Praying is simply talking to God.  It seems so simple and easy to remember; and yet, most of the time, we forget. 

In his recollection message this evening, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales said prayer is telling God you want Him to be part of your day.  No more, no less.  And telling Him that you're having difficulty or you're having a bad day--that, too, is praying. 

In other words, it's having a personal relationship with Him.  But because as Catholics, we grew up reciting set prayers, we often find it difficult to break out from this lifelong habit.  We constantly need to be reminded what true prayer is.

Cardinal Rosales gave his packed audience a wonderful guide to prayer with the acronym, ALTAR, where A is for Adoration, L is for Love, T is for Thanksgiving, A is for Asking, and R is for Reparation.

I remember one sermon where the priest described how one parishioner prayed:  he devoted each weekday to fulfilling each step so that Monday is for Adoration, Tuesday for Love, and so on.  Not that each day is spent on his knees but that each step of prayer was incorporated into his daily thoughts and activities so that his day was one unceasing prayer. 

What better time to find that quiet space within us to reflect on the true meaning of prayer than this holy week.
Another year, another observance of Passion Week at the end of another Lenten season.  But it never gets old.  Not when eternity is on the line. 

But Filipinos today are not as solid and monolithic an entity as we were in the past when Catholicism dominated and our Catholic practices defined our Holy Week observances.  Today, although Catholicism is still the dominant religion, we now live in a more pluralistic society; and many--and I will not say 'the younger generation' because that would be inaccurate--have either changed religions or have become atheists or have simply become nominal Catholics.

Although we have changed, Jesus Christ has not;  "He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow" and in a world of constant changes--many of them life-threatening and life-as-we-know-it game-changing, either man-made wake-up calls like the Middle East upheavals to natural disasters like the never-ending Japan earthquakes--He remains the one constant that will never fail us.  And for believers, that is our hope and our portion.

It is a difficult time to be a Catholic today, what with the seemingly endless sordid revelations of sexual abuse by the clergy as in the latest clergy scandal in Belgium, which has severely and irretrievably tarnished the church.  But the clergy is not the whole church; neither do their actions represent our faith.  This is not to diminish their crimes; it is only to say that our faith should not depend upon what they have done or have not done, but it should rest on Christ alone.

For a dying man like Nick Charles, his faith tells him that he is about to embark on his greatest journey, one that will take him homeward bound to his true home.  It is the best story I have come across this Lent and sums up what this holy season is all about.

I have been documenting the Lenten observance of the Presentation of the Child Jesus Parish for the past three years now going on my fourth and I still look forward to the experience, which has deepened my faith and made me reflect on it even more.


Holy Monday:  The Quiet Space

Dekada Setenta, BF Mural Part 2

Youth lives on hope, old age on remembrance - French proverb

Noel David is neither a young man nor an old man; he is of the baby boomer generation, a generation long past its wild youth but still a long way before it waddles into senior citizenship. He teeters between hopefulness and remembrance, between hoping to inspire the next generation and paying homage to his friends who have gone.

A former animator and now a web designer and web animator, David belongs to one of the first families in BF Homes, moving here in 1971 where his family's house became a "tambayan" or hangout of his friends. Then came the heyday of the subdivision in the 70s and 80s. Dino Garcia, a good friend who moved here in 1974, recalls that "BF then was like a small community where everybody knew each other."

But, like a bad dream, their friends started dying--David counts 41 friends that they have lost--and sensing the bad feng shui in his area, which faces the Manila Memorial Park, he eventually moved out in 1987 after the death of many friends. In the intervening years, he lost touch with those that were left behind.

Fast forward to 2009 and the era of social networking. It was inevitable that the past would soon catch up with the present as has happened countless times in Facebook. And so it did for the BF old-timers who happily and giddily reminisced about the good ol' days in their own Facebook page, "You know you grew up in BF Homes Parañaque when.

Something stirred within David. "A sense of belonging triggered the first mural--a thread in our page about reminiscing. Someone suggested that I paint our group and they said they would support me so I created a page just for that project. I wanted to refresh whatever memories I had of this place so after almost a year I got all my old friends back under one roof in Facebook. This is a project initiated in Facebook with my barkada so we decided to name it the BF Barkada Project," he explained.
Dino Garcia and Noel David with the BF Homes Mural Part 1

But more than just memories, he knew he wanted to give back to the community. He found his inspiration in "It", Stephen King's bestseller about a shape-shifter who terrorizes children. For David, it was more than just a book. "Its themes, about the beauty and innocence of youth and having no substitute for friends, fired up my imagination. I saw a lot of parallelisms in the book and life in BF."

A second inspiration came from a former acquaintance, Cathy Duran, who eventually became his confidante and soulmate.  "Being a visual-oriented and copy-based Creative Director in an ad agency, she provided me the right direction for my works. We knew each other back in the skating rink in the 70's but never really had the chance to be friends. 23 years after, we got re-acquainted in Facebook and found out that we shared so many things in common."

A further motivation stemmed from his desire to exorcise the deaths that drove him away from the village. He sought to create a talisman that would counter what he believed to be the "sphere of influence" of the cemetery on the houses that faced it. "I wanted to put my work in alignment facing the twin cemeteries. 

"The first mural was actually an experiment--if I didn't lose anyone within the year then it proves my theory. Dino's sister may have had a stroke but she survived and the mural helped her," he muses. He didn't lose anyone. "After my friends died, I was scared," he confessed, "so maybe in honoring them I was able to seek repentance for this place."

David chose to locate the mural in the basketball court--then an open court in the old days--because it was formerly the center of activities of the small community. He finished the first mural in 9 months and launched it in February of 2009. The 15 ft by 30 ft mural, which he has registered since with the National Library, features 176 people, BF pioneers and old-timers and friends of the BF Barkada.

It hit a nerve in the collective memory of the people who saw it, some of whom came from the US. Many were moved to tears. They were back in their youth. Boy Concepcion, former-bad-boy-turned-priest and one of his good friends, came and blessed the mural.

The launch became a reunion, which became a party, which became a series of get-togethers online and in person. And the ripples promised to get bigger. But the biggest thrill belonged to David himself--not only was he able to gather his friends under one roof virtually and digitally, he was able to prove to himself and his doubters that he could successfully create something never done before. He had launched a new art form.
National Artist for Painting - J. Elizaldo Navarro

David's mural falls under the second definition, which is a large "photograph attached directly to a wall," rather than "painted or affixed directly on a wall or ceiling." But it is neither a photograph nor a traditional painting but something in-between. He has yet to find a definition for his type of artwork; for now, he simply calls it "digital painting." 

One thing is clear--it is product of the digital age and a product of his animation background. After five years in his job, he left animation, feeling too old for cartoons and wanting to do something more realistic. He yearned to explore new kinds of art and venture into unknown territory so he started experimenting. 

Then he got his eureka moment. 

Finding the program Illustrator to be limited, he accidentally discovered another use for a second program, which he then combined with a third to create his own art form, a trade secret he has assiduously guarded by working on the mural in secret, with the assistance of Cathy. "So the technology that I learned from animation, I applied it here, only I use it like a painting rather than an illustration," he disclosed. 

"A lot of artists use vector painting but mine has evolved into something different and I added a dimension of traditional painting in it; that's what makes it more difficult. (Unlike photos, vectors are shapes that do not get pixelized even when enlarged.) I wanted my work to be different from the rest.

"Only animators can do something like this since they are used to doing things freehand without tracing," he points out, "but they won't waste their time on it since they are paid by the second in animation and animators are honed to be factory workers.

"I try to take away the computer effect from the work to make it more airbrushed but it can't be all that perfect because I am using a wireless mouse, something I got used to. A tablet might give me more control but I use another process to give the mouse more flexibility in shading."

Apparently, this was just the start.  "I had a lot of congratulatory feedback and many wanted to join especially after the last elections.  People saw that and asked how could they join and luckily some knew me and referred my work to others.  They formed another group.  By that time I already had a new computer and had developed a new technique.  You have to evolve; so I think this is the most perfect I've done so far."
Lorli Villanueva

David also developed a new-found confidence in his abilities.  "After part one, I knew one man can do all that."  He also got a little help from his friends.  "I didn't have any intention of making a second one but Father Boy inspired me.  He said 'Brod, if God gave you a certain talent you should use it.'  I said, "Hey man, you forgot, I'm an atheist, I don't believe in God.'  He answered, "It doesn't matter, God believes in you.'  I thought he was right so I decided to do a second mural."  

Still, it wasn't easy sailing for him.  His principal sponsor backed out and his computer broke down.  His sister came to his rescue, giving him money to buy a new one.  He undertook commissions for family portraits to pay back what he considered to be a loan despite his sister's generosity.  He won't make excuses for putting in the families who helped sponsor the second project--they still belong, after all, to the BF Homes community.  But he did not want to just solicit--he wanted to give back something in return.

Because he envisioned a bigger project in terms of the number of people in the mural, his good friend, Dino, volunteered to help him.  A new committee was formed to oversee the project, which he called Dekada Setenta, for those who were born and grew up in the 70s.  David targeted 350 faces, 52 more than the Guinness record of 298 being held by a Pennsylvania mall (the final number reached 361).  "If you total the two murals, I would've done more than 500 faces.  Imagine this--we're the only one with a gym full of faces watching you.  This makes it unique."  

Unique and poignant.  Whereas the first mural was more about experimentation and wardship, this time he wanted the second mural to be about celebration, remembrance, and friendships.  "Basically it's about remembering a certain era when everything was new. It was just us then; there are only a few of us left.   I put value on our youth and friendship which I think is missing today.  What better way to immortalize that than by putting it into one single mural."

Among the friends he is honoring in the second mural are National Artist, J. Elizalde Navarro (a former Kyoto St. resident) whose style inspired his work; and, Lorli Villanueva, the award-winning actress of Oro, Plata, Mata fame, to whom he wrote, "to my close friend...who opened my eyes to the world of arts and culture...." Along with them is Fr. Boy. The lone outsider in the new mural is Louie Ysmael, his former boss for a good ten years.

What you will not find in both murals is a portrait of the man himself. David insists that the project is not about him but about the friends whom he is saluting. Because of this, he used an alias to sign his work. 

As the project evolved, so did his technique. "The new mural will be twice as bright or twice as finished as the first one; it's more detailed and the personalities come out better. Technique-wise, Part 1's results evolved into something more stylized and vivid, creating that striking difference in Part 2."  He had to upgrade his hardware as well.  "We are printing it on heavy canvass with one of the most powerful computers--a quad core with 6 gigabyte and that's not even enough. I'm adding another 2 gigabytes," he revealed.
Noel David and Cathy Duran

He applied for recognition to the Guinness Book of World Records for the record number of faces done in his unique style of digital painting. The record keepers could not find another work of its kind in the world but told him of the Pennsylvania mall record. They also told him of their conditions: pay an application fee of USD 2,000.00 or find a sponsor, otherwise his reference number will be banned. He balked and did nothing. 

David remains defiant. "Why do I have to pay them? Now that I know the facts, I'll just make the mural and let them disprove it." Turning reflective, he is grateful, nevertheless, for having come so far. "We had so many dreams back then that were never realized. I had reached a dead-end. Still, I had a chance to have a life and that is a far greater reward for me."

A far greater reward, too, is the sense of accomplishment he has gotten and the inspiration and challenge this may bring to his generation and the next. "I did the mural for the youth today so they can be greater than what they are now; so that they can dream. Maybe when they see it they can be inspired. May this be legacy for them to follow. Just stay off drugs. 

"I still see some from my generation who're still the same, doing drugs, and it saddens and sickens me. A friend of mine died of drug overdose just last month. Suddenly, after 30 yrs we see we're still like this, it's sad. We could've been somewhere else."

In explaining his work in his Facebook page, he said:  "Looking back at the 70's,I have realized how much of those times affected us.  It has shaped and molded us to what we are now.Some of us succeeded  while others failed.Some are living while others have moved on.Some have tried to forget it while others lived with it. Further down the road, only the memories of the faces will stir the senses when one sees the Mural at that part of the woods called BF Homes.

"I have gone back to the deep abyss of my memory, to wander to a place I once called home, to seek familiar faces I called friends and leave them pieces of that memory to last a life time.

"A feng shui master told me that if you do something out of the purity of your heart and of the highest of ideals, then the blessings go back 100% to those whom you intended to honor. That is why I did the mural, to change their lives."

Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance. (Richard von Weizsaecker)
Begin with the end in mind, so says best-selling author Stephen R. Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Success guru Anthony Robbins starts you on your journey by asking what is it you really want?  The Silva Method uses previsualization to imagine desired results.

In other words, each of these life mentors focuses first on the goal as their launchpad for success.  Only when you know what you want will you be in a position to get it so goal setting, therefore, cannot be underestimated or taken for granted.

It is a lesson that partners Stephanie A. Cabanes, Winnie C. Tiosejo, Blossom Santiago, Gabbi Buencamino and Bea Lasala  wished to impart when they established Goal Central last year, a tutorial service center that's slowly making a name for itself.  We sat down with Stephanie to find out more. 
GLBF    Tell us how Goal Central came about.

GC    Coming from the academe, we saw that many of the students needed intervention or further academic assistance; we realized that it was high time that the tutoring service become professionalized in how and where it is delivered.

GLBF    How did  you come up with the name?

GC    When we were crafting our mission/vision, we found that our individual visions for giving academic assistance were all centered and geared towards the concept of goal setting because every success starts with a goal and that became our tag line.

GLBF    What can parents and students expect from you?

GC    Goal Central commits to strengthen the personal academic performance of each student through knowledge-based innovative learning.  We commit to build character through a goal-oriented approach to teaching and learning.  Furthermore, we commit to provide a nurturing environment for the students through highly qualified and dedicated educators.  Finally, we commit to sustain our partnership with parents to cultivate a deeper understanding of the student's needs with the goal of effectively addressing them. 

GLBF    What is your scope and what are your activities?

GC    We have one-on-one tutoring for students who are just beginning to read and do math all the way to college-level students, and we also have group tutoring; we have daily homework supervision; we teach English as a second language; we have Internet use courses for adults and senior citizens; and we also have Comprehensive College Entrance Review starting this April for which we are giving discounts if they pre-enroll.

GLBF    What is your staff like?

GC    We have three partners who serve as full-time tutors--two are licensed teachers while the other one, though not a licensed teacher, has nine years experience as a high school and college academic tutor.  The two managing partners have a combined experience of 53 years in the academe, having held various teaching and supervisory positions in leading private learning institutions.  Our regular tutors are all college graduates and undergo regular intensive in-house personal and professional training.

GLBF    How has it been so far?

GC    It's been very, very encouraging!  After only three months of operations, we already have 65 regular students.  The parents are happy, but more importantly, the students are happy so they are more responsive to learning.

Goal Central

The Camelean Academy visited the BF Homes Barangay Fire Station at Elsie Gaches Street last October and were treated to a hands-on experience by the Fire Department.
Trainor Ms. Mimi Gabayno guides Mary Ann Misuno in cutting her daughter's hair while classmate Sreia looks on
Responding to a need for free training seminars on various competencies, Barangay BF Homes has been giving free courses for the last six years under the auspices of the Barangay Captain and in coordination with the Paranaque Livelihood Resource Management Office (PLRMO) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

I decided to join the 44-day cosmetology course, which was conducted at the BF Homes Barangay Livelihood Training Center, which provides center-based and area-based programs ranging from one-day seminars to 3-month courses for a minimum of 25 students. 

The Cosmetology modules included all things relating to the hair--cutting, coloring, relaxing, straightening, styling, setting; make-up and facial treatments; manicure, pedicure, and foot spa; and waxing. 
(l) Evelyn, Olive, and Rose practice hair straightening classmate Glenda; (r) Miriam and Rosalie with their model

This being an introductory course, all the modules were very basic and rudimentary, pretty much what you would expect from a free course.  Although the limited slots normally maxes out at 30, they decided to accommodate seven more--TESDA only opens the course when there is a minimum of 25 enrollees.

For the most part, the Center provides the supplies with the students acquiring their own as they go along.  Punctilious attendance and behavior are mandated as are the use of uniforms (a white tee and our free t-shirt alternately) and IDs.

The final grade consists of the practical tests after each module and a written test at the end with an eye towards a TESDA certificate and accreditation upon graduation. 
Stephanie, before and after her haircut by Annie Mizuno
The students were an industrious lot--there's Marisa and her niece, Miriam, who have worked at salons before and are now self-employed, doing home services and earning well; their neighbor, Elever; there was Mary Ann and Maricar, who became employed in the course of the program; there's Christine, who celebrated her first pay with a merienda for everyone; there's Annie, the star student in hair cutting, who may be taking her skills abroad; there's Nica and Rosalie, who may be thinking of opening their own salons; and there's Ging, Glenda, Evelyn, and Rose, who were at the same time enrolled in the Caregiver classes. 

Then there are the rest--Birmar, Niery, Imelda, Jocelyn, Segundina, the inseparable Daisy and Vonette, our third Mary Ann, Romnick, Neil, and Aldrin, Stephanie, the trio Cecil, Citadel, and Vivian, Milen and Olive, Espy, and Pam, who at 61 proved that it's never too late to learn something new.  Of the 37 who enrolled, only two dropped out.

Center for Aesthetic Studies it is not, but what it offers is a foundation for further learning and a set  of skills that can only improve with experience and confidence. 

The BF Barangay Livelihood Center can also strive for greater improvement like updating its materials, instructions, and supplies and creating a more conducive atmosphere for the seminars.

All in all, it was an enjoyable learning experience.
Ging Dagdagan models for her classmates for hair perming and straightening
Marina Cimene models for me for hair straightening (l) and basic make-up (r)
(Many thanks to Barangay Captain Jeremy Marquez; OIC Head of the PLRMO, Doris Marquez; Kagawads Serge Advincula and Noel Azarcon; BF Homes Barangay Training Division head, Chet Marcelo; Marlette Yamsuan of the LEMDD; Livelihood Outreach Division head, Emelda Alabado; Paul Santos, DSTC Staff;  Rocelle Zulueta and Regine of the Livelihood Training Center; and PLRMO Trainor Mimi Gabayno.)
Cos.me.tol.o.gy - "is the branch of science that deals with the external embellishment of a person through the use of cosmetic products and treatments."  So says the manual of the BF Barangay Livelihood Training Center.  Apart from the food industry, the cosmetology industry may be the only other industry where the sun never sets.  In good times or bad, we always want to look good.  We splurge on ourselves when times are good; we take comfort in it when times are bad. 

It has become big business as well.  Every week, it seems a new spa or salon opens in BF Homes (not to mention a new restaurant).  I'm of the age when I can still remember going with my mom to the "parlor" to get a haircut; it's one of those terms that technology and specialization has rendered dated.  Now we go to a hair salon. 

Like many industries in the country, it is still an unregulated industry, with self-regulation as the norm.  My research has yielded two House Bills (here and here) and one Senate bill that have been drawn up so far, which aims to professionalize the industry.  They don't seem to have progressed much beyond the committee level.; but, the commitment of its industry leaders, no doubt, would lead to the bill being passed in the future.

One area though that no law can regulate is the ever-present "colonial mentality" that pervades our culture, quite disturbing in today's supposedly more-enlightened times.  Notwithstanding our progress in our march towards a more Filipino identity, it seems being "white" remains to be the holy grail of pulchritude. 

Which leads me to wonder if the advertising companies are just responding to a real clamor by Filipinas wanting to scrape their brown skins away, or is it that Filipinas are just succumbing to the pressure of the ad companies and media shrilly touting whiteness as the true yardstick of beauty?  Which is which?  Either way does not look good.  In this instance, beauty is  truly only skin-deep. 

How about cosmetic and pharmaceuticfal companies creating a product that restores the youthful glow of skin--instead of trying to change its color and subliminally telling girls that a fairer skin is better, more beautiful, and more popular?  Cleanliness, good grooming, confidence and good self-esteem is always better than what color your skin is.

There's a cosmetology boom and what's happening in our community may be a microcosm of what's happening elsewhere in the country.
The 2010 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections have come and gone and we have a winner:  Incumbent Jeremy S. Marquez defeats former Barangay Kagawad Carlo Bernabe to remain as Barangay Captain or Punong Barangay of Barangay BF, the biggest barangay in the country. 

His new set of Barangay Kagawads are:  Paolo Marquez,  Serge Advincula, Richard Moreno, Alfred Lazatin, Sheryl Ortonio, Rocel Espino, and Noel Azarcon, with the latter three as new members.  While this electoral exercise was not automated, the outcome was thankfully known the following day, with the winners already proclaimed by the COMELEC.

I don't know how the voter turnout was but when I arrived at the polling center in phase 3 at closing time, late voters were being turned away by the COMELEC officials.  Unlike the national elections last May, this elections ended at the usual hour or 3 p.m., which many voters may have forgotten.  But the place was packed with accredited watchers and other designated supporters.

I hope that just because the barangay captain and the mayor belong to rival camps, it will not be to the detriment of the people they have pledged to serve, resulting in political and administrative gridlock; instead, I hope that the rivalry will provide some healthy form of checks and balances in local governance, spurring both sides to give their best to their constituents.

If we do not pay as much attention to the local elections as much as we pay attention to the national elections, we should.  After all, as some have rightly observed, we are electing public servants who may have an impact on our lives on a day-to-day basis the most.  That alone should give us some pause.
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There are times when I wish I was back in grade school or high school, or even college.  Learning seems to be a lot easier today, information overload via the internet notwithstanding.  There's just so much variety and resources and interactive learning coming from so many sources that it seems kids are spoiled nowadays.

I just recently discovered The Kahn Academy, BIll Gates favorite teacher online.  Suddenly chemistry and physics doesn't seem as hard as it was for me back in high school.  Mr. Salman Kahn is truly a gift to all students everywhere no matter your age. 

Now take an organization like Mad Science, whose goal is to "instill a clearer understanding of what science is really about and how it affects the world around us" in a fun, captivating, and interactive way through "cutting-edge programs" and "high energy demonstrations of science experiments."  It complements classroom learning and breaks down barriers between a formidable subject and students by linking it to the world around us.

Last Wednesday, Mad Science Philippines took their shows to Robinsons Supermarket for the schoolchildren of the BF Barangay Child Training Center and the Neo Brightside Christian Academy and to the Veritas Parochial School for its elementary and high school students.

Now on its 9th year in the Philippines under Funworks Inc., you may find the organization's Mad Scientists teaching kids and making them ooh and aah almost anywhere in the Philippines almost everyday.  They certainly take their mission to "amaze, educate, and inspire kids of all ages," to heart and put on a jolly good show. 

Count this kid as a fan.
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"Pope Benedict XVI, on the 150th death anniversary of St. John Mary Vianney, the Patron Saint of Parish Priests, had proclaimed June 2009 to June 2010 as the Year for Priests, with the theme:  'The faithfulness of Christ, the Faithfulness of the Priest.'  The Pope said that the year was meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today's world.... "