By Daniel Escurel Occeno
When I was in college, I overheard Catholic guys tell people that I was Jesus; and Mormons asked, why is He, Jesus?
The Catholics were not referring to a religious event; they meant that I was still a virgin because of how I conducted myself around women during dates, parties, dances, and social gatherings.
At 21 and believed to be still a virgin (never had sex) I was the most eligible bachelor among Catholic women students and maybe even women teachers that just graduated. Catholic girls are educated to have moral values and finding a virgin man that was sociable towards women in college was a diamond in the rough.
Believe it or not, I was saving myself for marriage. Celibacy as a lifestyle! No sex until marriage. I had this plan that if I saved myself for a princess, I would find one. I am still single at 49. I did not want to kiss a lot of frogs.
My mother and I survived a month early premature birth so a blessing and a curse followed since. The story I remember was that my parents were in the Gubat Town Fiesta and I heard music and I decided to come out back on June 15, 1960. My survival was a godsend therefore expectations were promised.
The Bishop of Sorsogon would place his burgundy cap on my head and encouraged me to join the priesthood when I was five or six maybe even younger. I could be Pope someday. My memory is cloudy, but I think a red dome hat was placed on my head one time.
My uncles joked that it would make me bald wearing it so I grabbed the dome hat from my head and threw it on the ground.
In the United States during the summer after fourth grade, I think, I went to a seminary to consider joining the priesthood.
My grandparents had conditioned me to help the Philippines out of poverty someday so becoming an ordained Catholic priest was one way of achieving it, but with the rise of Communism in the late 1960s and evangelicalism in America the Catholic Holy Priesthood had changed. You could tell by their sermons.
I left the seminary after a couple of days and told my mother I did not want to be a priest.
During fifth grade I learned that half of the Catholic Church was divided on how to end poverty, Capitalism or Communism. It was the reason why the world was divided in two and not because of presidents and premiers.
Before that, the Catholic Church sold ceremonial wine, bread, candles, luminescent statues, cheese, and religious materials to the rich; and the revenue would help take care of the poor as men and women of the church lived a humbled life.
It used to be a joke that you knew a family was Catholic because of the décor.
I have no hesitation today of writing for children of my views on sexuality since the Obama Administration wants to teach homosexuality in elementary schools.
After the Cold War I wrote that homosexuality is a learned trait and not natural, so I guess the White House wants to teach it.
On TV Mass I am hearing American Catholic priests saying that Barrack Obama is their High Priest? Not the Catholic Pope? Are they Secret Service Agents and ordained priests?
The Philippines has a predominant Catholic population. Because of the poverty many would gladly change religion to eat and survive. Homosexuality as a solution to overpopulation proposed by Communists back in the 1950s is trivial when the already living has to walk for miles to get water from a pump to bathe in.
The Vatican has allowed a Filipino priest on leave to be governor of a province. He was elected by a vote of the people and he is considering running for president.
The local children here in Gubat told stories of American missionaries collecting canned goods of food, used clothing, and used eyeglasses from churches in America and then sold it in our open markets.
Alumni returning for the all the years high school class reunions packed their suitcases with old magazines. It was Time, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, and National Geographic. The publications were donated to the high school library, and the graduates were honored at the evening assembly and dance as great men and women giving back to the community.
The kids were really making fun of the abroad acting like big shots because they lived in America and old magazines was all they could give.
I thought I was cool writing Cricket Magazine, Highlights for Children, and the Crowder College Quill of Neosho, Missouri for old magazines to give to the local elementary school.
The Crowder Quill sent me a box.
I published in Highlights with a craft and had three short stories for children printed in the Crowder Quill. The titles were Junior Bagelo, Making the Team, and Judy’s Butterfly House. No money in winning the writing contests, but it gave me tremendous encouragement to keep writing.
Cricket Magazine, I submitted proposals of short stories since February of 1996 with no success. Years later I noticed Cricket in the Union Station Public Library in Springfield, Missouri. I wanted to be published even more because the magazine was designed for the more brilliant children.
Children that enjoyed reading would enjoy reading my short stories published in Cricket, I thought.
I was told by English teachers during my elementary years to learn to write poems and verses so I could become a great writer someday. Enter writing contests and get a head start.
The critique of my short stories for children is one of simple and probably not literary for Cricket Magazine editors, but simplicity is intentional. I hated to read as a child because of the complicated verses and word structures.
Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary was a problem since I was originally from the Philippines.
My mother would speak to me in a local Bicol dialect and my father in a Visayan dialect and I would respond back in English, if I understood.
My English vocabulary was limited to school and TV.
Learn the words, learn to diagram sentences, and then learn to read.
The national language of Tagalog is less complicated. Knowing how to pronounce each alphabet is a key, but then there are the vocabularies.
Learning the content of the material that I wanted to teach was more important to me as a writer than impressing readers of my prose.
Independence Day from the occupation of the United States of America was celebrated on June 12th with a parade. After the parade there was a battle of the marching bands. In the past Gubat South Central Elementary School competed impressively with high schools invited as far as Legaspi City National High School.
It was important to me to watch the event because a teacher told me that the less gifted children, based on testing, went to Gubat South.
Independence Day 2009, first and second graders were added to the marching band of baton twirlers, xylophone thumpers, and drummers. Not as loud as the bigger kids, but a more complicated and longer routine was performed with synchronicity and harmonious combination to a musical production.
They might be the best in the entire Province of Sorsogon, today.
Onlookers from Metro Manila visiting would have never guessed that many of the children lived in a house without running water, using the nearby beach to bathe in with their clothes. Hang the clothes to dry to be worn another day. No need to buy soap.
A real survival story every day.
Most of the Philippines do not have running water. Strategically located pumps are available to carry buckets and plastic bottles filled with water back that I remembered doing when I was less than seven or three?
Our Americanized Filipinos living overseas recommended that the people could always buy bottled water to drink. You might as well suggest LUNA rice wine.
I am trying to encourage those that can afford to build houses with cement blocks instead of wood and nipa leaves because of the typhoon seasons, reported to occur as much as fifty a year.
The fact that the people have learned to survive is not a reason to not provide the poor with living comforts enjoyed by the few, if the rich with power are capable and willing.
The talk of a food shortage is in our local news so I guess they did not read, Warehouse Farming to end Food Shortages, I published on May 26, 2008 in World News.com on the Internet.
If you are looking for a franchise idea: How about a Warehouse Indoor Rice Terrace?
The Philippines is famous for the rice terraces believed to be a manmade wonder of the world along with the Mayon Volcano as a natural wonder, so how about indoor rice terraces inside a warehouse?
A one hectare warehouse with inside is an indoor rice terrace growing rice all year unaffected by the tropical storms and it would help end the food shortages because unanticipated monsoon rain during harvest time is blamed for the low production.
Collecting the rainwater from the rooftop and constructing a manmade irrigation system would provide water all year, and the dry months will not solidify the ground so the carabao, water buffalo, can provide rides to tourists.
Designed correctly you will have a tourism attraction, and you can sell rice and rice snacks like sticky rice of binot ong and ibos. Sell various brand names of rice wine and rice vinegar in the indoor comforts of a store inside the warehouse.
My father told me that there are coconut trees that grow short, short enough that you do not have to climb the tree to harvest coconuts; but you give up the sale of the wood after thirty years of every three to four months of gathering coconuts. Live and learn.
Former President Joseph Estrada is in the top three of possible presidents for the presidential election on May 2010. He was very popular with the poor during his administration because Erap kept the price of commodities low and affordable for the people, especially the price on food. It was not because he was a former movie star. Some believed he was removed from office by The Americans.
I was told that shortly after the national sales tax of 6% called the Value Added Tax (VAT) entered the lives of the poor.
Daniel Escurel Occeno is a writer for children in the Philippines.