the privilege of knowing & working for the Barrio Doctor

Ms Didith Tayawa- Figuracion and the great man, Senator Juan Flavier

Ms Didith Tayawa- Figuracion and the great man, Senator Juan Flavier

[Note : Today we give way to someone special on a special subject.  Though we didn’t know it then, my friend and fellow migrant Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and I worked in the Senate of the Philippines at roughly the same time.  I couldn’t make one word better in this simply written but eloquent tribute to not just a dedicated public servant but a great man, Dr Juan Flavier.  Thank you Didith and Clark (get well soon) for allowing me to repost. ]

Here’s a tribute to SENATOR JUAN MARTIN FLAVIER, my former boss, idol, father figure and Ninong, all rolled into one:

You were my boss in the Senate for 10 years before moving to New Zealand to start a new chapter of my life. In all those years, I have only but happy memories.

I remember how you fondly called me Pocahontas.

I remember how you consoled me after being emotional when substantial changes to the proposed Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), a landmark legislation, were made at the Bicameral Congressional Committee on Cultural Communities.You said: “Didith, in life, you can’t win them all.You have to be prepared to compromise. What is important is to identify your non-negotiables and fight tooth and nail for them.” These are words that have guided me in life all these years.

I remember the campaign trail and speaking engagements when I accompanied you. No matter how many times I have heard some of your jokes and anecdotes, you never fail to make me laugh.You are a stellar public speaker – funny and witty. I asked what your secret was and you said: “Didith, if you make your audience laugh and cry at the same time, you hit the right spot. Speak from your heart and don’t be afraid to make jokes of yourself and your experiences”. I’m trying to but it is easier said than done.

I remember with fondness our Senate family. We ate together, travelled together. You treated us like your own children. We were a very happy family.

I remember how generous you were in your praises of your staff members. At the signing of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) as a law in Malacanang Palace in 1997, you introduced me to then President Fidel Ramos as the one who worked hard for the passage of the law even if the credit was yours because of your steadfastness and resolute to have this law passed when others have failed. Previous Congresses have not even reached the Second Reading. You always introduced your staff as the ‘one that makes you look intelligent’ even if you should get all the credit because you put your 100% in all you do. We were just happy to say that ‘you are the one that makes us look honourable’. You are a remarkable man, a very humble man.

I remember how you were unconventional as a Senator. Our Senate Office was the only one with a note on the door stating that you do not accept solicitation letters nor invitations to weddings or baptismal as a sponsor. Others said it was a political suicide. You said you are in the Senate to make laws and not distribute money. You also said, how can you be a true godfather to people you do not know and not even met? This is because you take seriously the role of a godfather.

I remember that when you were driven to work and home, you only have one route and traversed it everyday. You never wanted any other way no matter how bad the traffic was.You never had a bodyguard nor used your ‘wangwang’ nor the car’s horn. You even drove your grandchildren, to SM for instance, on your own. You didn’t drive any of the luxury cars other Senators or public officials drove. You lived a life of a simple man despite your stature.

I remember your advice to us at our wedding. Even if you were not physically present at our wedding here in New Zealand, you sent us your lovely message. You said that your secrets to a happy marriage are: 1) never sleep with your problems/issues unresolved because when you wake up the next day, the problem will remain unsolved plus a headache and irritation for lack of sleep; 2) when one is fire, the other should be water; learn to keep quiet and placate the other person before opening your mouth; 3) always say ‘I love you’ and kiss your partner before you leave the house or the car because you’ll never know that it maybe your last and always remember to celebrate important milestones in your life. Simple advices but true and tested.

I remember how you and Ninang Susan allowed us to visit and had lunch with you at your home in Tandang Sora whenever we go visit the Philippines for holiday, even if in those times, you don’t feel well and were not accepting of visitors. You said that we are always welcome and treat your home as ours. We value that trust and privilege.

I will always remember you. You will always be in my heart. I thank God that I had the privilege of knowing you, being close to you. An honourable person like you, in this time and age, is difficult to come by. So it is indeed an honour and privilege to be associated with you in your life’s journey.

I love you JMF. I will miss you. Goodbye.

Didith Tayawa Clark Figuracion
Wellington, New Zealand

the least we can do is call her Jennifer

thanks and acknowledgment to for the lovely photo of Ms Jennifer Laude.

thanks and acknowledgment to for the lovely photo of Ms Jennifer Laude.

[ Yes we love our gays, as sure as we love bashing them.  But does this also mean we should protect the most vulnerable of their lot, the sex workers who must endure the occasional psychotic homophobe?  The answer is : is gay-friendly Pope Francis Catholic? 🙂 ]

ALMOST as an afterthought and nearly needless to say, 99.9% of this letter-length hodgepodge of words and phrases is sourced from the richest of info motherlodes : word-of-mouth, hearsay, urban legend, and deep bias, not the least of which is that most overrated of sources, internet news media.

But as my constant companion and excellent listener, you already know that, right?  (That’s my way of saying reader beware, accuracy alert and all that. )

But it really insults the intelligence and taxes the patience of whoever has been witness to the murder of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude and the resulting brouhaha that (1) more than the moral outrage of his/her death is the apparent cover-up of the details of the commission of the crime, and (2) the scant regard for the reckless behavior of American servicemen that is the consequence of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between Pilipinas and Estados Unidos.  Number (1)  is bad enough, but (2) ensures that this sort of thing will not just recur, but will be overlooked and therefore flourish with impunity.

Imagine buying a mislabeled product, bringing it home and finding out it only looked like what you wanted.  What do you do?  Let me guess.  You bring it back to the mall with the receipt, demand a refund (or at the very least an exchange) and come back none the worse for wear.  A no-brainer, right?

Let’s extend the analogy a bit.  We’re all adults here.  (For the kids, you’ll be adults soon right?)  You’re a hot-blooded young stud, you’ve had a bit to drink, after two weeks of non-stop work on a boat in the middle of the sea.  Not only that, you’re starved for a bit of action.  A sweet young thing is in front of you and you can’t wait to bring her somewhere dark and cozy, so you can do dark and cozy things.  After a bit of negotiation, you do just that, bring her to the said dark and cozy place, where you do a lot of necking and smooching, and a lot of other things that can’t be mentioned here.  Along the way you discover that the sweet young thing isn’t what he/she actually is but is more like you, meaning she has all your junk.

Do you say sorry for the foreplay, no matter how enthusiastic, but I’ve just lost interest, and vacate the premises ASAP?  Do you return said not-so sweet young thing to wherever you met and part ways?  Or do you throw a fit or tantrum, demand your money back, and hopefully try your luck again?

You might do one, two or all of those things.  But you certainly don’t beat the sweet young thing up, and break every bone in his/her body and drown him/her in the bathtub.  Because you’re not a crazy, psychotic and homophobic person who reacts as such just because you found someone who has a dick and balls attractive.  (Sorry for the language, but that’s how it is.)

I’m not even sure if Jenny Laude was such (yes, let’s at least call her by her preferred name), but our gay prostitutes are among the most vulnerable in the gay community.  I can’t even imagine the hurt, ridicule, not to mention the danger they expose themselves to, just to earn a living.  I can’t go any further.

The protection afforded by the US Government to US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton is natural and expected.  They will do nothing short of bribe, lie, and conceal the truth to get said US Marine out of the proverbial jam.  Wouldn’t you do the same if one of your citizens were in mortal danger of a long prison sentence in a foreign country?  The problem is, while doing so, justice would be denied to one of our own, who just happens to be a transgender Pinoy/Pinay, Jennifer Laude.

If you wanna continue being outraged, you are certainly free to read on in I just want to commend Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago who is at least entertaining while picking apart the way details of the crime are being obfuscated :

Chief Superintendent Theresa Ann Cid, chief of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory, said evidence recovered at the crime scene included strands of hair, two used condoms, blood and urine samples. The PNP is still completing the tests on the evidence.

Told about the condoms, Santiago remarked: “At least we can safely say that the suspect, or what they call in America as a person of interest, ejaculated twice. Would that be correct?”

Cid replied, “Not necessarily, your honor. The first condom has fresh seminal fluid, with fecal material. The second condom seems not to have the presence of semen… Apparently, they were used.”

Chief Inspector Reynaldo Dave, PNP medico-legal officer, said it was safe to say that the condoms were used in anal sex. The police experts, however, said they could not conclude that the semen samples belonged to Pemberton.

“If he was a male, how does he have sex with the Marine?” Santiago asked.

“I just have to corroborate with the findings on condoms and the other pieces of evidence,” Dave replied. “We can safely conclude (anal or rectal sex).”

Santiago said anal sex is “the usual method for transgenders.” (duh)

***     ***      ***

For every Vice Ganda in the super limelight, and every Diego in Mixed Nuts, we probably have a hundred or so Jennifer Laudes who face the dangers of getting beaten up, or worse, getting killed while trying to earn a little money.  Yes we love our gays in the Philippines, but we should also protect them.  Apologies for the scatterbrained and haphazard way I put this together today.  Jennifer deserved a little better.  She still does.

how mom made my day on her birthday

Mommy Dearest with Second Brother.  happy birthday from all of us Mom!

Mommy Dearest with Second Brother. happy birthday from all of us Mom! Thanks bro Jude Bautista for the pic!

[Note : It never fails.  When you dream of someone, either (1) you’re thinking of that person, or (2) it’s a special day associated with that person.  Dreamt of Mom the other day, wrote this yesterday, posting it today only.  Thanks for reading! ]

MOM would never make it to a My Kitchen Rules final, nope that’s just not her strength.  Neither does she bake, or do breakfast even on her best days.  Sewing, knitting or other homemaking  skills?  She’s not your best bet.

And yet, my mom is hands down an all-time, hall-of-fame, world-class mom, although of course I’m biased.  In your life’s shrinking team of diehard, never-say-die believers, you can count on her to be the last man (woman) standing.   She will always be your worst critic, but only to your face, when it’s just you and her.  Otherwise, she is your most rabid defender, and she will never let you down, in Tagalog, di ka nya ilalaglag kahit kailan.

***     ***     ***

My mom gives it you straight, no chaser, undiluted with PC words or flattery.  But her support for you is 101%, unqualified and uncompromising.  She is just like that, to all her five sons.  In our Overseas Chinese school back in the 1970s, there was once a Chinese parable taught to us about a mother hen, loving and nurturing to her brood of chicks, but who didn’t flinch when an eagle swooped down to pick up one of the weaker chicks.  The mother hen dove straight and true and pecked the eagle with pinpoint accuracy on the eye.  Mr One-Eyed Eagle left that particular brood of chicks after that.

That mother hen is my mom personified.  She is all smiles and schmooze in sociable times, but not when it comes to family.  She will in this regard not hesitate to aid and defend, and as to whatever means necessary, she will later neither confirm nor deny.  That’s just Mom for you.

***     ***     ***

In her later years, she has mellowed alright, but she has not given up helping others, whether it be finding a job for a young hopeful, referring an ailing kaprobinsya to a specialist doctor friend, or just helping making ends meet for a troubled family.  Mom will never talk about these things to you, because that is not her style.  That’s how she’s always been, and how she’ll always be.

And that’s why I know that on her birthday, Mom deserves the best.  Thank you again esteemed bros for being there for her back home today.

***     ***    ***

I nearly forgot to tell you how she made my day.  Didn’t I just tell you Mom never varnishes the truth or butter you up with a bit of flattery?  Well she has learned it a bit, and she even tried it on little old me, her most underachieving son!   I just called on her birthday, and she was as usual selling her favorite deli items in an American Embassy sponsored event, the American Woman’s Club Bazaar:

Kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot!  Hello?

Happy birthday mom from all of us in New Zealand!

Wow, thank you for remembering me, my FAVORITE SON.

I laugh an inappropriate laugh, woohoohoohoohoo!

Why are you laughing ? Mom asks with almost surely a twinkle in her eye.

I almost say I’m laughing because I’ve never heard you say THAT before Mom, but I say because I’m so happy I’m your favorite son (today) Mom!   I wish you God’s blessings of long life and health, now would you like to speak with your FAVORITE daughter-in-law? 🙂 🙂 🙂

I guess every mom is entitled to have a favorite son on her birthday, woohoohoo!

***     ***     ***

Happy birthday Mom, you are the very very best!  I love you lots!


blessed to be working, blessed to be working in NZ!

they hadn't known it yet, but a dinner I had with family was in thanksgiving for many blessings in NZ!

they hadn’t known it yet, but a dinner I had with family was in thanksgiving for many blessings in NZ!

LUCKY as an attribute is nice and all that, but in my humble opinion it bespeaks a certain passivity, not unlike Juan Tamad under the guava tree waiting for the low-lying fruit (low lying na nga eh) to fall.  If it’s all the same to you, I’m partial to the word blessed because although one is still fortunate enough to run into good tidings and pleasant surprises, there is still a modicum of doing the hard yards, being at the right place at the right time, and doing all the little things to deserve the manna from heaven.

So if you will forgive my audacity Precious Reader, I’ve recently been blessed in not one, not two but three different ways that I simply have to (1) thank the Almighty Creator, Ang Maykapal for making the same possible, (2) celebrate such felicitous occasion/s in word and in deed with loved ones, and (3) relate all these to you through my peripatetic and evanescent blog corner, whether or not you want to know/read about it.  Please indulge me in my thanksgiving today. 🙂

Unfortunately (let’s avoid that word from hereon) I have promised to my maybahay (wife) Mahal that I will no longer blab about my/our personal life/lives because too much of our laundry is being hung out for everyone to see, if you don’t mind the idiom.  I will therefore try to be as circumspect or roundabout in words as possible, use the indirect route in making kwento (story) to you, but at the same time share as much to you about my good news without violating my privacy, if that’s at all possible. 🙂  Right now I’m not sure yet how I will fare, as it is all very impromptu.


Around this time of the year Mahal and I get a bit antsy because our right to stay in NZ gets imperiled, depending on whether or not we are found fit to be issued another permit allowing us not only to work here but to stay here as well.  Most of the kabayan we traveled to NZ with have become permanent residents, quite a few have gone home broken hearted, but a hardy few like us have soldiered on, clinging to the hope that one day soon we will join the others who have already called New Zealand home.

But it’s no joke now to continue justifying being a guest worker in Middle Earth.  Here are some of the questions for the employer to answer with clinical accuracy :  Have serious efforts been undertaken to advertise the job so that New Zealanders are sufficiently informed?  Have serious efforts been done to train New Zealanders for the job in question?  And has it been established, finally that no New Zealanders are available for the job?

In order for everything to go smoothly, meaning me getting my precious document, the answers to those questions, must be yes, yes and yes.  With proof and supporting documentation attached.

Which is why, every time I get my new document, it’s a minor miracle.


I can’t tell you exactly what blessing I received after that, but it has to do with a basic, basic life skill that has eluded me the entire time I’ve been overseas.  I never made learning that skill a priority back home because, to be blunt about it, public transpo was plentiful and available at all hours twenty-four seven (alam mo na no?)  Mahal however made it her Number One goal as soon as she followed me here, went through the various stages and now is  a full-fledged, certified and dependable possessor of the life skill.  While I still don’t know how to do it.

Late last week I finally took the written exam needed to be issued the initial permit for that essential skill, and I had to burn the midnight oil learning all the possible questions and committing to memory the correct answers.  Luckily (that word again) there is a website/s dedicated to helping you pass the exam, and by the skin of my teeth, I passed the learner’s (oops) theory exam.  It was quite a routine pass, but I realized I’d been in NZ seven years before finally making this step.  A belated kudos to me.


And finally.  I had very little to do with it, but just by being a member of the union and ratifying the collective bargaining agreement between our worksite and the mighty Big Employer based in Imperial Auckland, I very recently received a fifty cent increase on my hourly wage.

Don’t laugh please.  I know it sounds like a paltry sum, but there ARE  eight hours in a day, and 40 minimum hours in a work week, so those cents add up.  Plus, my overtime rate is likewise enhanced, not just by 50 cents but  by $0.75 because of the overtime premium.  Proportional increases also for the shift and meal allowances when applicable.  So it’s not really a bad deal.

In fact, I now have to watch the quality of my work, because my adjusted hourly wage rate is nothing to sneeze at.  I have to be responsible, dependable and dedicated, in addition to being disciplined and hardworking.  All because of those additional 50 cents.  In short, I have to be worth it. 🙂


See, I told you the past few days have been kind to me.  So many blessings in my life that I have to be thankful for.  All centered on the reality that I’m blessed to be working, and blessed to be working in New Zealand.  Mabuhay po ang uring manggagawa!  

Thanks for reading!