It Pays to Be ‘Praning’

By Regina Abuyuan

“What’s worse than someone raping your daughter?” read an award-winning poster for an awareness campaign back in the ‘90s. “Someone raping your son.”

I think either is worst, period. Sexual assault, bullying, seemingly harmless pranks that end up scarring one’s emotional growth forever, illness—the list of motherly fears go on.

Friends and family like to say that I’m braver (let’s say more foolhardy) than most, but it’s the opposite when it comes to my kids. With them, I’m hopelessly praning. I wiped down their toys with alcohol when they were babies, fearing they would contract some deadly disease when they put them in their mouths. I stock up on the Neosporin, fever patches, and make them drink wheatgrass, even if I know their intake of fruits and vegetables is enough (I hope!). I’m that kind of mom.

I also, have of late, begun teaching my teenage daughter more practical ways to stay safe. Some of these were borne out of my own “kapraningan” when I was young—and were validated later on via viral emails and warnings, as everyone grew more aware of how to keep out of danger or compromising circumstances. Here they are:

The two way mirror. Restrooms, dressing rooms, and yes, motel bedrooms have them. Not wanting to go down in history with a Betamax scandal tape to my name, I learned to search for hidden cameras or places where they could be hidden. Any strange protusions, wires, unevenly installed areas of an otherwise flawless surface—those were subject to scrutiny, knocking (if it sounded hollow, it was covered), and rearrangement (lamps and vases, transferred to the floor).

Mirrors were particularly tricky. A trick I learned from a policeman was to put your finger against the surface. If there was no gap between the surface and your finger, it was likely to be a two-way mirror (I can still picture myself doing this in the restroom of Larry’s Bar in Makati). Another trick was to check if the mirror was installed within the wall, and not merely mounted on it. If it was, it was a sign that it was an observation mirror.

Of course, a pervert need only to clear the silver backing of a small area of a mirror to get a view, and there are more ways to tell a one way mirror from not (read here), but so far I’ve been safe. Phew.

Walking on the traffic side of a sidewalk. Never walk on the outer side of a curb—especially if you have long hair, a bag swinging from a long shoulder strap, or loose articles of clothing hanging from your body (a jacket tied around your waist, a cuff with tassels, a necktie). Abductors can easily swing by and drag you into their vehicles, mostly vans. (I almost had this happen to me in the Katipunan area. I quickly stepped back and ran back inside the Ateneo campus grounds.) In the same vein, don’t use your mobile phone, iPod, or gadgets while walking in public places. A motorcycle snatcher can easily breeze by and grab your valuables.

The open drinks. Never accept open drinks when you’re out partying or hitting the clubs. Let’s be real. Your daughter will eventually enter this scene, even if they claim they never will, and forewarned is forearmed. I tell my daughter that, when that time comes, to buy her own drinks, and if she accepts one from anyone, to make sure she sees it being opened in front of her by the bartender. Sedatives or date rape drugs can easily be dropped in already-open drinks. Not good.

Don’t be afraid to scream. Teenagers value their image and poise. But in times of uncertainty and danger, they have to learn to scream—scream their lungs out. Troublemakers don’t like attention, and they’re sure to scurry away if a victim creates a major fuss. Their voice is their best weapon in times of distress. Reassure your children it’s okay to let it rip, and the “embarrassment” far outweighs their safety.

Be wary of men who approach you in malls. During the launch of Called to Rescue, a movement to halt trafficking, Cyndi Romaine informed the audience that a popular modus operandi of traffickers was to approach a group of teenagers in public places, usually malls. They would choose the average-looking girl—not the prettiest, not the homeliest—to them, it was a safer gamble. That particular girl would probably have the self-esteem easier to manipulate and be easier to “sell” to clients. Whether or not the motive is to traffic, warn your children—girls and boys—to stay away from strangers in malls. Our parents warned us about this then and it’s worked…so might as well warn our kids now.


Somebody’s Watching Me

By Romelda C. Ascutia

Holding a dog leash in one hand and a pooper scooper in the other, I took our pet dog for his usual nightly exercise. I happened to look up as we were walking along the neighborhood and saw a small circle of LEDs on the awning of one of the houses.

Curious, I inched closer to try and make it out, then recognized what it was: a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera. I suddenly felt self-conscious staring up at it, fearing someone was staring back at me, and moved on quickly.

These CCTV systems are an amazing invention. They have granted us an almost godlike omnipresence. It used to be that you wonder what people were doing when no one was looking. Now you can find out discreetly. It used to be a comforting thought knowing that no one was around. Now you wonder if someone is watching your every move when you think you are alone.

I sometimes look up while shopping at the grocery store and try to guess where the security cameras are. But the thing is, these gadgets can be practically invisible. It can be hidden inside innocuous-looking clocks, or behind bland walls or pseudo mirrors.

On one hand, the advent of surveillance cameras is a good thing. They help the police catch criminals by identifying faces or replaying what actually transpired when no witnesses were around—or want to come out. In the news, you see instances of how invaluable these CCTV cameras are. Recently a couple of government employees were caught opening a package sent via post to pilfer the money hidden inside a cell phone.

CCTV monitors lay bare the things that are done under a veil of covertness. It shows how a salisi gang fleeces a distracted victim in an Internet shop, how a child is kidnapped in a busy mall, or how a caregiver routinely slaps and kicks the elderly ward he is caring for at home.

On the other hand, the news images are disturbing, shocking. You see Death choke, stab, or shoot someone in grainy images that are not in a movie but in real life. The victim will not stand up after he has been gunned down. The blood on the floor is not ketchup. Will this make us even more inured to the violence and mayhem around us?

The use of CCTV cameras is fast becoming a necessity. I myself am thinking of installing one outside our house after the spate of akyat bahay incidents in our subdivision. But I fear their use is open to abuse and wish it is more closely regulated.

For good or bad, it seems we’ve entered the domain of George Orwell’s Big Brother. Fast becoming a thing of the past are the precious days of privacy and anonymity. So watch your back.

Being Thankful

By Karen Galarpe


I overheard someone say our weather these days is bipolar. It can be very very hot in the morning until early afternoon, then rainy from late afternoon to early evening. Four days ago, it was stormy; yesterday was a sunny day, and today promises rain and flood as typhoon Quiel is here.

On social networking sites, particularly Twitter, I read many comments from people all over the world. “Crazy weather,” said one. “The weather  needs to be better informed about our needs. I say we write a petition. No, protest. With signs,” tweeted Vaguery. “Weather today is so confusing. One minute the suns out, next minute a monsoon mixed with tornado-like winds coming down the street. Umph,” posted benthal.

I find it ironic that here we are complaining about the weather when, just a few weeks ago, survivors of 9/11 were recounting their stories on History Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. It has been 10 years since September 11, 2001, yet these survivors still choke up when recounting their experiences finding their way out of the North Tower before it collapsed, and running away from the humongous debris cloud when the twin towers collapsed.

I think these survivors wake up each day thanking God just for being alive. Shouldn’t we do the same instead of complaining about the “crazy” weather?

The next time you feel the urge to complain (it’s in our nature, don’t fret), think of something you can be thankful for. It can be the nice orchid blooming in your garden, the bird you hear chirping away outside your window, even the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting in from the kitchen. It can be the smile on your child’s face in the morning, instead of a grumpy one. Thank God for time to have breakfast, a safe ride to school or work, and the privilege to earn a decent living. It’s a new day after all.

A budding Earth Mother

By Romelda C. Ascutia

Contentment infuses me as I sit in our front porch sipping hot morning tea. On the breakfast table is a small aquarium with a couple of tiny fish swimming. Against the wall hangs the birdcage housing clucking lovebirds, and by my feet lies our pet dog.

Over the past few weeks I have been channeling my inner domestic goddess, engrossed in transforming our modest house into my family’s ideal hangout.

I have long wanted to decorate the interiors, but office work prevented me. To me the house felt austere—serviceable but not welcoming. And although the situation filled me with dissatisfaction, it was tolerable because I was away at work most of the time. Now that I am a freelance editor working out of the house, I want my home to be more inspiring and embracing.

So began Project: Home Sweet Home.

I went into this activity diffidently with modest ambitions. My first step was to buy a fishbowl and two goldfish. The next day, one fish was dead, and the other soon followed. I replaced the fishbowl with a small aquarium for more space to swim, and bought smaller fish (the saleslady said they were rosy barbs) and some accessories.

My second step was to go to a mall sale and buy synthetic potted flowers (buy one-take one basis), which I placed strategically in our porch, living room, and dining/kitchen area. I wanted but couldn’t afford the imitation bamboo sticks even at their discounted price. I later encountered an ambulant vendor who was selling them for 80 percent less. After a little haggling, I bought a bundle and placed it in the corner near the TV set.

My next move was to give the lovebirds a better environment. The poor things had been languishing in the laundry area in the back of the house for years, and were regularly terrorized by the neighborhood cats. I transferred them to the front porch, perched high beyond reach of their predators.

And just a couple of days ago I purchased different houseplants and arranged them by the house entrance.

Now I feel not only a domestic goddess but also an Earth Mother. I’ve rescued our lovebirds from a life of neglect and terror. The little barbs are alive and lively—so far. (I’ll probably graduate to a bigger aquarium if they don’t make it.) As for the houseplants, I’m planning to buy nice pots for them, and I’m all excited to find out whether I have a green thumb or not.