|With Ser Mijan and Ser Carl (of CDO) in Mt Dulang-Dulang during my Mindanao 1-2-3 exped in 2008|
The terms Ser (Sir) and Mam (Ma’am) are widely used by mountaineers in Luzon and their guides (particularly those in Mts Apo, Pulag and Kanlaon). To me, the term ser betokens respect, regard, and brotherhood! With it, comes the emotion of familiarity which is quite distinct from the emotion elicited by the terms tol or bro. It’s like when someone addresses me ser, it makes me feel like I am qualified to be his/her friend. It makes me feel like I am ‘somebody’. But to each individual Pinoy mountaineer, the connotation of this term evolves. From the trying-hard-to-belong type, it transforms into i-respect-you-elibs-ako-sa’yo then it metamorphoses into para-na-kitang-kapatid and to the opposite sex it could transform into pwede-ba-kitang-mahalin? Whichever order the evolution takes, the flavor of camaraderie is never lost.
When I take this term with me to Mindanao and Visayas, most mountaineers refuse to be addressed as such. They say it’s a little bit too ‘heavy’. They say they don’t deserve to be called sir or mam. But either out of impulse or instinct, I still say Ser (and Mam). Some get converted and start imbibing the culture. But some still struggle and others just can’t embrace the practice. But at times, I feel like I’m the one who has been converted by mountaineers in the south. I like the way Abyan sounds. Bai and Miga have always been in my system. And in Benguet, I address the elderly guys who give me trekking tips as Apo. I guess, it’s a matter of how you articulate the term. If the feeling is genuine, then the second person learns to appreciate it.
But there are cases in which your regard for the person evolves and gets confused with other connotations. Some of my long-time climbing buddies have become really close to me that we now call each other on a first-name basis. Some become more of a brother to me and we now call each other bro, tol, tsong, brod or brader. But there are also some of my city friends that I half-consciously address as Ser. This happens when I’m having this cool socials-type conversation with them. They just get surprised when I blurt out SER in the middle of the conversation.
I don’t know how the culture started or who started it! But I thank the person who coined the terms SER and MAM! It created an identity among mountaineers (in Luzon at least). This term is a mark of the fraternal bond between two or more Pinoy mountaineers (both old school and newbie). It is a passport for the novice to rub shoulders with the oldies. And this comradeship can never exist on the beach or the country club! So if you wanna experience this unique culture, CLIMB!
Akyat tau Ser/Mam! Saklang kita Padi! Katkat/Saka ta Bai! Taklad ta Abyan!