Manila, 16 September—Once upon a time, we had amulets.
Like, honest-to-goodness red mini-pillows with stitched-on crosses pinned to our underwear, or old bullets tied around our waists and worn under our shirts. I had to ask my sister, just to make sure I hadn’t been imagining things; she’d confirmed it, adding: Don’t you remember how embarrassing it was, that those things were visible when we wore our swimsuits?
I never really questioned these things. My aunts operated on a Wala namang mawawala kung maniniwala kind of mantra, and I did so, too. Truly, one of my more significant formative memories was staying in my grandparents’ house along the National Road in Leyte when I was ten, and being told that the neighbor next door was a witch.
We spent the summer there because our grandmother—our mother’s mother—had just passed, right at the start of summer vacation. It was early April and it was hot and all my grandparents’ friends came and went during the wake. At the time, I was a small child, and if any of you are familiar with usog, you’d know that being in a room full of elderly who will certainly fawn all over you when you’re young and small is a surefire way of getting sick because of usog.
I could not explain it either, how taking well-meaning compliments from older people can get a child sick, but I was told that it’s because somewhere an unseen deity probably gets jealous and curses the said child with a quick fever or a bum stomach or maybe a rash.
For “protection” my aunts had us wear those small red pillows with stitched-on crosses, which they pinned on our underwear. I swear there is no better way of describing these things; had it lived long enough to see the dawn of smartphones, I would have snapped a photo for Instagram.
Or maybe not. We were told to always wear them but to never show them to anyone. I wondered if knowledge of them made them less powerful. As for the neighbor next door, we were told to stay in the rooms whenever she was around—lest we see our upside-down reflection in her eyes. If it was a Tuesday. (Yes, it was that specific! Baka coding. Or something.)
They said it ran in their family—that at their deathbed, the witch would choose a family member at their bedside, and that the “power” was “bequeathed” in the form of a hornet, rising out of the dying witch’s mouth and taking over the body of the successor, whoever it may be.
Looking back, I suspect the whole witch matter may have been a small-town metaphor for tuberculosis—which was actually a very practical reason for us children to stay away. At the time, I was nine, and my sister and cousins were much, much younger and hence, more vulnerable. Not sure if that scientific version would have been better received by my young mind—I supposed it wouldn’t have been as enjoyable though.
But here’s the thing that tuberculosis theory does not support: The night we buried my grandmother, after my mother and father had gone back to Manila for work and we were left there with our aunts to spend the rest of the vacation, we all fell ill. Fevers and asthma, that sort. That night, it was raining cows and goats, and right after tucking us into bed, my aunts stormed into the kitchen, speaking very loudly and cursing in the language, like they were talking to something standing in the backyard.
Like they were warding it off.
I wore my small red pillow well after the end of that summer, pinning it on myself solemnly and taking with me as a secret religion. I suppose maybe it made me feel a bit more confident or somewhat invincible.
I don’t remember when we started wearing the bullet amulets—I suspect it was after our mother died, three years later. Those things hung around our waists on a clear nylon string and could not be taken off without scissors, so it went without saying that we had to wear it even when in the bath.
I don’t remember feeling embarrassed, because I think I secretly thought it was a rather cool secret. I tucked it under my school uniform, ignored for most of the day. It was only ever inconvenient in the morning, when I find that I’d slept on my stomach, and now it had an indentation the shape of a bullet on it. Otherwise, it felt like an invisible shield; like an elderly family member watching over you, that sort.
Of course, post-9/11, you couldn’t wear bullets without attracting trouble, so I decided to take mine off. There was no ceremony, no incantation. Just a recognition that the world has changed and that it’s time to shed some old traditions, that’s all.
Netflix rec: Carole & Tuesday
Chanced upon this charming 12-episode anime, Carole & Tuesday on Netflix. With each episode only about 20 minutes long, this is an easy series to finish in a weekend. It’s about two girls making music together, and it definitely passes the Bechdel Test a thousand times over.
Also, more importantly: It has fantastic music in it! My personal favorite is the carrier track for the entire series, called The Loneliest Girl. [Listen on Spotify]
Movie recap: The Panti Sisters
Caught The Panti Sisters at the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, which runs until Sept. 19. It earned P13 million pesos on its opening day, blowing competitors out of the water. Which only goes to show that indeed, Filipinos are tolerant of gay people as long as they’re funny.
[SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE FOLLOW]
And funny this movie really tries to be. Stars Paolo Ballesteros, Christian Bables and Martin del Rosario, who play siblings competing for their father Don Emilio’s (John Arcilla) inheritance by going along with their dad’s obsession for a grandchild, really do their best with the material they are given. Ballesteros and Bables are stunning as Gabriel and Samuel, but del Rosario’s K-Pop-slash-anime portrayal of middle son Daniel falls a bit flat for me.
It also could be better written—who says Epic fail in actual conversation??—and some jokes really aimed hard for the formulaic Vice Ganda gaycom route, which probably did the movie some actual good because hello P13 million is still P13 million, after all.
But for all its faults, it does open some serious conversations about gay partnerships and marriages, IVF, abortion, and found families, for example. Arcilla’s final monologue as a father coming to terms with his bigotry toward the end of his life was hard to hear because it’s a familiar refrain. Which brings me to: Was Daniel’s arc necessary? I’m not sure. It was jarring for me to have such a development in such a lighthearted movie, but I guess there was no other way to bring about Don Emilio’s change of heart.
Also, some questions: Whatever happened to Gabriel’s house that burned down? Ganun-ganun na lang ang pag-introduce ng life-changing development pero binitawan din agad? Second, what did Daniel and Samuel do for a living? Sure Gabriel was an entertainer, given. But you have not one, not even two but three gay main characters, and there’s nothing about their professions or careers? Also: Really, three main gay characters and there is no exploration of other gender identities and expressions? A missed opportunity, if anything.
Also: Hard not to compare Gabriel and Daniel’s conflict over Joross Gamboa’s character to that of Alex (Angel Locsin) and Bobbie’s (Bea Alonzo) fight over Chad (Bernard Palanca) in Four Sisters. I thought the latter was better fleshed out and acted—I thought the Kare-Kareng Kokak fight was a bit frivolous and under-cooked (hehehe).
And can I just say: Carmi Martin’s journey from Mrs Bayag in Four Sisters to Mrs Panti in Panti Sisters is an epic journey HAHAHA. Sa sunod na movie na about sisters din, sana i-cast pa rin siya bilang nanay para consistent lol.
That said: I hope you could catch it while it’s still out there! It’s an enjoyable romp, to say the least. Plus: Paolo really rocks a gown every goddamn time.
Hope you had a good weekend,