Why do I feel like I was the only one jumping for joy when news came of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s election to the papacy?

Considering the outpouring of sentiment that followed John Paul II’s death, I would say the reception was rather tepid. This puzzled me, because I was in tears when Pope Benedict XVI emerged from the Vatican balcony. Ecce homo, I said: Behold the man who has just given me back the life I thought I had lost forever.

“You are speaking in Latin again.” This would be the wife. She had, for days, laughed at what she called my “paranoid fear of being the next pope.”

I had patiently explained to her that under the rules of the papacy, any “baptized Catholic man, who is not a heretic, in schism or notorious for simony” was qualified to be elected pope and that, at least three times in the past, laymen had assumed the office: Benedict VIII (1012-24); John XIX (1024-32); and Benedict IX (1032-44; 1045; 1047-48).

“What happens then if I did get elected?” I asked. “I don’t think I can take you or my children with me to the Vatican.”

But she had laughed. There she was, about to lose her husband to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and she was laughing.

“The last layman pope was elected 958 years ago,” she said. “They’re going to undo close to 1000 years of history for you? And for what? Just to make you attend mass?”

For days following the death of John Paul II, there were signs everywhere, pointing to the possibility that I was the chosen one. My wife, for instance, asked me why I had a second name, and wasn’t made a “Junior”.

“I was named after John XXIII…” I said, my voice trailing off, my eyes widening as I looked at her, beseeching her once again to allay my fears of losing her for the sake of the Holy Mother The Church.

She just laughed. I was dragging so heavily on my cigarette that she said: “I can’t even breathe in here with all this smoke.”

“White smoke…” I said, my eyes still wide.

Then April 15 came. I had labored to meet the deadline for filing taxes, knowing that Richard Gomez was being prosecuted for failing to. They’re going after tall, dark and handsome men, I said, and by some logic that my mother (and my mother only) would understand, I just knew that I was next.

“I wish I didn’t have to pay taxes,” I told my wife.

“I know,” my wife said. “With what you earn, you won’t be anywhere near contributing to solving the budget deficit.”

I wish I were tax-exempt, I said. “I would be if I were part of the clergy…” My eyes were the widest she’d ever seen it.

But Pope Benedict XVI is here at last. I celebrated with what was left of my money, after taxes. My two daughters were there, horsing around, and I just knew what was on their minds.

“Habemus Papa,” they seemed to be saying. Yes, my dear girls, you’ll have to deal with Vatican’s loss for the rest of your lives.

SunStar Cebu
28 April 2005

Filipinos rise up

Filipinos are among the world’s earliest risers. Which confirms the suspicion I’ve held for so long that I was born in the wrong country.

The research firm AC Nielsen a month ago released the survey results that officially alienated me from at least two-thirds of my countrymen. Sixty-nine percent of Filipinos wake up before 7 a.m., the survey said, a respectable third to Indonesia (91 percent) and Vietnam (88 percent).

The results were carried in front-page stories of the major national broadsheets. I know, because on that particular day, someone who belonged to the 69 percent strategically spread the broadsheets on the floor when I got out of bed.

It was a bit disorienting, such that instead of the usual “Good Morning”, I kissed her and said: “What’s the margin of error?”

Later accounts have it that I slogged to the bathroom mumbling “methodology”. I was offered coffee and I thanked her by giving her a lecture on “sampling error, non-coverage error, non-response error and measurement error”.

It didn’t work. She said something about whether I knew the difference between the snooze button on my alarm clock and the TV remote control; that maybe I should stop thinking that waking up is just a “commercial interruption” between dreams.

AC Nielsen ruined what seemed to be a plausible cultural reason for waking up late. Now we’re not just lazy; we’re actually un-Filipino. Yes, the Filipino can, so why can’t you?

I’ve worked with alarm clocks all my life. I’ve tried the old ones, the ones that involved actual bells and hammers, but that didn’t work. The distressing noise teaches your body, in Pavlovian fashion, to compensate. Your body clock actually tells you to wake up just moments before it actually rings, so that you can preempt it and go back to sleep.

By the time those electronic alarm clocks started coming into fashion, I was pretty much a hopeless case. The low sound it emitted I actually found hypnotic.

Then the snooze button came. Great. Alarm clocks that are open to negotiations.

So I’m thinking of giving up on alarm clocks, I told her.

“More like the alarm clocks gave up on you.”

A few weeks after that survey came out, came another survey by the Asian Development Bank which showed that the Philippines had the second most corrupt government in the world.

Not only that. The top three early rising countries – Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam — were also the top three most corrupt. When you’re running out of arguments, you see connections everywhere.

So it was my turn to spread national broadsheets on the floor. “So you see,” I told her, “maybe this waking up early business is bad for the country.”

And I glided through the air triumphantly, as if to say – the early birds do get the most worms.

SunStar Cebu
7 April 2005

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