How today’s JohnDs and JaneDs make you yearn for the party line of yore

PEOPLE born in the early ’80s and beyond, especially those in developed countries, are probably wondering what the heck are party lines.

NO MORE PARTY LINES. alexyvergara at the recent Samsung event in Berlin

Not so long ago, families, who were lucky enough to have telephones in the Philippines, shared their landlines with so-called party lines. To put it in more graphic terms, the black phone with the rotary dial (no push buttons yet) you had in the living room shared the same line (but had a different phone number) with the phone of another family living a few streets away.

Think of it as having an extension, but this time that extension is located a kilometer or so outside your home, and is controlled by another family you may or may not know. That family is called your party line.

So if you needed to make a call, and a family member of your party line was using it, you need to wait patiently until that person was finished. Since it functioned very much like an extension, you could even eavesdrop every so often on your party line’s conversation.

Just imagine your daily agony if there were teenagers in your party line’s family making telebabad (hogging the phone), while you wait patiently for your turn to use your phone on the other end. Sooner or later, you’re bound to have a meltdown. In short, the shared system was a recipe for disaster. That was how “intimate” Philippine society was back then.

A number of families who shared the same lines knew each other, but for the most part, they had no idea who their respective party lines were. But because they shared lines, it was inevitable for them to get to know each other virtually, and, most often, in less than ideal circumstances.


Apart from eavesdropping, some party lines were known to butt in during your conversations (it’s like an extension, remember?) or hang the phone on the other end just to spite you. It was also common for one or both parties to let lose crisp expletives on each other after losing their patience day in and day out as they waited for their turn to use the phone. Interesting, don’t you think?

Although I was too young then to make telebabad or experience the horrors of having a party line, I have vague memories of our party line while we were living in a rented apartment unit somewhere in La Lolama, Quezon City. It was the height of martial law, and the people behind our party line was a military man and his family.

They seemed like a decent family because I couldn’t remember any incident involving either my mom or dad exchanging heated words with any members of our party line. We were one of the lucky few.

My experience with party lines was cut short when we had to move to Project 8, also in Quezon City. I was almost 10-years-old then, and was a few years short of making telebabad myself. Alas, that stage in my life never came to pass, as our new place had no available phone lines. (Back then, you had to wait 5, 10, even 20 years before your application for a landline with PLDT was approved)

MY NAME is Alex, Mr. Vergara, if you’re nasty!

I look back with fondness during that episode in my life in the light of the recent series of hate mails I got from a certain JohnD. Back then, with no cell phones, computers, emails, blogs and social networking sites to contend with, you only had to deal with party lines and crank (or is it prank?) calls. Looking back now, the era seemed so benign, even romantic.

Now, with the anonymity offered by the digital age we live in, you encounter all sorts of characters, both pleasant and nasty. The nasty ones, of course, are also usually the most coward as they often perpetrate their dirty tricks under assumed names.

Well, back to JohnD. That it was a pseudonym associated with the most famous American everyman, John Doe, was lost on me, until it was too late. Because I was so intrigued and greedy for attention, I allowed him in.

His beef stemmed from my entry titled “Oops, Tito ‘Escalera’ Sotto does it again.” He couldn’t reconcile the fact that I was so critical of the senator’s series of plagiarisms, while I myself was using other people’s photos that I didn’t bother to credit in my blog. You know, those doctored images that we pass around on Facebook and Twitter without bothering to check who were behind them. Hmm, I said to myself, this fellow had a point.


Here’s how our series of exchanges in italics went:

Your use of photos without attribution qualifies as a violation of intellectual property rights as well.—JohnD

I will take note of that, JohnD. Your observation did strike me, you know, but since these pictures have been circulating in the blogosphere and being passed around on Facebook and Twitter without anyone claiming them, there was simply no way for me to check and credit anyone. But, yes, you do have a point. Thank you for “dropping” by.—alexyvergara

MY iPad, a must-have in our highly mobile society, is a gift from my dear brother Ronnie based in Dallas

At the onset, his initial words were already strong, bordering on the accusatory. Still, I maintained my cool and tried to acknowledge, without saying it directly, that, hey, you’re right. I even told him that what I do in this blog is purely a private endeavor, and doesn’t concern the paper I work for. It was a classic gotcha moment, and I was humbled. I thought that was the end of it, but it wasn’t. This was when the plot started to thicken.

You mean you believe that your inability to find the originators allows you the right to use them, Alex? Normally, that should stop anyone from doing so. Check with the legal department of the Inquirer and I am sure they will tell you so.

Imagine a post on Facebook that says “Inquirer Writer lambastes Sotto But Does the Same Thing” with a screencap of your blog.

Be a good journalist and do what is right.–JohnD

Wow, we’re now on first-name basis! He even knows by heart where I work.

As if I’d lose sleep over a “screencap.” My blog would only get more hits should that happen. In the final analysis, my supposed negligence is nothing compared to Sotto’s willful use and twisting of ideas that weren’t his–not once, but twice. My God, millions of lives are at stake here, and there he was hounding me for using altered photos that I failed to credit. For all I know, the artists who made those doctored images were more than happy that I used them. Sotto’s plagiarism, not my oversight, is the issue, and anyone with enough decency and common sense knows this. Still, I bit my tongue and tried to reason with him.

First up, I never claimed any of these pictures were mine. There’s a big difference here. Second, Inquirer has nothing to do with this blog. Although a big part of it is culled from my experiences working for the paper, the paper has nothing to do with it. The blog’s entries are purely my own “private” reflections that I want to share with the public. People, for their part, can choose to participate or ignore the blog if they wish.–alexyvergara

Still, he persisted. Imagine my frustration. I was stupid enough to think that he’d back down.

A blog isn’t private, Alex. Ask your legal.—JohnD

The guy most likely knew me or, at least, knew of me. I wasn’t planning anymore to reply, hoping for the entire thing to blow over. I figured that the guy was having a field day hammering his point by putting a smart-alecky journalist in his place. Then, after a few hours, he fired again.

Using something that’s not yours and then, when checked, saying you never claimed they were yours. Hmm, you sound like (gasp!) Sotto. Try these. It’s legal.–JohnD

Since he seemed to have back-peddaled a bit by appearing to be helpful despite dripping with sarcasm, I tried to end the exchange by being more conciliatory. I even thanked him for his help.

Thank you for your link, JohnD. This episode has been an eye-opener for me. Since we’ve never met each other, I really don’t know what your intentions are (and I guess it’s no longer important for me to find out). But I would like to believe that they’re constructive. Like they said (and I hope I won’t be accused of lifting, as I’m quoting loosely), we may disagree on certain issues, but we can always agree to disagree (without physically harming each other, I hope).—alexyvergara

But his next volley dashed all my hopes of ever saving the “conversation.” It was then that I realized that this guy (gay?) was no garden-variety critic with too much time in his hands. He’s what engineers call “industrial strength.”

For whatever reason, he was bent on making my entry an issue where there was none. This JohnD clearly had an agenda. Here was his parting shot and, after it, my FB friend Carmela Huelar’s, who came to my defense.

Intentions? Simple really. Chanced upon your blog, and was dismayed that someone who gleefully writes about the Sins of Sotto commits the same sins, and defends himself the same way.

HELLO, party line, ang cute ng ina mo!

While I agree with everything you wrote, that you decided to be adamant in your illegal use of other people’s property instead of simply removing them, that is sad. Especially for a journalist.

It also means your sins stay on the internet, eternal proof of a rather strange value system.—JohnD

Before I could even reply to him, Carmela entered the picture. Thanks, sister!

And your comments reek of something else. I don’t think you chanced on his journal. You stayed on, eh, and it seems to me you are bent on making it an issue. Duh, he explained and in fact took time to answer you and I think respectfully, too, while you are still here. You don’t like it? Move on. Or go to a gazillion other sites that speak of Sotto’s sins. You will find a lot of that. Simple, because he is after all a senator, not just simple everyday Jack who can voice his opinion, ignore the flak thrown at him and get more arrogant while continuing to dig a hole for himself.—Carmela

Last word

Since I wanted to have the last word, I even wrote one final note to end the series of exchanges. Here was how it went:

“Gleefully” was farthest from my mind when I wrote it, JohnD. In fact, I’m concerned and saddened by the turn of events. This isn’t for me, I’m telling you. I’m not that young anymore. The future of this nation hangs in the balance and one of those who want to be in the forefront is a senator who uses other people’s ideas to prop up his own flawed reasoning. I don’t have to tell you that I disagree with him. You know that very well based on what I wrote.

I was never “adamant.” In fact, if you go back, I even acknowledged it. I even told you that it did strike me and that you have a point. In the end, I thanked you for your help.

Now, JohnD, what do you want me to do? Kneel before you just because you found my supposed use of other people’s materials offensive? Like I said, I never said they were mine nor did I mislead the public into thinking that they were mine. It is clear in my first entry that I’m a writer, not an artist nor a photographer.

If you want me to close this blog just because it doesn’t conform with the way you see the world, then I’m sorry, I’m staying. The choice is yours whether to follow it or not.

And if my conciliatory tone doesn’t mean anything to you, then have it your way. The fact that I allowed you in and is now having this “conversation” with you is perhaps proof that I welcome feedback and criticism. If that is lost on you, then there’s simply nothing I can do about it. I’m not commenting on this matter any further.—alexyvergara

IT’S one of the best Christmas gift ever. I luv it!

But at the last minute, I had a realization. (Sorry, I must have been born slow, okay?) This conversation would never end, I told myself, and no amount of explaining would suffice for a person who insists on making mountains out of molehills. It was as if I was the one on trial, when his favorite senator has been the one making a fool of himself lifting ideas from other people in his attempts to defend the indefensible.

Thus, instead of allowing him again to enter my realm, I decided to disapprove every email, including my responses and Carmela’s, in the comments section.

I later wrote Carmela something that, from now on, would guide me in dealing with future comments in this blog. I’m sure JohnD, whoever he or she is, read it. Well, bitch, you can crawl back to your master, coward! No more Mr. Nice guy from me. You don’t deserve kindness. I’ve had enough of your venom!

Carmela, since you’ve seen how this “explosive” section on the “esteemed” Tito Sen. has progressed, I’m sure you would notice some changes (wink). I’ve decided to be more discerning with certain things.

If you can’t be man or woman enough to identify yourself when making a comment, especially a negative one, then I’m not letting you in. It’s the easiest thing to do in this digital world of ours, criticize and find faults, whether there’s merit or not, while hiding behind a pseudonym or an assumed identity.

It has never been my style, and I expect people who write me to do the same. I’m doing it for my own protection. And dissenters, if they can’t show some class and decency in advancing their views, can now rail all they want in the streets or in whatever accounts they have.

You won’t get anywhere, not even past this blog’s “lobby.” Or perhaps they can put up their own blogs to challenge other people’s ideas. I’m not allowing anyone to use this blog for their own questionable ends. Again, Carmela, thank you for your support. —alexyvergara

8 thoughts on “How today’s JohnDs and JaneDs make you yearn for the party line of yore

    • Yes, Jude, especially if their salaries depended on it. Like one of my favorite columnists, Conrad de Quiroz, loves to say, you won’t be able to see the truth even if it stares you in the face if you’re life and source of income, however flawed, illegal or immoral that source is, depended on that person. They’re not only opinionated, Jude. I have every reason to believe now that they have a more sinister agenda against people with opinions contrary to theirs.

  1. Glad you are over that part. I’m looking forward to your future entries and the interest they would generate 🙂 I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog habang bago pa lang sya – everything’s so random and unpredictable at nagre-reply si alexyvergara. I’m hooked!

    • Thank you, Rigya, for your words of support and encouragement. I’m humbled as well as pressured by your expectations. And why shouldn’t I reply? That’s one of the reasons I put up this blog: to promote discussion. Of course, I respond, even to the JohnDs of this world, because I’m merely returning the favor you guys have so selfishly given me by spending your precious time reading my thoughts. That’s the least I could do, di ba?

      Like in real life, there will be good days and bad days in this blog. So, please, don’t get disappointed if sometimes you disagree or don’t like the entries. But if you stay the course, I’m sure you’ll find something interesting and perhaps even something applicable to your life. Salamat muli.

      • No worries. I have lived long enough to appreciate conflict and inherent differences in people – being well aware of the potential learning experience that can come out of it. A good exchange of ideas is something we pinoys would do well to engage more.

      • Sorry, Hanna. I called you Rigya earlier. Yes, I agree, talking about a problem or issue is better than just clamming up. Sakit nating mga Pinoy yan, di ba? I remember, maliit pa lang ako, the teacher would ask us, is there any question, class? Walang sasagot. But once we were dismissed, ang dami-dami ng tanong. I sometimes got into trouble for asking too many questions. In the end, I tried to conform by keeping silent myself. It wasn’t easy, but I soon got used to it.

        As long as the discussion is done based on one’s convictions and delivered with utmost respect, I’m all for it. Heckling and hounding are very much different from questioning and advancing points. That’s what I felt I experienced from that fellow. Anyway, it was a learning experience and I came out, I think, all the better for it. Thanks!

  2. I’m going to really betray my age here but yes, naabutan ko din ang party line. I remember when we found out who our party line was. They ran a corner drugstore/pharmacy and using their residential line as a public payphone. Remember when that was uso? I think it was Php5 per 5 minutes or something yata.

    That was really bad because it wasn’t just that family using that phone line but strangers! I remember when my mom was using the phone and the owner (an older woman) kept lifting the receiving to make my mother cut her call short (mas telebabad sila actually). My sainted mother – who had never cussed in her life – finally snapped and retorted “Bastos ka, matandang hukluban ka!”

    Of course, that was a historic moment for our family. 😀 Years later, I met and became friends with one of the granddaughters of our ex-partyline. Hindi pa din niya alam na sinigawan ng nanay ko yung lola nya.

    • See, Mayo, would you be able to have such beautiful and heart-warming stories (well, they weren’t heart-warming before, but high blood-inducing as far as your mother was concerned) had you been born much later? That’s the beauty of being mature. We have beautiful and interesting stories to tell the young if they care to listen. Di masama ang tumanda. Ang masama ay tumanda nang paurong. 😀 And barring stroke and Alzheimer’s, we still have quite a number of years left to leave our mark in this world by telling our own stories. 😉

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