Nine years!

Nine years ago today, I drove myself to the hospital because I couldn’t breathe, and my chest was painfully tight. It turned out that I had cancer.

I had many surgeries that took out the tumor and installed appliances in my chest. (For a few years after that, I had a metal object in my chest that protruded like an unripe tomato concealed under skin.) I went through chemotherapy every three weeks for over a year, then I did radiation everyday for a couple of months.

Those were the most physically trying times in my life. I remember banging my head repeatedly against a concrete wall because that pain was giving me respite from the more excruciating pain I was feeling in the rest of my body. I powered through that for more than a year, each chemo cycle more challenging than the one before.


Wit is a play written by Margaret Edson in 1999, and was adapted in 2001 for a TV-movie by HBO. It captures so excellently the experience of cancer, and imparts wonderful insight about suffering and death.

The kindness of the people around me extended my life beyond that episode. Family, friends, coworkers, even strangers put in a lot of time, labor, and resources to help me get through cancer. Even my then boyfriend reoriented his life and his family’s life to accommodate my treatment. I truly received more kindness than I ever deserved in life.

It has been nine years since I survived cancer, and I have lived a good life. I fell in and out of love, lost and rekindled family relationships, made new friends, built two careers simultaneously, travelled here and there, and helped a few people and causes along the way. All things considered, I’ve experienced so much more than I probably should have.

When I was going through treatments for cancer, I certainly did not think that I would live as long and as fully as this. (My doctor even told me then that I’d probably have 7 good years post-chemotherapy before some of my organs would start malfunctioning; it has been 8 years, so let’s hope he continues to be proven wrong!)

Today is also World Cancer Day, and we should know that individuals, families, communities, governments, and people with influence can raise awareness and education about the disease. 8.8 million people die of cancer every year, and half of these deaths are preventable if we just take appropriate and timely action.

WCD2017_WeCanICan has resources on how you can help raise awareness on cancer and treatment options.

To my loved ones who did not make it, we miss you, but you have earned your rest. We remember you fondly!

To my loved ones who have survived, congratulations for a job well done! Let’s hear your stories; they are beautiful and powerful!

To my loved ones who are going through or will go through treatments, the road ahead may be long, but it might be worth the trouble. Whatever happens, remember that it’s your body, so everything is your call! No matter how it feels, you can exercise control over many things; that can be empowering. People will understand and respect whatever you decide, and I hope you do not feel bad about whatever decision you take.

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That arrest was driven by hate.

Last Sunday, eleven men presenting as gay were arrested by the police in a drug bust in a hotel in BGC (a perceived upscale neighborhood in Manila). The circumstances of the arrest present so many unanswered questions, not the least of which is, “How much of this arrest was driven by queer phobia?”

Real talk: I genuinely think that these are the reasons that those gay men were arrested so publicly.



1. They are queer.

In my country of moral pretentiousness, the queerness of these men makes them worthy of punishment. If the suspects were straight men, this would be handled very, very differently.


2. In the Philippines, gay men are still assumed to be rapists.

In their press conference after the arrest, the police reported that the men carried bottles of GBL (something like GHB or liquid ecstasy).

The police did not fail to mention in the very same breath that the drug is used by putting a drop or two in the drink of an unsuspecting person, then that person becomes unconscious. At this point, the gay man will take the person home, and have his way with him. (I can tell you that, while this happens, this is NOT the primary reason that this drug is popular among queer people.)


3. In the Philippines, sex is still considered taboo, gay sex, sinful, and group sex, uncomfortably deviant. (This arrest is even labelled in the media as a “drug orgy scandal.”)

That the arrested had drugs on them isn’t what fascinates the public about this. (The amount of drugs found isn’t remarkable at all; let us not forget that PHP 6.4 billion worth of meth was discovered at customs, and the people behind it are still living very comfortable lives right now, free from most of the public’s outrage.) It is that the arrested were assumed to be using drugs to have sex.

That the arrested present as gay made the presumed sex even more worthy of disdain. In this most Catholic of countries in Asia, queer sex is viewed as a sin, therefore, it must be punished by law by any means possible.

That the presumed sexual activity involved more than two persons threw the public into a frenzy. As taboo as gay sex in the Philippines is, group sex among gay men was difficult for many people even to conceive. Since it was so deviant, many people (including other gay men) were very happy it was stopped by this arrest.

All that being said, I do not think that the police actually saw anybody having actual sex during the arrest. The police saw eleven gay men in their underwear, then immediately assumed that they were going to have an orgy. The possibility of gay men being in their underwear doing nothing non-sexual escaped the imagination of the police and the public.


4. The queer men were not well-connected.

The arrested probably did not know anyone in power to protect them from this kind of public shaming. Arrests like this do not happen to prominent people not because they do not do drugs or engage in deviant sex; these things do not happen to them because those situations are  well-contained if not prevented.

Also, let us remember that the amount of drugs that were found with them could not possibly destroy the fabric of society in the same way that 6.4 billion pesos worth of meth can. The people behind the billions worth of meth are so well-connected with people in power, the only person arrested in their case was the poor old person who was manning the warehouse when the 6.4 billion pesos of drugs were found.


5. The arrested men do hold some power by virtue of being cisgender, light-skinned, professional, and financially able.

They were arrested so publicly because that is as far as the police can punish them. Any further than that, the public outcry would drown out any brownie points that the police would have earned from the ordeal. (Many people in the Philippines happily fight injustice when it victimizes the middle to the upper classes.)

If the men were poor, uneducated, and dark-skinned, they would have been killed by the police, and the public would have thought of them as just another uncomfortable number to add to the statistics of the casualties of this damned drug war.


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Incessant negotiations.

Last night, the security personnel of my building stopped me from entering.

Security: Are you a resident here?
Me: Yes.
Security: What’s your name?
Me: Doni.
Security: Doni?
Me: Doni Santos.
Security: In which unit do you stay?
Security: OK.

He then proceeds to sit down and let me in.

Note that there was no verification of my identity, or of the correctness of any information I provided. No records were checked, but I was allowed entry. At the end of it all, the security personnel achieved nothing but make unpleasant small talk.

I am not angry at the personnel, but at how this sort of behavior is the standard in nearly all my interactions anywhere here.

Taxi drivers, wait staff, sales people, housing agents, cleaners, hair salon staff, etc.: they all do this. They ask questions to which the correctness of te answers does not matter. I imagine that they are required to keep gates that they do not necessarily understand how to keep, so they pass the time doing what they are told without really adding any value.

Conversations are done not necessarily to achieve some relevant output; most of the time, they are done perfunctorily due to a routine established for people. This kind of inefficiency upsets me so much.

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Never forget.

Forty-five years ago today, the dictator President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in the Philippines. Thus started one of the darkest periods in my country’s recent history.

The Marcoses stole billions of dollars from us, mostly money borrowed with interest from governments and international financial institutions. We will not, even in our lifetime, be able to pay out all the outstanding debts the Marcoses put us under.

Marcos espoused the arrest of thousands of young activists who expressed dissent against his dictatorship. These young activist leaders were tortured and raped so that they will be silent or betray their fellow activists. Accounts of these atrocities are well-documented; many of these student activists are still alive today, and they tell these stories like it was yesterday.

Any dissent against the Marcos dictatorship was met with force and impunity. Thousands of Filipinos (mostly student activists) became desaparecidos – members of the civilian population who were systematically made “to disappear.” (This disappearance came in the form of an undocumented arrest, torture, murder, and disposal of the bodies.) Those kids were abducted, and they just vanished; their bodies were never found, and the police could never be tried for lack of any evidence of their participation. It was so widespread back in the day that we even had a term for it: when people were killed by the police in order to silence their dissent, they were not murdered; they were “salvaged.”

While all of this was happening, Imelda Marcos threw lavish parties left and right. She managed to amass two thousand pairs of shoes, and a fuckload of jewelry. Her children all went to the best schools in the world, and ate food whose names most of us could not even pronounce. They were living like royalty with money paid for by the blood and tears of my people.

When international dignitaries were to visit Manila then, Imelda willed buildings to rise from the sea within a few days, burying construction workers in its foundations, covering their bodies in cement because there was no time to pull the corpses out and still finish the construction.

Imelda propped up walls around the shanties that lined the roads so that the dignitaries would not see the poor who have informally settled in the city because they were sustematically dispossessed of their lands. This was in line with her project to show the world “the true, the good, and the beautiful” about Manila.

To this day, the Marcoses (Imelda and all her children) refuse to admit the atrocities that their family committed and benefitted from all those years. The Marcoses still hold public office here and there, and they still have so much political clout that they managed to spin history and get the corpse of President Marcos buried in the Cemetery of Heroes.

Today is the 45th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law. Never forget.

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Stupidity even when articulated well is still stupid.

We all know people like these:

those who read two tweets about something, then won’t shut up about their expertise on the topic being discussed,

those who parrot sound bites without ever knowing the full context of how those statements became powerful,

those who claim they are interested in something, but won’t read more than three sentences written by respected minds in that field,

those who preach about experiences they have never ever lived.

True enlightenment comes from the hard work of reading, listening, and critical thinking. (No, that time you picked up a book and speed-read three paragraphs does not count.) There is no shortcut to intelligence; it demands commitment of time and effort.

If you are truly committed to understanding something, stop talking; stop occupying space better used by people better informed than you.

Do not, for a moment, think that the truly informed cannot tell that you are faking. We know (oh, boy, we know).

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Just a bag of insecurities.

I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer more than eight years ago, and the experience changed my body quite dramatically.

I had many, many surgeries that left my body scarred in ways that I still find terrifying. There is a huge vertical cut over my sternum, two horizontal cuts over my pectorals, and two puncture scars on each side of my ribcage. I have also had other medically necessary surgeries that scarred some of my internal organs. (Digression, but quite interesting: After my surgeries, I sweat only on the right side of my upper body.)

I have been living with these scars for more than eight years now, and I still haven’t overcome the impression that they are upsetting to look at. To this day, I still feel terribly embarrassed for having them.

When someone sees my scars and ask me how I got them, I am flooded with anxiety at how I would be able to explain this ugliness away (not that it still matters at that point as I’d have terrified people already with them). I feel particularly vulnerable when someone sees my scars; it’s as if they just became privy to a mortifying secret that I’ve been trying to hide.

When men have sex with me, I become thankful that they did not run away in disgust of my marked body. (It’s a terrible place to be in, being thankful to a guy for your orgasm, like it’s a favor they doled out on you.) I have actually, on multiple occasions, thanked men for having sex with me, for not being repulsed by my body; it’s an awful experience.

When I meet people I am interested in, I don’t pursue them as hard as I used to; I’m like, “What’s the point? I’ve nothing beautiful to offer once my shirt comes off. Also, I’m tired of owing men favors.”

(I know that this post reeks of narcissism and superficiality. The experience is very real, though, and I really wouldn’t wish it on anyone. )

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To whom should these spoils belong?

One of the first things I did last year to cope with the break-up was to pack my ex's things in a huge box the size of a small refrigerator. (We Filipinos call this the balikbayan box, a box usually filled by Filipinos overseas with trinkets to send back home to their families.)

I carefully folded each shirt, each sock, each pair of pants that he left behind. I deposited his bags, his toys, any trinkets he might have forgotten when he was last here at home with me. I found shoes that we shared, and I carefully decided which ones he especially loved. (I was very careful not to send anything that he gave to me; I didn't think it was kind to return gifts.)

Lastly, I packed the only picture of us that I framed and so proudly displayed at my office. It was one of our very first pictures together back when we were dating in 2007. We looked tentative but happy in the picture.

I packed those items in the balikbayan box, and there they quietly stayed, waiting for when I was ready to see all of his things go. I told myself, I just need one more month, then I am sure I won't break down as his things finally go.

One month became two, and two became thirteen. Every single month, I would ask myself, "Am I ready to see his things leave, too? What if he comes back?"

There it was, the question a broken up person should never ask. "What if he comes back?"

I asked this question in embarrassed silence in all thirteen months that I kept the box. My friends would ask me, "So when is the box leaving?" I would kiddingly say, "Maybe tomorrow." Tragic as it may be, what I really wanted to say was, "Maybe it doesn't have to."

My father visited me last month to help me with some personal arrangements. He found a few unused appliances in my kitchen, and he asked if he could have them. "Of course," I said, not really remembering to whom those belong. "If we haven't used them for a while, we won't be using them ever."

My dad packed these appliances in the balikbayan box, and I finally sent them off to
Manila. I told my dad to coordinate with my ex when the box lands so he can just get those from him.

Tonight, I received a text from my ex, asking if he could keep some of the appliances. (I could only assume that the box had arrived.) He mentioned, "They're really important to me."

(Only then did I remember that he might have bought those appliances. We used them together for so long, the ownership over things things dissolved into a blur; one never prepares for the clarity that might be necessary in the event of a break-up.)

I couldn't help but feel sad and angry. I am sure he didn't mean it the way I am feeling it, but I somehow got the feeling that the appliances were worth more than our relationship. I was once important to him, but, now, I only got the words that the appliances are important to him.

No, it's not that I want to get back together with him. It's just terribly sad that I never would have imagined that what I had put in the box would seem to be more valuable than the life we had shared together.

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