Spirited Thoughts

A pig in a penby Gary Pekas

My generation is that generation that had the privilege of living at a time when our communities did not have outhouses, much less toilet bowls in our homes. When one had to defecate, one did it more or less in the open.

In Sagada, pigs were kept in pits lined with stone walls. Part of the pit was cobbled with stones, and relatively dry. Half of it was however laid bare and a little deeper, and it was there where the pig manure was gathered. All varieties of waste were put into this part of the pit, and allowed to compost along with the manure.

Yearly, the compost was taken out and used to fertilize the fields. It was a workable and efficient waste disposal system, and since waste at the time was mostly organic material, our communities did not have a problem of accumulating waste.


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A previous piece on shit has produced some feedback, making this writer rather elated, as it is an indication that this space is being read after all. Other topics discussed in his space did not warrant any response from readers, so I presumed that nobody reads my pieces, or, even if somebody does, my spirited thoughts did not deserve feedback at all.
It’s nice to know that somebody reads what I write, and I thank those who do so, even if they think I am a shithead.
The reactions tothe piece were generally funny. One unknown texter, to whom I apologize for not knowing who he or she is (even as I asked who it was, the texter did not identify him/herself), said that what I wrote was “full of shit but it was nice.” The texter quite obviously thinks shit is nice.
I posted the piece on the bibaknets email list, and some members of the list recounted other stories of shit. I suppose shit at anytime makes for interesting conversation.
For this reason, I would like to oblige shitheads like myself by recounting another shitty story.
There was a foreign visitor to our shores back in the eighties, and I accompanied her to one of the villages in Sadanga so that she could observe conditions there. As in many other villages at the time, there were no outhouses or toilets, and one had to defecate in pigpens.
When the visitor had to move her bowels, we informed her of the age-old waste disposal system of feeding the pigs with our aromatic faeces. The foreigner quite naturally did not like the idea of squatting at the edge of the pigpen, with a couple of grunting pigs beneath her buttocks. I suppose she was also rather embarrassed that she had to do it in the open.
After we told her of how she has to do it, she lost the urge to defecate.
Unfortunately, we had to stay overnight in the village, and even though she ate very sparingly that night, her stomach and intestines resumed the pressure on her anus, wanting to rid her body of fecal waste, battling with her sensibilities. It was around nine o’clock at night that her insides won the war, and she finally went out to the pigpen.
Our hosts and I supposed that she waited until dark to defecate, for then at least she would be able to deny the pigs and voyeurs the spectacle of her bared buttocks and her other hidden anatomy.
Inconsiderately and insensitively, we had a few laughs as we listened to the pigs grunting outside the house, trying to stifle our laughter lest our visitor be offended. When at last she returned, visibly very relieved to have gotten rid of body toxin, we became embarrassedly very quiet.
Our visitor proceeded to her assigned sleeping space immediately, with just a murmured good night. She was probably as embarrassed as we were.
As things turned out, I had to move my bowels the morning after. As I positioned my rectal end at the edge of the pigpen, I noticed I was doing more grunting than the pigs. The pigs in the pen were unusually quiet, and quite unnaturally kept their distance, instead of waiting directly underneath my anus waiting for the manna to fall.
I eventually finished, still puzzled as to the odd porcine behavior.
When I was done, I remained near the pigpen, trying to solve the mystery of the quiet pigs. I noticed that the pungent delicacy that came out of my rectum was just lying there on the floor of the pen. The mystery got even more mysterious. The pigs’ behavior was not only odd; it was a total betrayal of the nature of their species!
Then I noticed that beside my pile of shit was a much bigger pile of shit, obviously untouched by the pigs. It must have been the deposit of our foreign friend the night earlier. Now, even as the pigs wanted to get to the food I deposited, they could not find a way around the mountain of the foreigner’s faeces.
Our hosts in the village noticed the very same phenomena when they deposited their own shit. It became a conversation piece. The whole village was talking about the mystery, trying their darnedest best not to do it in our visitor’s presence, and trying to hide their mirth.
Everybody was relieved when we finally left the village at midmorning. Now the villagers could puzzle over the mystery in all hilarity, and their foreign guest could finally set aside the shitty ordeal she has been through.
She did not mention anything about it in the long quiet ride we had back to toilet heaven.
I did not have the heart to tell her of the prevailing theory the villagers had as to why the pigs acted oddly: that even as the guest hated her ordeal, the pigs hated her shit more. 

Last year, in the aftermath of Typhoon Pepeng, we all learned of the death of Rex Mang-oy, former fireman, and three firemen in the active service, Siegfred Ngoloban, his cousin Richard Balusdan, and Benedict Tumayan, while they were engaged in rescue operations in La Trinidad.

They died after rescuing a three-year-old child and bringing the child to the hospital. (Both parents and the siblings of the child all perished when their house was hit by a landslide in Buyagan, La Trinidad.)

Perhaps euphoric after the successful rescue, they went to Little Kibungan in Puguis to help in the search and rescue operations there although it was already dark.

They died there.

Why they continued rescue operations even in darkness, when there was still earth movement in the landslide area, was perhaps because of a sincere effort to save more lives. It was perhaps driven by empathy and sympathy for the victims of the landslide, both the living and the dead. As the editorial of the Zigzag said then, “Being firemen, we expect them to have had the necessary training to have exercised all caution. For their sake, we presume that their deaths were unavoidable….”

At the wake of Richard Balusdan, an unnamed search-and-rescue volunteer recalled that Richard told him to go home and look after his home and family. It was after he left that the earth moved again, taking the lives of the four. This unnamed volunteer felt that he was saved by Richard’s gesture, and was unreservedly grateful.

Such stories are the stuff of legends. The successful rescue of the child was sure to have been told and retold in the wake of Siegfred, Rex, Richard and Benedict, as well as other stories of their heroism. Yet despite such emotional and praiseful recounting, the grief over their deaths is not diminished. Rather, it magnifies the loss, for we need such heroism at this age and time when we are surrounded by villains.

Villains were not lacking in the Pepeng ordeal.

While the good side of humanity, exemplified by heroism, voluntarism and charity is evident in our response to the twin disasters of Pepeng and Ondoy last year, and in this year’s recent super typhoon Juan, these disasters have unfortunately also brought forth the dark side of humanity.

In the houses abandoned last year because of the landslides, there was some looting, an occurrence not unexpected, for thieves are known to be busy during typhoons. But what rubs salt to the wound is that the victims this time were already victims of a bigger tragedy, for they have already lost family and property to nature’s wrath, again to be victimized by thieves.

In the rehabilitation site in Puguis, one woman was caught stealing from the donation box. Reports say that the woman was mentally ill. She probably was, for whoever does what she planned to do must really be sick.

But these forms of thievery are petty compared to the stark opportunism of supposed businessmen. When Baguio was still isolated because of landslides, vegetables were to be had for the price of gold. There was a time when the wholesale price for a kilo of potatoes and beans, for example, reached as much as P80. The price was perhaps driven by the law of supply and demand, for there was limited supply. It was good for the farmer who could deliver his patatas to Baguio then, for the middlemen and resellers drove the price up as they competed for his produce. Tinmama isuna.

The middlemen and resellers would add to the price even more, and consumers would then have to shell out P150 for a kilo of potatoes. The price of beans reached as much as P200 in Baguio. Sayote was selling in Manila for as much as P150 per kilo.

This opportunism is as despicable as the thievery of abandoned homes, if not more so.

On a lesser scale, but equally despicable, there were grocery and sari-sari stores that raised the prices of canned goods, anticipating shortage because of Baguio’s isolation, and also because canned goods were being purchased in bulk as they were being donated to victims of the disaster.

After every calamity in the Philippines, humungous amounts of rehabilitation funds are provided to the affected areas. These funds are the cause of other disasters in the making. In the wake of Pepeng and this year’s Juan, government estimates damage in the region to infrastructure, crops and private property in hundreds of millions of pesos. Last year, the Office of Civil Defense even came out with a report that the damage estimates were bloated by politicians in the local government units with the intention of getting more rehab funds.

The rehabilitation funds were eventually released, and for sure have provided opportunities for graft. It is a certainty that some people have gotten richer out of last year’s tragedy, and the grafters and other opportunists are on the top of the list. This year’s typhoons will provide the same opportunity for this despicable breed of humanity.

We do not wish them well. Karmic justice will overtake them soon enough. If they do not believe in karma, their Maker may perhaps be merciful as He pronounces judgment, though He is as vengeful as He is merciful. ****

The typhoon was forecast to have left the Philippines already, and those of us on the beach house in Zambales wanted it to be gone so we could go on a swim.

I was with a group of workers from the Bureau of Plant Industry in Baguio City, technicians and field workers from the RP-German Fruit Tree Program. We visited the citrus and mango plantation of the Benguet Management Company in Iba, Zambales the previous day. When we were at the BMC plantation, the weather seemed to have cleared already, though the skies were slightly overcast. After concluding the field trip, the group decided to spend the night at the beach houses before leaving for Baguio in the morning.

(photo courtesy of

When we reached the beach, it appeared that the typhoon has not yet left, for the sea was very turbulent, and it was sheer lunacy to tempt its frenzy by venturing a few feet into the surf. Nevertheless, as is often the case among the foolhardy, some of the locals in Zambales and a few of our group did taunt the tempest by going into the water, ignoring the winds and the rain that it flung in sheets at the puny humans desperate to enjoy a day at the beach.

Unable to enjoy neither the sun nor the water because of the lingering storm, we had to entertain ourselves with an impromptu party with typical Filipino gaiety and abandon: eating, drinking and general frivolity. As the party wound down, we tried to look for space in the small beach houses to park our sleepy heads. Those who had the sense to sleep earlier had the more comfortable spots, and those of us who had to empty every liquor bottle could not find a good place to nurse our developing hangovers when finally we ended the party in the wee hours of the morning.

And so it was that I had a hangover, was sleepy and was hungry the morning after, when the group was supposed to travel to Baguio after breakfast.

The storm by then seemed to have dissipated already, and many in our mountain-dwelling group were in the water, finally fulfilling the reason why we went to the beach: traipsing in the now-calmer waters.

I jumped in, too, joining those who swam past the breakwater. We were probably in the water for a half hour when I noticed that most of the people were out of the water already, and those remaining were making it to shore. The reason, I found out later, was that they felt that the sea was again acting up, becoming more turbulent. I did not sense the same thing, either because past the breakwater the sea was calmer, or I simply did not have the horse sense to feel it.

I decided to linger a little bit more, trying to wash away my hangover with the cold sea water.

By the time I decided to follow the others to shore, the waves were already so high that I was unable to swim over the waves to shore. No matter how I tried, I was sucked in by the surf, ending up farther from the beach.

I tried, repeatedly, the fear of drowning giving me unknown stamina and strength to keep trying. But it wasn’t enough, and I felt the fatigue in my arms and legs. I also felt the beginnings of stomach cramps. To regain strength, I floated about, and then tried again, and again, to fail utterly.

Those on the beach noticed my predicament, and I saw them running about and shouting, gathering in groups and pointing at me. Later on, I found out that the locals were not so optimistic that I would survive, as the sea was becoming more violent by the minute. These same locals were reluctant to bring out their outrigger boats to rescue me, fearing the sea themselves. They were ready to give me up for dead.

Friends were thinking of contacting the Americans at Subic Naval Base (this happened before the American bases were booted out from the Philippines) to organize a rescue, but Subic was far away.

So there I was, floating in the sea, with the people on the beach looking like ants. I was probably just a small dot in their eyes, bobbing up and down on the waves like a wayward piece or flotsam. They probably thought all was already lost.

They say that before death, life flashes before one’s eyes, and in the few minutes of eternity in the water, I recalled my past, asking life’s big questions of myself.

I was so tired that many times my arms and legs were not able to keep me afloat. Yet I continued to swim towards shore, to be carried away into deeper water again and again.

It was providential that we had a big German by the name of Klaus Luedtke with us then. Alerted by co-workers of my predicament, Klaus plunged into the water, reaching me in record time. He got ahold of me, and I continued thrashing about, trying to help him get to shore. Klaus told me to stop kicking, since I was interfering with his strokes.

When I stopped swimming, the fatigue that I refused to acknowledge earlier got to me, and I could no longer move a muscle.

(photo courtesy of

And Klaus, who must have been swimming worse waters in the North Sea in his native Germany, made short work of bringing me to shore, where friends helped carry me.

They set me down on the beach, where I lay like a beached whale, totally unable to move. I felt like I was floating above my inert body, above the friends crowding around, massaging my body, trying to loosen the muscles and get them to move. It was an out-of-body experience that until now mystifies me.

Eventually, they carried me into the beach house, where I continued to lie prone, trying to will my aching muscles to move. When I was able to stand up, it was with an effort, and they had to half-carry me to the car that was going to bear me home.

I treasure the experience, not for its horrors, but for its lessons: to respect the elements, to treasure friendships, and to be more conscientious of one’s actions and their consequences.

If not for my German friend Klaus Luedtke, I would not be around to tell this tale.***

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