At Large

Day of reckoning

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TAIWAN—So today is the day of reckoning for the reproductive health (RH) bill. Strictly speaking, only the House of Representatives is set to vote today on the controversial measure, but the result is key because the Senate, according to reports, will only vote on the bill next week if it is passed by the “larger” House.

This brings to a close a harrowing saga, one that lasted well over a decade, to finally enshrine as state policy a law promoting reproductive health and responsible parenthood—a law that would insulate these concerns from the vagaries of politics or the individual inclinations of whoever sits as president. I dare say it would also signal the final maturation of our political institutions, weaned away from the moral suasions and dictates of those who see themselves as exemplars of the Roman Catholic Church.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, the main sponsor of the bill in the House, puts the urgency of the day in more prosaic terms. Speaking of the RH bill’s opponents, he said that they had agreed that “by Wednesday, finished or not finished, pass your papers.” So can we expect all the heated filibustering and delaying tactics such as calling for a nominal vote to be done with? Will the anti-RH bloc finally concede and mend their ways? Even before the bill could be put to a vote, Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes has already said that opponents might bring the law—if it is passed—before the Supreme Court to question its constitutionality. And so the saga continues…

Anyway, a good harbinger of the sway that progressives and reformists are enjoying in the legislature is the result of the “sin tax” bicameral debates, which have been finally resolved, with the bill ready for signing by President Aquino. One proponent, in a fit of elation, sent this text message to friends and supporters: “The sin tax bill is finished. We got each and every reform we fought for—hook, line, sinker, fishing rod, fisherman and even the boat. Now our children will have (less) chance(s) of ending up smokers. God bless our country and people!”

Except for the bit about smokers, I wish we can say the same thing about the RH bill. Hari nawa (Lord willing).

* * *

ON OUR final evening in Taipei, we were hosted for dinner by Seimo Huang, “honorary president” of the Taiwan Association, Inc. and a long-time friend of the Philippines.

The garrulous Huang, helped along by shots of whiskey and the excellent cuisine of the restaurant that bore the auspicious name of “Really Good Seafood” (really now?), shared his concern about the survivors of Typhoon “Pablo,” even as his association, he said, has yet to wrap up its rehabilitation efforts in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, which were devastated about the same time last year by Typhoon “Sendong.”

“Please help all you can,” pleaded Chair Amadito Perez of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), appealing specifically for rice and other basic necessities still needed badly by the hard-hit survivors in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley.

Fortunately (?), the association has learned a lot of lessons from its previous relief work. For instance, they have begun talking to the survivors themselves, asking them directly what they need. From these consultations, said Huang, they have learned to include in their relief packs men’s and women’s underwear and items like toothpaste and soap, which are often overlooked by most relief organizations. They have also been putting cooked food in metal containers, not just for easy distribution but also to give survivors durable plates they can reuse even as their alives have been upended.

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ABOUT an hour’s drive south of Taipei lies the city of Yingge, one of a few locales in this island nation that boast of a vigorous, enduring tradition of ceramic art.

We drove off the freeway into ever narrower streets until we got to an area with cobblestone lanes that were lined on both sides by shops selling ceramic wares.

The huge tourist buses lumbering their way through the streets spoke of the popularity of the destination, but on foot, “ceramics street,” as the area is known, feels more intimate, like a small sleepy town.

One could wander in and out of the shops, some of them boasting of fine, though expensive, handcrafted works of art, and others displaying more prosaic mass-produced pieces one can find in department stores at home or in Christmas-season bazaars.

Judging from what I saw, Yingge seems to be the home of teapots, with shops boasting of specimens that range from the humongous and heavy clay versions, to dainty porcelain pots with delicate handmade art of peonies and birds in flight.

* * *

IN ONE delightful store run by a mother-and-son pair, I found clay owls, with eyes either closed or wide open, that, the son said, bring luck to the homeowner.

By the doorway were other symbols of prosperity: blown-glass versions of persimmons that invite fortune for the owner.

I was in search of an item that, friends warned, would be next-to-impossible to find: a ceramic “belen” or nativity scene to add to my collection. “If ever,” said our guide Mary Ann, “it would be in a shop that makes ceramic exports.”

I never did find my babe in a manger, but there were buddhas and goddesses aplenty. Jon Arenas, who with his wife Mary Rose regaled us on the trip back to the city with their own cinematic love story, would remember Yingge mainly for its delightful street food. This included pork sausages-on-a-stick sprinkled with fish roe, and really good squid balls that needed no sauce to satisfy one’s cravings.

It was an afternoon well spent amid the tranquil surroundings of an old town whose denizens have not forgotten an age-old craft and find pride and joy in bringing its blessings to thousands of visitors from around the world.

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