahat kasali sa Christmas Program. Sali na lang. Masaya naman. Syempre bago magsimula ang programa, magdadasal ang mga Katoliko, pero dahil mabilis lamang at hindi rosaryo, hindi na kailangang lumabas ng mga iba ang relihiyon. Sa araw-araw na pakikitungo at pagkikipagkaibigan sa lahat ng mga bata, nasaulo na rin ni Enyong ang mga dasal ng mga Katoliko. Maliban sa hindi pagpikit kung nagdarasal, pare-pareho lang naman sa tingin ni Enyong ang lahat ng mga bata. Umaaray pag nasasaktan. Umiiyak pag nalulungkot o nalalamangan. Kahit anong relihiyon may barumbado, may likas na matulungin, may sadyang malambing. May maiingay, may mga likas na tahimik. Sya lang yata ang naiiba. Sa isang sulok ng isip nya, naiiba nga kaya sya?

Dahil sakitin noong musmos pa, bawal maglaro sa labas. Nanonood lamang sa bintana, o nakasilip sa butas sa dingding. Napawi na ang maiinggit sa isipan ng bulilit na si Utoy, isa pang tawag kay Enyong bilang bunso. Baka magkasakit. Iba ang Katoliko sa “Katotohanan.” Baka magalit ang Tatay. Baka magalit ang Inay. Baka mapalo si Ate Lucing pag lumabas ang bunso. Iba sila, iba tayo. Ang hirap palang maging iba. Hindi kaya mas masarap maging pare-pareho? Yung may Ninong at Ninang rin na mag-aabot ng kendi o aginaldo. Yung pwede ring sumayaw at manood ng TV. Yung may pamaltik at baril-barilan. Yung may kalaro.

Paminsan-minsan, nakakalabas din naman, kasama ng Inay sa palengke, bibili ng kalamay, bitsu-bitso, nilagang utaw, nilagang mani, sundot-saging, sagimis, sumang-tamales. Minsan lamang nakagala sa piyesta ng bayan si Enyong, isinama ng Tatay, nakabili ng laruang bapor, de-baterya. Nakapagpadala din naman ang tiya na nagtrabaho sa Vietnam. Laruang tangke de gera. Naroon pa rin naman ang yoyo ni Kuya. Jolens ni Ate Lucing. View master na bigay ng mga misyonaryo o “manggagawa.” At naroon naman ang asong si King, isang matalinong German Shepherd, bigay ng kaibigan ng Tatay. Naroon din ang tatlumpung pusa ng Inay. Pwede namang kunwari ay may kalaro. Pwede namang kumanta kahit mag-isa. Pwedeng may kausap sa isip.

Sino nga ba si Enyong? Limang taon lamang siya noon. Laging tinatawag na lampa. Bunso sa apat na magkakapatid. Mabait. Masunurin. Maka-ina. Tahimik. Pinagbawalang makipaglaro sa labas ng bahay dahil sakitin, kaya hindi marunong makipaglaro.

Sino nga ba si Enyong? Ang paslit noon. Eto na ngayon, nagsusumikap maisulat ang kwento ng buhay at maitala ang kanyang mga tanong. Si Enyong ang paslit noon. Ako na ito ngayon. Ang tanong, ang búhay ba ay masamang biro?

‘Limatik’ Encounters – 6

This concludes the ‘Limatik’ Encounters series of short essays or posts, inspired by questions during and after that interview as Resource Person in the ‘Limatik’ (Land leech) segment during one episode of the GMA7 TV show “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho” or KMJS.

What happens when leeches bite humans or other animals? Do they have negative effects on their ‘victims’ or as ‘blood donors’?

We have already mentioned that their saliva contains hirudin, an anticoagulant that prevents clotting and ensures that the leech gets full with its needed blood meal. However, apart from the wound they leave and possible secondary infection, there are no other known negative effects. Nevertheless, there have been reports of persons with severe allergic reactions as well as a slight feeling of itchiness when the blood that oozed out of the wound starts to dry or clot. Bites near or in the eyes are dangerous. Bites in the eyes have been reported by campers and hikers during seasons when their populations are at peak.

When a person is bitten by a land leech, washing with soap and clean water is the best first aid, but not for the eyes, if there is ready access to these two. Plain clean water for the eyes will do, but some eye doctors recommend a mild salt solution. On ordinary skin, alcohol (isopropyl or ethyl) and/or ‘betadine’ may be the next best if clean water is far. After that first aid, and there is still bleeding, press the sides of the wound or raise the affected area when that is possible. During some of our fieldwork in certain areas, our guides who were members of Indigenous Peoples there did not mind the leeches, they just let them be, so to speak, and seem to not mind the leeches attaching to their legs, feed, and drop when full. Leech bites are no big deal.

The best way to avoid leech bites is to wear fine nylon stockings. The elastic nylon fabric supposedly make it difficult for the leech to reach the skin. I and some of my friends have also tried mosquito repellant lotion (not citronella oil). Either major brand helps repel land leeches but lasts only a few hours and hikers may apply the lotion again. It may also help that one is in front of the others when hiking. We notice that more people behind us get leech bites, probably because of their searching-curling-springing behavior. However, that’s not a guarantee, especially when there are so many people going up and down a mountain trail, for example, during Holy Week. During peak season of visitors, leeches also abound even in the Mudspring Area.

Areas near the Mudspring also abound with leeches especially during peak months of local tourists and trekkers.

Some people mentioned using urine to remove leeches from their biting points, but I don’t, I won’t recommend it. Unlike jellyfish stings which involve toxins, leech bites involve only anticoagulants. The warm and salty nature of urine possibly helps remove leeches, but leech bites, being open wounds, would be more prone to secondary infection from bacteria or other microorganisms in the urine. The better way is to always have salt packets or concentrated salt solution sprays ready (in a small atomizer or handy bottle). More diluted salt solutions are recommended for removing them from the eyes. Again, do not use alcohol for bites in the eyes. Hold or squeeze the leech at its front or anterior suckers (“head” part), and swipe or pull/push sideways to remove or dislodge it. Leeches attract attention and annoy us when we go out and commune with nature or conduct fieldwork for scientific research. After we leave the forest, only wounds from leech bites are left and they heal eventually. In the Philippines, as in most other places, there is no sustained interest to study leeches, their taxonomy, diversity, ecology, and potential uses. It remains that most of what we know about leeches had been products of research on the European medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis. It would help us appreciate them better to know that H. medicinalis is just one of several “medicinal leeches.” There are other species of Hirudo that  are sometimes also used as medicinal leeches. They include H. orientalisH. troctina, and H. verbena. The Asian medical leech belongs to another genus and is known to science as  Hirudinaria manillensis, while the North American medical leech is Macrobdella decora. These medicinal or medical leeches are largely aquatic (freshwater). The common land leech that we have in Mount Makiling belongs to Haemadipsa. I just hope somebody or some people pick them up for a more serious study. They are relatively small. They can be brightly colored. And they can also be beautiful in their own way.

Well, diversity is beautiful.

Bunso ng Inay Ko: II – Ang Batang Sumugod sa Nitso

Sa huling pagbabasbas ng pari, natilamsikan ako ng banal na tubig. Hindi ako umusok ni naging haliging asin. Kasunod noon, lumakad, sumulong ang prusisyon, una ang karo kung saan nakasakay ang mga labi ng Tatay ko, kasunod ang mga sasakyan at mga naglalakad na tao.

Pagdating sa Barangay Antipolo del Norte, palinga-linga ako, hindi ko na yata tukoy kung saan ang sementeryong pampubliko. Ang alam ko lang unang nararating ‘yon, bago ang sementeryo ng mga Katoliko, at sementeryo ng mga Intsik. Kahit sa kamatayan ay hindi nagkakaisa ni nagtatagpo ang mga mamamayan. Karamihan ng mga Lipahin o Lipeño doon ang huling himlayan sa Libingan ng mga Katoliko. Matatanaw mula roon ang Libingan ng mga Intsik. Ang mga kapanalig ni Inay ay dito inililibing sa pampublikong sementeryo, kasama ng mga iba ang pananampalataya, pati na ng mga erehe at mga pagano. Libingan din ng mga walang kakayanang magbayad sa mas mahal na lote sa mga katabing sementeryo. Dito ililibing ang Tatay ko.

Noong nakaburol pa lamang ang labi ng Tatay ko sa Katedral at naianunsyo ang petsa at lugar ng paglilibingan, may ipinabigay na mensaheng nakasulat sa kapirasong papel ang isa naming tiyo. “Bigyan ninyo ng marangal na libing ang Kuya Erning ko, ang Tatay nyo!” Hindi pala marangal ang malibing sa libingang pampubliko? Sa pananaw pala ng mayamang Don Bienvenido, ang libing ay marangal lamang kung sa memorial garden? Ang dami palang hindi nailibing nang marangal. Kaawa-awang mga kaluluwa. Sigurado na kaya ang pwesto sa langit ng mga nakalibing sa Memorial Floral Garden? Hindi naman siguro idideklarang Santo ang Tatay ko. Dito talaga ililibing ang Tatay ko. Sa hinaharap, malaon o madali, dito rin ihihimlay si Inay, kapag dumating na ang kanyang oras. Nagkahiwalay man noong buhay pa, ang mga labi nila ay tiniyak at katwiran naming magkakapatid, isang pagpapasya nang magkakasama.

Dito nga ang kamposanto. Pampubliko. Kapasyahan naming magkakapatid ito. Sa may ulunang bahagi ng kabaong ng Tatay ko, katabi ko ang aming Inay. Nasa kanan nya ako. Sa kanyang kaliwa ang dalawa kong até. Nasabi ko nang nasa malayo ang aming Kuya, walang pagkakataong magpaalam sa aming Tatay. Nagsimula ang taimtim na pag-usal ng mga litanya sa pamumuno ng manang na mandarasal. Maliban sa minsa’y malakas, minsa’y pabulong na sagot na “Kaawaan mo po ang kaluluwa ni Erning” at “Ipanalangin mo po kami!” – tahimik ang paligid. Naririnig kaya kung ano ang aking mga nasa isip?

Tahimik ang kapaligiran maliban sa ihip ng hangin. Paminsan-minsan may mga hikbi sa aming likuran at unahan. Tahimik din ang aming Inay. Hindi halata ang pamumugto ng mata dahil sa makapal na salamin sa mata na suot nya. Tahimik si Ate Mameng. Tahimik si Ate Lucing. Tahimik ako. Marahil nagtatanong ang mga miron – Bakit kaya sila hindi umiiyak? Kailangan ba talagang ipakita ang pagtangis? Kailangan bang sa pisngi’y may bumabalisbis? Ubos na ang luha ng mga naulila, ngunit hindi pa tapos ang mga hinagpis.

Natapos ang padasal. Isa-isang itinawid ang mga batang edad dose pababa, iniliban o inilukso sa ibabaw ng kabaong. Lumibot sa kabaong ang ibang nakikiramay. Pagkatapos magkurus o antanda, lalapit sa amin, may kumakamay, may umaakbay, may mga nagbubulong ng hindi ko na maalalang mga bagay. Sa pangkalahatan, katahimikan. Ngunit ang katahimikan ba ay kapayapaan?

Dumating ang tila hudyat upang kami – ang aking ina at kaming magkakapatid – ay lumapit na muli sa huling pagkakataon sa aming ama, hudyat ng huling pamamaalam, hudyat ng paghahatid sa huling hantungan. Ipininid ang wari’y bintanang salamin ng kabaong. “Paalam na po Tatay, humimlay po kayo sa kapayapaan . . .”

Walang anu-ano, at sa ibang salita pa’y, walang kaabug-abog, may biglang nagtungayaw. Isa sa aming mga tiya, bunso sa mga kapatid ng Tatay. Sumisigaw, ibinubulalas ang panaghoy na tinatawag ang namatay ngunit tila parinig sa amin. “Kuya Erniiiiing! Ang mga anak moooo! Hindi man lamang dumalaw nang inilibing ang ating inaaaa, ang lola nilaaaa!” – May pagbibintang. Anong kasalanan? Kasalanan ko pala na akong nasa malayo ay nalaman na lamang na pumanaw na ang ninuno makalipas ang isang buwan. May pagsisiyasat kaya? May hatol na.

Hindi pa roon at noon natapos ang kaguluhan sa isip. Tila hindi nga kumikidlat na walang kasunod na kapwa kidlat at tunog ng kulog.

Huling haplos ng aking ina sa ibabaw ng kabaong ng aking ama. Pagpapatawad. Pagbabasbas. Pamamaalam sa huling pagkakataon. Binuhat na ng mga tao mula sa punerarya ang labi ng Tatay ko. Ipapasok na sa nitso.

Mula aming likuran may humahangos, umiiyak, sumisigaw, humihiyaw. “TATAAAAYY!” Sino ang batang iyon? Edad trese o katorse marahil. Hindi ko nakita ang mukha ngunit sabi ng mga naroon ay may hawig sa aking Ate Lucing.

Sino ang batang sumugod sa nitso? Kaedad nya ako nung mga panahong ako’y naghahanap at nagtatanong. Noong nagtatanong ako ng – “Nasaan kaya si Tatay?”

‘Limatik’ Encounters – 5

Is it a boy or a girl? How does one know whether a leech is male or female? How to they reproduce?

Readers and listeners unavoidably ask this kind of questions for nearly all organisms where I had been interviewed. This is understandable because of our upbringing, often religion-based and expectedly human-centered. Within that human-oriented way of thinking or curiosity, however, there is that possibility of concern as to how each organism, whether plant, animal, fungi or microbe is able to perpetuate its kind – its species.

Nobody has really ventured into the study of the reproductive biology of our local land leeches. However, based on the known general biology of leeches, they are classified as protandric hermaphrodites. Hence, when you see a leech, you don’t ask whether it is a boy or a girl, a he or a she. There is no real Adam nor real Eve in the world of leeches, no straight male nor straight female.

Hermaphrodites, according to google and Wikipedia, are organisms that have complete or partial reproductive organs, such that each individual has the capacity to produce gametes normally associated with both male and female sexes. In the case of leeches, they are sequential hermaphrodites, i.e., they produce eggs and sperm at different stages of their life. Specifically, being protandric hermaphrodites means that the direction of change is from male to female. The male reproductive organs, the testes, mature first, and then, the female organs, the ovaries, later with the interval depending probably on the species and whether the prevailing environmental conditions are favorable for the survival of offspring.

The limatik species as members of the terrestrial subgroup of leeches probably also lack a penis and the sperm is passed from one individual to another by injecting a spermatophore or sperm capsule into the integument, under the epidermis. During mating, the leeches intertwine and grasp each other with their suckers. A spermatophore is pushed by one through the integument of the other, much like a hypodermic syringe punctures through skin and injects substances, usually into the clitellar region. The sperm is liberated and passes to the ovisacs, either through the channels of the body cavity (coelom) or interstitially through specialist “target tissue” pathways.

A few hours to a few days after copulation, the small, relatively yolkless eggs are laid. In most species, an albumin-filled cocoon is secreted by the clitellum and receives one or more eggs as it passes over the female gonopore (or genital pore). In the case of terrestrial leeches, these egg cocoons are deposited under a stone or buried in damp soil, or a pile of leaf litter. Our local limatiks probably have an annual or perhaps, at most, a biannual life cycle. One politician compared human beings that do not conform with is biblical dichotomy of things as “worse than animals,” even saying “it’s common sense.” Obviously, people like him haven’t read nor have been informed about leeches. Or maybe, to put it bluntly, leeches, like all other organisms, were not designed and manufactured by one super engineer or manufacturer.

This image showing a pair of mating tiger leeches, is from Mongabay (mongabay.com) with the following details: Image ID: borneo_3594 | Date photographed: 2008-May-01; PhotographerRhett A. Butler CountryMalaysia Location: Sabah. Thanks very much Mongabay/Rhett A. Butler

They are products of evolution by natural selection.

‘Limatik’ Encounters – 4

Why do leeches feed on blood? Why do they target potential sources of blood? Why, of all things, blood? How do they ‘see’ their targets? What characteristics do they have in connection with feeding on blood? These are the barrage of questions asked by the most curious among people.

Why blood? All leeches whether freshwater, marine, or land dwelling have had a long history on our planet, estimated from 150 to 450 million years ago, especially during the time of the dinosaurs. Perhaps to avoid intense competition with their relatives or ancestors who mostly belonged to the decomposer guild, they began to try and explore other food sources, possibly including freshly killed animals, until they have perfected what we may call now as efficient free-living parasites. Note that the peak of the age of the dinosaurs also saw the origin of the first mammals as well as the ancestors of today’s birds. Blood is a complete meal, protein-rich, warm (if from mammals or birds), contains glucose (as blood sugar), rich in oxygen and minerals that may be essential for many animals like iron etc. What more could a parasite ask for?

The anterior end or what most people interpret as the head part of many freshwater leeches has some sort of a retractable drinking straw called a proboscis. The proboscis of a leech is a actually a part of the pharynx, which can be extended or produced outward. Not all leeches have such proboscis. Land leeches and the medicinal leeches (like the European medicinal leech ,Hirudo medicinalis L., and 5-6 other medicinal leech species), have three jaws. These jaws are arranged at more or less equal angles. Each jaw has numerous tiny sharp teeth. Hence, if you’d look at a leech bite through a magnifying glass, you’d a Y-shaped wound. From this incision, it sucks out the cherished blood from their accidental “donor” while injecting anticoagulants contained in their saliva.

Leeches have no true eyes. They just have 2-10 light sensitive spots, called eyespots on the anterior or “head” end of the body. The eyespots detect light and dark conditions. This means that in searching for their blood donors, they have to have other means and hence, they use a combination of mechanical, thermal, and  chemical sensors. They are alerted by vibrations or even the movement of leaves and twigs or branches, even mild tremors or shaking of the ground, sudden warm gusts of air when animals pass by and ever the scent of humans and other animals, probably also CO2 and sweat.

Most of the time, leeches can be seen just “standing” on their “butt” ends while they’re securely attached to leaves, branches, or rocks by their hind or posterior suckers or suction pads. Once a leech detects a passer-by, it bends or coils and contracts and then spring jumps at the next sign of movement or sensed warm body. The coiling and contraction effects a spring action, sort of jumping without legs, and it readily attaches to the animal passing by using its front suckers.

All these detections and movements happen noiselessly but for the frightened screams of sensitive hikers. Most of the time, just like me, hikers, especially those extremely enjoying their outdoor activities or are busy with observing or documenting nature’s treasures, become aware they have donated blood to leeches only when they remove their shoes back at base camp.

Because of the painless bloodletting, not a few have claimed that leeches inject or apply some anesthetic substance through their saliva. However, hitherto there is no evidence to back up those claims. What is known is that leech saliva contains hirudin, an anticoagulant that prevents blood clotting, enabling the leech to feed until it is full. Easily our perfect free-living parasite and its means of detecting blood sources, painless incisions, etc. are thought of as perfect designs of a super inventor or engineer. Yet one smart kid can easily counter, why would a super engineer design a perfect vampire of a machine that would cause harm those who were made to imitate him? Again, my answers dwell on things biology. The ecologist knows that nature or the environment is quite demanding. It selects or chooses from a wide range of choices or variants. Those that are chosen or selected or favored, survive. Those that survive are able to pass on their hereditary traits to their offspring.

And that is the essence of natural selection. – Jun Lit

The anterior sucker, much slender, has sensors of movements and possibly also warm air aside from the tripartite jaws. The posterior sucker is for leverage that enable the leech to “stand” while waiting for the next blood donor. Based on Pasha Kirillov’s photograph of Haemadipsa picta published at Encyclopedia of Life (https://eol.org/pages/3140030/)

Bunso ng Inay Ko: I – Ang Burol sa Katedral

Tatlumpu’t tatlong taon na ang nakakaraan. Matagal nang wala ang kinagisnang lumang bahay. Subalit narito pa rin ang mga tanong, hanggang ngayon mga tanong pa rin, mga tanong na hindi nasagot o baka talagang walang kasagutan. Mga sagot na nagbubukas ng marami pang katanungan. Mga bintanang sinasarhan. Mga bintanang sa kalumaan ay hindi na maaaring buksan at baka bumagsak na nang tuluyan. Mga butas sa dinding upang makasulyap sa mga nangyayari sa labas. Mga pintong bukas-sara.

Paroo’t parito ang mga larawan sa isang mahabang pelikula. At ang tapagsalaysay ay hindi malaman, saan ba talaga magsisimula? Saan din kaya magwawakas?

Tatlong dekada at tatlong taon na nga ang nagdaan. Sa umagang iyon, bumulaga ang balita – may tangkang kudeta – pasimuno’y si Gringo Honasan! S’ya lang nga kaya ang utak sa likod ng naganap na karahasan? Si Presidente Cory Aquino pa rin ang nasa Malacañang noon, isa’t kalahating taon matapos pabagsakin ng taumbayan ang diktadura ni Marcos . . .

Kasabay ng balita ng kudeta, dumating ang dag-as – katagang Batangueño na tumutukoy sa pagbabalita ng kamag-anak sa kamag-anak tungkol sa isang kadugong pumanaw. Huwebes daw nang gabi nangyari. Walang buwan. Walang tanglaw sa mga kaluluwang naglalakbay at nangangapa kung saan ang daan, saan, paano pupunta sa kinabukasan? Katulad ng maraming gabing pinagdaanan, walang gabay . . . oo, kinaya ko ang maglakad sa gabing pusikit sa kadiliman, gabing naghatid ng sandaa’t isang mga katanungan. Tila ang buong buhay ko ay umikot sa pagkahig ng mga katanungan at pagtuka ng inaakalang kasagutan.

Hindi naging madali ang sumunod na isang linggo. Ama ko ang namatay ngunit pumanaw s’ya sa aming lumang bahay. Namatay na ibang tao ang kasama, hindi ang mga nakatatandang kapatid ko, hindi ang aking Inay.

Ang pagbawi sa kanyang labi ay mistulang larong batakan, ‘yun nga lang sa halip na lubid, kabaong ang pinaghihilahan. Referee pa ang Kapitan ng Barangay na kampi sa Team number 2. Mahihiya ang mga dayalogo sa mga klasikong pelikulang Pilipino. “Kukunin na namin ang Tatay.” pabatid na pahayag ng nakatatanda kong até. Wala ang Kuya ko na panganay sa aming apat, kaya ang nakatatandang até ang tumatayong panganay.  “Hindi ako makakapayag!” wika ng babaeng naging kasama ng ama ko. “Hindi ko kailangan ang pagpayag mo!” sagot ng até ko.

Sa bandang huli, nanaig kami, Team number 1, nang magsalita ang Kagawad ng Lungsod, kung sino ang ligal, sila ang may karapatan. Kaming mga anak ang nagpasya ang gumalaw nang magkakasama. Unti-unti’y nauunawaan ko ang mga kwentong hindi ko nalaman kaagad, mga kwentong nang malaman ko ay hindi pa rin lubos na naipaliwanag, mga kwentong naghatid ng mga kasagutan sa mga tanong na nabuo sa aking kabataan, mga kasagutang nagbukas sa lalong maraming katanungan.

Sa pagbababa ng kabaong na taglay ang mga labi ng Tatay, kausong ako. Ang kalungkutan ay nahahaluan ng bahagyang pakiramdam ng isang panalo. Naipaglaban namin at naipagtagumpay ang marapat na sa amin, ang panig ng aming ina, ang katwiran, ang matuwid. Nakibuhat pa rin ako hanggang sa maipasok sa isang silid-dalanginan ang labi ng Tatay.

Sa isang panig, isang silid-dalanginan, sa loob ng malapalasyong Katedral. Larawang kuha ni Cel Viñas-Maralit.

Tahimik sa burol. Katedral ng Lipa, at sa panahong iyon, mas uso pa rin ang lamayan sa bahay kaysa sa mga kapilya at punerarya. Mabuti na rin sigurong ganoon ang naging pasya, walang nag-iskandalo sa lugar na turing ay banal. Tuwina’y nakatanaw ang patron ng bayan – San Sebastian. Santong inulan ng panà. Simbahang bukas sa lahat. Sinumang gustong pumunta, dumalaw, mag-usyoso o makiramay, walang hadlang. Ganundin, ang kasagraduhan ng paligid ay akmang-akma sa aming ina, hindi man Katoliko, ay masasabi kong martir. Tahimik, hindi palaaway, hindi bagay sa iskandalong maaaring naidulot ng babaeng misteryosa at ng mga kilala sa baryo na pangkat ng mga tsismosa.

Tirikan ng kandila. Larawang kuha ni Cel Viñas-Maralit.

Ang buhay ay isang malaking tanong. Kung ang buhay ay nobela, nagiging rigodon ng mga tanong at sagot. Bawat tanong, hinahanapan ng sagot. Bawat sagot, nagbubukas ng iba pang tanong.

Ito ang unang kabanata ng aking pagkagulantang. Dito nagsisimula ang isang tanong – kaya ko bang ikwento ang aking kwento? Kwento ng mga tanong. At lakas ng loob. Marahil sa mga tanong umiikot ang aking kwento, ang kwento ng buhay ko . . . – Jun Lit

(Maraming salamat kay Cel Viñas-Maralit para sa pahintulot na magamit ang kanyang mga larawang kuha sa Katedral ng San Sebastian, Lungsod ng Lipa)

Bunso ng Inay Ko – Panimula

Muling umagaw ng aking pansin ang kathang-lilok na pasalubong ng mahal kong asawa ilang taon na ang nakakaraan. Binili nya ‘yon sa Baguio, sa Museyo ni BenCab, Pambansang Alagad ng Sining. Isa iyong likhang inorder ng isang bisita na hindi na muling binalikan at binayaran. Sa panahon ng pandemya, may mga katulad ng ganitong pangyayari. Kwento ng anak ko, may isa raw umorder sa isang driver ng Grab – kape sa isang mamahaling kapihan, may kasama pang mga coffee press, de-klaseng mug, butil ng kape na gigilingin pa, atbp. Niloko lang pala si kawawang mamang drayber. Hindi pala kukunin. Pinaasa sa kaunting kikitain. Wala na ngang kinita, lugi pa. Naawa naman ang anak ko, binili yung coffee press, kahit meron na kami. May iba naman na hindi nanloko, hindi sinasadya. Nagkasakit. Mayroon ding namayapa na at hindi na nabayaran ang inorder. Meron ding nawala o nagtago at hindi na muling nagpakita. Nagpaasa sa mga nagkamaling umasa.

Akala ko noong unang matanggap ko ang pasalubong ay isang babae at isang lalaking nag-uusap o magkaniig. Nang pinagmamasdan ko na ay imahen pala ng isang ina at ng kanyang anak – tipong “Madonna and Child.”

Nang maalala ko ang kathang-lilok, kinunan ko ng litrato. Sakto. Ito ang gagawin kong larawang magiging simbolo ng aking kwento. Kwentong mahirap ikwento. Mahirap na ang magkwento sa panahong ito. Kaunting post o paskil sa social media, ang daming sinasabi ng mga tao. Mabuti kung mga mababait at totoong kaibigan. Higit nang marami ang nagsusulat at nagsasalita nang walang pakundangan.

Mahirap. Ang panahon ay mahirap. Ang panahong maraming naghihirap. Ang panahong ang mga inaasahan ang siyang lalong nagpapahirap. Sa pagkukwento ng sariling buhay, kailangan nang maging maingat. Hindi katulad noong mga naunang panahon. May batas na sa Data Privacy. May cyber libel pang sinasabi. Sadyang kahit buhay ko na ang ikukwento ko, pananaw ko, maaaring iba ang pananaw ng ibang tao, iba ang sasabihin nila sa sinasabi ko. Kasaysayan at katotohanan lamang daw ang huhusga sa ating mga ginawa. Halimbawa, kahit na anong gawin ng isang angkan na ilagay sa pedestal ang isang pinunong tiwali at ideklara’t ilibing bilang isang bayani, lumilitaw at muling lumilitaw ang mga pekeng medalya, pang-aabuso sa kapwa, mga pinatay at mga taong nawawala, at pandarambong at pagnanakaw sa yaman ng bansa.

Hindi rin daw naman nasasabi lahat ang mga nasa isip at nasa puso. Sa paglipas din ng mga oras, araw, linggo, buwan, taon, at mga dekada, nag-iiba ang paraan ng pagsasalaysay. Sa yugto ng kabataan, mapusok, maraming may galit sa mundo. Sa yugto ng katandaan, may pagninilay na, may kalumanayan na sa paglalahad.

Kwento ko ito. At sa buhay ko, katulad ng maraming tao, sa malaking bahagi ng nabuong nobela mula paglaki hanggang sa pagtanda, naroon ang larawan ng aking ina. “Dayunyor, bunsoy, tutoy, utoy” ang tawag sa akin ng kuya ko, at ng mga até ko. Oo, bunso ako. Bunso ng Inay ko. – Jun Lit

‘Limatik’ Encounters – 3

To paraphrase what Robert Fulghum (1990) said, “All people really need to know, they learned in kindergarten.” In my time, Kindergarten was more of an exception than the rule and so I, like most of my generation, instead went straight to Grade I. Yet essentially the same sets of first lessons and questions as those of today’s tots were asked or taught. Some remained in our minds, and will never be outgrown. Well, growing up, some of us forget some songs of our childhood.

As young kids, we were taught a nursery rhyme that included lines like All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, . . .” from a song by Cecil F. Alexander published in 1848. It seems like everything has to have a purpose, just like tools and other things at home, but the thought has extended to natural objects and yes, “all creatures great and small.”

So back to leeches, I have been asked, “What is their purpose in the environment?” Purpose is something philosophical that unavoidably dwells on the spiritual and I would avoid touching that for this short piece. I would just interpret “purpose” in the biological / ecological sense.

Like many other plants, animals, and other organisms that we ignore or annoy us, leeches are part of that very wide range of our rich biological diversity. Most leeches are considered parasites because they don’t really kill their hosts. Their hosts from which they obtain blood are usually mammals, occasionally birds, and less frequently, reptiles. By logic, therefore, they could also be biological indicators. If in a certain place, where the forest cover is still good, and which is not usually reached by many people, there would be lots of leeches, then one could infer that vertebrate wildlife would still be abundant there. Possibly, wildlife species like wild pigs, deer, cloud rats or other mammals which could serve as “blood donors” to the leeches.

Where and why are leeches abundant in Mount Makiling? A trekker usually first notices them up the area going to and around Mudspring. Sometimes there can also be found in the Flat Rocks area. On the ‘College’ (northeastern) side, they are common along the trail to Peak 2, especially starting from Station 14, and during the rainy season, there would be leeches starting at Station 12. They are probably most notorious on the Santo Tomas side, particularly inside the less visited crater area or the Greater Sipit Watershed. There, reports of leech attacks in the eyes, are not uncommon. The rains and the rainforest environment really encourages them. Possibly, vertebrate wildlife – their blood donors – may still be in relatively good numbers. Of course, local tourists can also provide their required blood meal or diet.

Three out of every four hirudineans are blood-feeders. Why blood? We’ll try to answer that next time. What about that “one of every four” – what do they eat? Well, those other leeches feed on other animals smaller than them and are therefore predators. Their prey includes earthworms (their distant relatives) or tiny insects.

So, what’s is the purpose of leeches? Again, I won’t give them a purpose. Purpose connotes usefulness and/or benefit from the human or anthropocentric point of view. I would rather say all species have roles in the environment. All native species are important because of their connectedness to all the living and non-living components of their environment. In much the same way as no single human soul can save our planet, because we all have to do our part. – Jun Lit

Cloud-covered Mount Makiling as viewed from the Institute of Plant Breeding in U.P. Los Baños.
What I tentatively call the Makiling tiger leech, sitting on a leaf and waiting for unwilling blood donors. (Photo taken with the assistance of Kirk J. Taray)

‘Limatik’ Encounters – 2

The rainy season is actually limatik season – a period when land leeches are abundant. Why is this so? Nobody really knows because nobody has really studied the population dynamics of land leeches. My guesses include: (1) Abundant rain not only make the surroundings wetter but also protects leeches from dessication;(2) Resting stages of leeches are probably stimulated into “waking up” by the series of rains; (3) More lush vegetation during the rainy season favor more herbivorous mammals to feed more often and, hence, more chances for leeches to feed; (4) The rains bring both wetter forest litter and a blush of new leaves and shoots where land leeches can anchor themselves unnoticed as they wait for their unsuspecting blood donors.

Overall, the Hirudinea, the class that embraces all leeches, both the terrestrial kinds (limatik) and the aquatic (linta), includes almost 700 species. Land leeches are chiefly from the warm and humid regions near the equator or the tropics and subtropics. They are more commonly seen in mountains, forests, wastelands, as well as areas near rivers and ponds. Sometimes mudpits (lubluban) of carabaos (water buffaloes) are inhabited by both water-dwelling and land leeches.

My searches for insects has brought me to many destinations and in those unforgettable places, leeches are a given – from my favorite Mount Makiling to Mount Banahaw, especially on the Lucban side; Mount Malasimbu in Mindoro; the Philippine National Botanic Gardens (now UP Quezon Land Grand) in Real, Quezon; the areas surrounding Cavinti Underground River and Cave Complex in Cavinti, Laguna, up to across the Lalangawan River, said to be politically part of Mauban, Quezon; Mount Apo, on the side of Kidapawan, North Cotabato; Mount Pangasugan, in Baybay, Leyte etc. Clean air, lush forests, nicest views, and yes, hungry leeches. They taught me important lessons: that our rich biodiversity also has its price (from the human-centered point of view and – “Everything is beautiful in its own way.Jun Lit

Mount Makiling, the Philippines’ most biologically well-known mountain, is well-known for its lush plant life, wild animals including insects and other arthropods and land leeches.