Thursday, March 16, 2017

Art enraged

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Before all else, I would like to cite the Far Eastern University administration for giving space for a daring endeavor, space in its halls and tree-lined quadrangle, a hidden oasis in that busy part of Manila’s University Belt. It’s worth going there, even if only to behold the permanent outdoor sculpture by the late National Artist Vicente Manansala, his human figures beautifully aged by verdigris encrustation.

“Hudyat: Filipino Artists for Human Dignity,” a multimedia exhibit, runs till March 25 at the FEU, so catch it if you can. Because of its nature, security is tight, so try to contact pcc@feu.edu.ph or register via Hudyat Filipino Artists for Human Dignity Facebook page. Or just dare show up. If you are a group you might even be given a guided tour because it is spread out on campus.
“Hudyat” means alarm or signal. Artists—painters, sculptors, photographers, writers, using their respective media—are raising the alarm, warning about these perilous, deadly times. The exhibit spotlights “human dignity amid the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country.”  
The opening last March 9 was so well attended that now one feels the urge to go back and gaze at the images in silence and solitude. Credits go to the organizers, among them Edna Aquino, photojournalist Melvyn Calderon, and curator Ricky Francisco.

National Artist Benjamin “Bencab” Cabrera leads the pack of 18 whose works in different media silently scream, assault, warn, remind. The exhibit brings out the horror, pain and fear that are the result of the killings, the “cleansing” done with impunity and in the name of anything but respect for human life.

Although there are works that stand out because of their size and piercing message, I do not want to single out any one because, for me, each one makes the whole. But I am biased and glad that writers’ words became art pieces in themselves, exhibited alongside the visual, tactile pieces. Hmm, gives me an idea.

All the 19 artists deserve mention: Bencab, Xyza Bacani, Melvyn Calderon, Sheila Coronel, Antipas Delotavo, William Elvin, Patricia Evangelista, Carlo Gabuco, Toym Imao, Marne Kilates, Jose F. Lacaba, Raffy Lerma, Julie Lluch, Nikki Luna, Resbak, Rick Rocamora, Jose Tence Ruiz, Ea Torrado and Mark Valenzuela. The paintings of young FEU artists add spark to the exhibit.

And what do some of the artists on exhibit have to say about what they do?

“My art practice has long been concerned with conflict and resistance, in particular, the points of tension between the individual and the collective. This work critiques the ways in which machismo and fanaticism are used to generate violence and gain dominance. Seeking to understand and question the process by which dominance is obtained can be viewed as a form of resistance.”—Mark Valenzuela

“The images in Hudyat stand for several issues that need our continuous attention. The role of photographs as evidence and an aid to social change needs to be reiterated and we as visual journalists hope that the public takes heed and sparks a continuous dialogue about the issues.”—Veejay Villafranca

“A good way to measure civil society’s sense of humanity and justice is to take a closer look on how it manages its jail system. The state of Detention Centers in the Philippines is a clear manifestation of the failure of the criminal judicial system to adhere to the 1987 Philippines Constitution’s mandate to build a just and humane society for the poor. No amount of penology expertise can solve the problem because the root is institutional and [there is] lack of support from our government to correct existing deficiencies.”—Rick Rocamora

“The worst cases are when the person is shot in the same area as their home, or in their neighborhood, or even if it’s a [body] dump, if they recognize the face, then that’s when you brace yourself, because the wife will walk in, the mother will walk in. And it’s weeping and wailing and screaming. And you know that you’re witness to the worst moment of a person’s life and you don’t know if you’re a voyeur. And you don’t know if you’re doing the right thing by asking questions.”—Patricia Evangelista #

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Much ado about Lascanas 'spiritual renewal'

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

During this season of Lent the Greek word metanoia is often heard during retreats and other spiritual exercises. It refers to a transformative change of heart. More than just repentance, it is a spiritual conversion, a turning away from one’s sinful ways.

At the Senate hearing last March 6, senators belittled confessed hitman and retired police officer Arturo Lascañas’ “spiritual renewal” that happened in 2015 and which, he said, had to do with his recantation. By looking askance at this “spiritual renewal,” were they then accepting the fact that he lied at the Senate hearing on Oct. 3, 2016?

During his first testimony that October, Lascañas smashed Edgar Matobato’s public confession about being part of the Davao Death Squad that killed hundreds when Rodrigo Duterte was mayor of Davao City. He came in his crisp police uniform and told the Senate and the nation on live television then: There is no such thing as the DDS.

Lascañas retired in December 2016.

In the March 6 hearing, he recanted his October testimony, gave credence to Matobato’s confession, and claimed some 200 killings on which he had participated. There was indeed such as a group called DDS, he asserted, then provided details of its murderous activities.

He attributed his turnaround to a spiritual experience in 2015 when he thought his life was ebbing because of kidney failure. (He went through a successful kidney transplant operation after that.)

Several senators kept hammering at that spiritual experience and asked why, if indeed he had one, he made a previous testimony that he now says is a lie.

Yes, he indeed lied on Oct. 3, 2016, he said. As a police officer, he was ordered “to deny everything.” Now, March 6, 2017, he is telling the truth. That is the gist of what he told the Senate committee headed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Sen. Joel Villanueva of Jesus is Lord had to regale everyone with the Bible story where Jesus came to the rescue of an adulterous woman being stoned to death. He quoted Jesus: “Go and sin no more.”

Villanueva then turned to Lascañas and asked: “Why did you sin again?” (That is, with his lie at the Senate hearing on Oct. 3, 2016.)

All the while, Lascañas was saying, he is now correcting that lie. He was denying then, he is confessing now. It is for the people to decide which of his two testimonies is the truth, and which is the lie.

But pugilist-turned-Bible-pounder-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao just had to say his piece, that he can teach Lascañas a thing or two about “spiritual renewal” if the latter wished him to, then proceeded to say to the retired police officer, as if ready to score a KO: “I will now contempt you.” (He meant that he would hold Lascañas in contempt, for recanting what he had said last year.)

That was quite pathetic, but Pacquiao is a senator of the republic and we are not. The boxer withdrew the move after Sen. Tito Sotto whispered something in his ear.

Legal analysts are saying that, more important than Lascañas’ recantation and revelations—besides hard evidence, of course—are the reasons for his change of heart. Why, indeed, make such damning accusations—true or not—when he is at a vulnerable time in his life? Was it God? Was it gold?

How define spiritual renewal, to which Lascañas attributes his need to publicly confess and face danger? He did speak about the details of his spiritual experience, his own road to Damascus that happened long before his two testimonies, but this did not mean he had become impervious to fear and lapses. This time he sought the help of church persons who led him to lawyers and to the Senate.

The apostle Peter lied three times. What I know about spiritual renewal is that it is not a one-shot deal or like scoring a KO against evil, but a continuing, everyday effort. To renew also means to begin again.
At FEU’s Techno Lobby on March 9-25 is “Hudyat,” an all-media exhibit spotlighting “human dignity amid the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country.” The works of National Artist Ben Cabrera and 18 other artists are on display. (“Hudyat” means alarm, signal.) #

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Diokno's timeless advice to writers

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

For today’s column I was choosing from four topics. As my deadline drew near I chose Sen. Jose “Pepe” Wright Diokno (1922-1987), lawyer, nationalist and human rights defender, not only because it was his 30th death anniversary four days ago but also because he had much to say to writers. As we are witnessing nowadays, the writing profession, journalism in particular, is in misty territory.

There is the so-called “fake news” proliferating, being presented as truth in various media platforms and, worse, being believed by the gullible, the stupid and those with tunnel vision. There are the paid trolls, bashers and hackers whose daily preoccupation is to diminish or kill what is true in order to boost the evil agenda of their despotic employers.

What these trolls and bashers do not know is that they help increase reader traffic in online news sites and thus raise the site’s stock worth, so to speak, and ad revenues. As an online news executive told me, bashers are actually misguided fans. So come, be my guest.

And there is the continuous killing of writers here and in various parts of the world, writers who stand for the truth they know and experience and proceed to bravely write about them.

On July 2, 1983, Diokno delivered the Jose Rizal Lecture at the Philippine PEN Conference where the theme was “The Writer in a Climate of Fear.” That was about three weeks before the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the watershed moment that would explode into nationwide rage.

Diokno’s lecture is included in “The Philippine Press Under Siege” (1985) to be republished soon by the University of the Philippines Press as “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship.” I am the editor of this new volume.

Diokno’s main source was Rizal’s own writings, the “Noli” and the “Fili.” Meticulously referenced, his long lecture was directed at writers who, as he quoted Rizal, “feel their wings but find themselves in chains, choking for want of the air of freedom.”

He freely translated poet Cecilio Apostol on Rizal: “But if a bullet destroyed your cranium/ Your ideas in turn destroyed an imperium.”

Diokno’s lament: “Rizal’s writings did destroy an empire. But, to our sorrow, they failed to change society. “The late Leon Ma. Guerrero, perhaps the best English translator of Rizal, has stressed Rizal’s ‘timelessness, or more precisely, [his] timeliness in another world and another age.’

“So our tasks as Filipinos remain the same as they were in Rizal’s days: regain our freedom as individuals, assert our sovereignty as a people, and use our freedom and our sovereignty to create a just society. And your tasks as writers also remain the same. For as Rizal said, ‘The struggle must commence in the field of ideas before it can descend into the arena of action.’

“I do not ask you to lead, or to teach, and much less to agitate our people for this or that cause or credo. What I ask of you is much simpler: to be great writers. Great in the sense in which Rizal spoke of the greatness of man: ‘A man is great, not because he goes ahead of his generation, which is in any case impossible, but because he discerns what it wants. That, ultimately, is your job; to discern what our people want and say it clearly so that they themselves will see it, and seeing, gather their strength to achieve it.

“It is a dangerous and difficult task you must undertake. You face the same risks Rizal did: harassment by interrogation and libel suits which some of you have already experienced, arrest and detention which others among you have undergone, torture perhaps, even disappearance and extra-legal execution…

“In today’s climate of fear, how can we afford to face those dangers? It is precisely because of the climate of fear that we cannot afford not to face those dangers. We must damn the risks… say what must be said, and suffer the consequences. Writers can lay down their pens and tear up their manuscripts—but I know of no human—and writers are nothing if they are not human—who can completely silence his conscience.” #

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Saying 'no' to 'Darkness Descending'

Philippine Daily Inquirer/FEATURES/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

She deserves a room of her own, this woman who resisted the coming of darkness during the martial law years and became an inspiration in that time of untruth, lawlessness and injustice.

Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma already has a government building and a public school named after her, but the eponymous museum opened last week at the mezzanine floor of the Quezon City Hall complex may yet be the best tribute to this magistrate who dared defy former strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.
Occupying a whole wall in the museum is a black-and-white mural depicting the excesses wrought by martial law and captioned “Darkness descending (Pagsapit ng Karimlan),” around which are memorable quotes from Palma and other brave souls from that period.
Palma’s dissenting opinion—prominently displayed in a bound copy of similar decisions—on the habeas corpus case of Sen. Jose W. Diokno prompted the release of the human rights lawyer who had been detained for years without charges.
Palma also ordered the case of jailed Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.  transferred from a military to a civilian court to ensure a  fair trial.
For such defiant moves, this Marcos appointee was called ingrata (ingrate) by a colleague, a description she wore like a badge of courage.
Her retort: “When I took my oath of office, I said to  myself that my loyalty is not to the appointing power but to the Constitution, to justice and to the Filipino people.”
Indeed, the museum holds historic documents, photographs, video documentaries, artifacts and other memorabilia that bear witness to this woman’s contribution not only  to law and justice, which was her field of expertise but more importantly, to the country’s awakening in its darkest hour.
Assorted memorabilia —PHOTOS BY CERES DOYO
Assorted memorabilia —PHOTOS BY CERES DOYO
Tribute to excellence
The museum occupies some 140 square meters, a compact easy to navigate space with items curated by Philippine culture expert Marian Pastor Roces.
The museum too might well be a tribute to excellence, as Palma was a woman of many firsts: the Philippines’ first woman prosecutor, first woman district judge, first woman in the Supreme Court, and “the first woman in the world assigned to lead the creation of a constitution,” in reference to the 1987 Constitution.
Just as prominent in the museum’s timeline about her life was how Palma stepped prominently into the scene in 1973 when martial rule heralded a difficult chapter in Philippine history.
The timeline near the museum’s entrance is delicately embossed on glass and shows the life and times of this Batangueña and her family, her early schooling at St. Bridget’s College in Batangas and at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila where she graduated high school valedictorian.
She was also college valedictorian at the University of the Philippines College of Law, where she met fellow law student Rodolfo Palma who became her husband. They raised three children.
Palma topped the bar exams in 1937 with a grade of 92.6 percent.
The photographs in her timeline highlight the seasons in her life: the child Celing in an angel costume and in gowns as she approached maidenhood. They also celebrate her many roles as wife, mother, judge, Supreme Court Associate Justice, assemblywoman, constitutionalist, God’s faithful servant.
1987 Constitution
At the center of the museum is a copy of the 1987 Constitution crafted by a constitutional commission presided by Palma as its president, which museum guests can peruse freely.
A life-size plaster bust of Justice Palma by sculptor Julie Lluch stands in a corner beside the words, “Idealism, Spiritualism, Patriotism.” The words are described as panindigang buhay, (principles that) Palma lived by. A weighing scale representing justice rounds up the display.
Standing silently in its own corner is Palma’s electric organ, on which she had played many musical pieces when she was not busy in court. Her mother had hoped she would be a pianist, but the mischievous girl in blue convent school uniform proceeded to law school instead. The music never left her.
Also displayed are Palma’s written works, among them  “Mirror of My Soul,” a collection of speeches and decisions she had penned; personal items such as the toga she wore when she was Supreme Court justice,  as well as paintings, letters and articles about her.
Distinct among these items is an illustrated children’s storybook on her titled “A Life Well Lived.”
Museum visitors may also choose to watch several video documentaries—on Palma’s personal life, the martial law years, and the constitutional assembly.
Before the museum was set up, the building that houses the prosecutor’s and the Public Attorney’s Offices and the space that the museum now occupies was already called the Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma Hall. By its entrance is her image mounted on a pedestal, around which people happily snap selfies.
Such public admiration and the museum itself affirm Justice Palma’s prescient reminder: “We shall be judged by history, not by what we want to do and can’t, but by what we ought to do and don’t.” #

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

In the hot seat at the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum last week was the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan.
The discussion revolved around the extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and the Duterte administration’s move to revive the death penalty. In other words, about killings in the streets and alleys, hovels and homes any time of the day and night. By policemen with shoot-to-kill orders for the “nanlaban” (those who resisted or “fought back,” even while, uh, asleep) and by unidentified armed persons, vigilantes and highly motivated gun-for-hires in what they call buy-bust and “tokhang” operations.
One of the questions I asked the archbishop was: If someone who engaged in EJKs came to him for confession, what would he do? I meant either sacramental confession or simply seeking advice in relation to one’s grievous act.

The background of this is the confessed EJ killer Edgar Matobato, who came out publicly several months ago to reveal at a Senate hearing that the President, when he was mayor of Davao City, was the brains behind the so-called fearsome Davao Death Squad (DDS). Matobato had said that he first went to a churchman before he came out publicly.

Archbishop Villegas’ answer (slightly edited for clarity): “My first concern is to put the person in the grace of God. Because I am a priest. If the person is not yet ready for confession, I will introduce him to the love of God. I will introduce him to the seriousness of sin. I will introduce him to the mercy of the Lord. I will introduce him to the harm he has done to another fellow human being and, hopefully, upon introducing him to such, conscience will be enlightened and if he or she seeks pardon, then I will lead him or her to confession.

“Always, my primary purpose, my first concern, is to make [the person] reconciled with God through confession, the sacrament. If he does not like to confess to me, I will lead him to another priest.

“After that is done, as the situation necessitates, then we can move, if he so desires, to move into public confession to repair the damage he has done. But there is no obligation whatsoever to [go public]. Because if he chooses to remain anonymous, I will also die with the seal of the sacrament.

“So I say, my first step is to bring him to God, bring him to a state of grace. Second step, to let him receive the mercy of God in the sacrament of reconciliation. Once that is done, all the others will follow from there.”

Forum moderator and Inquirer.net editor John Nery’s follow-up question: Was Matobato’s public admission then the result of that confession? Recall that Matobato was said to have first sought the advice of a church person somewhere in Pangasinan. It took several seconds for Villegas to answer: “I am not in touch with him.”

I wanted to blurt out, “But were you?” But I held my tongue.

Last Monday, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV brought out in a press conference retired police officer Arthur Lascañas, who confessed that he was the lead executioner of the DDS. Trillanes said Church persons had brought Lascañas to him. Recall that at a Senate hearing last year Lascañas denounced Matobato’s confession about killing for then Mayor Duterte with Lascañas in the lead.

Flanked by three FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group) lawyers, Lascañas dramatically turned around from his denials and dropped a bombshell. Yes, he admitted, he was indeed part of the DDS, giving credence to Matobato’s own confession. We could only hold our breath.

While waiting to exhale, we heard Lascañas tearfully speak about his loyalty to Mr. Duterte, how intense his loyalty was that he had his own two brothers—both drug users—killed. He admitted having a hand in the killing of radio broadcaster Jun Pala, Mr. Duterte’s nemesis. After several attempts, that is.

Because of last weekend’s early-morning Walk for Life—and against the death penalty that is being revived—led by the Catholic laity and supported by the hierarchy, will we see more executioners and terminators turning penitent? In the run-up to the Lenten season, who knows? #

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Common ground for Church and Du30?

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Photo by Lyn Rillon

At the Meet the Inquirer multimedia forum last Monday, the guest in the hot seat was the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese. The forum focused on the strongly worded CBCP pastoral letter on the drug killings that was read Feb. 5 in parishes that received it on time.

In the backdrop was President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs that has resulted in daily body counts that now total more than 7,000, and counting. This unrelenting war and the so-called extrajudicial killings (EJKs) have earned international attention and rebuke.

Expletive after expletive was Du30’s reaction to critics. To those concerned about how the pastoral letter might intensify the President’s regular tirades against the Catholic hierarchy and clergy, the archbishop made it clear that it was not—repeat, not—addressed to Mr. Duterte or Malacañang but to the Catholic faithful in general. It was not a call to arms.

The archbishop made it clear that the CBCP was not at war with Malacañang despite the President’s contemptuous regard for the Church and his regular sweeping statements about the sins of Church leaders. Listen to how Du30 taunts, sneers, jeers. One can’t help thinking that the Church’s good works in many fields, the heroic and saintly deeds of its members in remote and dangerous places where the government is practically absent, are simply spat upon, unappreciated.

Is the Church simply turning the other cheek for more slapping and cursing? Are the bishops afraid of President Duterte? The archbishop’s answer: “No.” What we should be afraid of, he stressed, is sin. If I may paraphrase his reply: We should be afraid of the evil that is abroad in the land, the wrongs we commit against one another.

The archbishop’s reaction to Du30’s tirades: “If you are telling us that we are a bunch of sinners, hypocrites and shameless followers of Jesus Christ, the answer is yes. We churchmen and women are imperfect; we struggle, we fall, we rise again… The Church’s moral ascendancy does not depend on the people who lead it but on God.”

Being the protégé of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, the 56-year-old, articulate CBCP president referred to the outspoken cardinal’s own “critical collaboration” stance during the martial law years when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos ruled with an iron hand. Sin walked the tightrope, did a balancing act. Well, in the end, he roused the country to go out there and face armored tanks. The rest is history.

Already, some bishops (Archbishop Villegas would not name them) are reaching out to the former seminarians in the Cabinet, among them Cabinet secretary, Leoncio Evasco, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno. Evasco is, in fact, an ordained diocesan-priest-turned-communist-rebel, tortured and imprisoned during the Marcos years. When Mr. Duterte was mayor of Davao City, Evasco was his chief of staff. Evasco later became the town mayor of Maribojoc in Bohol.

The bishops are trying to find common ground with this administration—this strange administration, if I may say so. For starters, might the mining issue be common ground? When Pope Francis came to visit in 2015, the CBCP-National Secretariat of Social Action and the Alyansa Tigil Mina issued a joint statement on mining. It referred to the 1995 CBCP call for the repeal of the Philippine Mining Act (Republic Act No. 7942), citing the “devastating effects and the adverse social impacts of mining that will destroy both environment and people that will lead to social unrest.”

On Wednesday Inquirer’s banner story said: “Gina kills 75 mine deals” and called her move a “Valentine’s Day massacre.” The subhead read: “Environment Secretary Gina Lopez cancels 75 mining contracts as a ‘gift of love’ to the Filipino people, drawing protests and threats of legal action from the mining industry.”

But it seems Lopez has the President’s ear. Yet, her confirmation as environment secretary could be massacred.

The devastated vastness wrought by irresponsible mining is a curse on the Filipino people. Here, on the wounded landscape, the Church and the Duterte administration could find common ground.#

Thursday, February 9, 2017

'Buwan at Baril': déjà vu.

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Was “Buwan at Baril sa Eb major” difficult to watch? No and yes.

No, because everything was so clear and real to me—the stories, the characters, the acting, the emotions, the sounds, the faces, the voices, the words spoken and unspoken. I couldn’t ask for more.

Yes, because a tsunami of memories came surging at me with the force of 14 years under a cruel dictatorship. Yes because in those two hours in the darkened theater at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani where martyrdom and heroism are enshrined, something so real suddenly leapt and came alive with so much force. Call it déjà vu.

So it was a welcome difficult, if I may call it that, especially because the bunch of us who survived martial rule under the Marcos dictatorship—scathed but unbowed—and who were reliving the dark years scene after scene after scene last Sunday, were seated among young people, a number of them familiar faces in show biz who needed to know what it was like then. And, God forbid, what it might be like if ever it happens again.

Go catch “Buwan at Baril” in the last days of its two-week run: Feb. 9 (today), 10, 11 and 12 at 3 and 8 p.m. in the Yuchengco Auditorium, Salonga Building, at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani on Quezon Avenue, Quezon City. First-timers might want to come early and stroll around to behold the almost 300 names of martyrs and heroes engraved on the black granite wall or gaze at the Castrillo monument depicting a defiant mother holding a fallen son.

“Necessary” theater is how a critic called the restaging of “Buwan at Baril.” Portable, too. The play is lean and mean, with only eight actors in all. Props are kept to a minimum, but vintage images are flashed on screen. A guitarist and a cellist provide live music.

The initial offering of the Sugid artists’ collective comes in five parts that form a whole. To call them vignettes might make them seem trivial. The first one is straight out of Lakbayan, the 1985 protest march of farmers and workers from Central Luzon to Metro Manila. Long-lost brothers, one a farmer, the other a factory worker, meet and talk about their struggles. (I covered that event and walked from Angeles to Bulacan until I got leg cramps. I have photographs.)

The next scene is a heartrending one; you can’t have enough tears for the Itawes woman (played by Angeli Bayani) who lost family and home. She bears cigarette burns on her shoulders and wounds in her soul. The young, bewildered priest helps her tell her story to the media. There is the widow who must retrieve her husband’s body. Her grief turns to rage. How many women like them have I listened to in real life? I remember Purificacion Viernes…)

Jackie Lou Blanco is a scream as the socialite-turned-activist. (The Rotonda rally she plans to attend was a real one. There, a friend’s son got a bullet in the back. I heard the shot.)

Joel Saracho is the devil incarnate as a former activist-turned-cop/interrogator (“dapat praktikal lang”) of a student caught with subversive stuff. (Ouch. I had gone through something similar and traumatic, but without the kicks and punches. I had been under surveillance. Then while driving at night straight from the printing press with a car full of subversive materials… Guns were poked in my face… I have written about that experience.)

Written in 1984 by Chris Millado (after he survived arrest) and first staged in 1985, the play is directed by Andoy Ranay. It gets its title from the children’s rhyme “Buwan, buwan, hulugan mo ako ng sundang.” E flat major is a “heroic” key, used by Beethoven for his major works. I don’t know if that is the reason Millado used it in the title.

But heroic indeed are the characters in “Buwan at Baril” for telling it like it is—the cruelty inflicted and received, the pain, the loss, the confusion and bewilderment, and, finally, the resolve. This play is unforgiving; it goes straight to the gut, then to the heart, the mind and finally the cells of your body. You ask yourself: Where was I in it? #

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Beauty and the bees

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

When, in the past, many beauty pageant contestants almost always mentioned care for the environment as their advocacy, this time there was none of that. Not in the 65th Miss Universe pageant held in the Philippines last week, which was hard to beat in its pomp and pageantry.

Held here for the third time, the pageant put the Philippines on the world’s tourism map as intended, with the beautiful spots highlighted, the people’s warmth on full display.

But the issue of the environment was sidelined. Had it been so overused? Is it no longer a sexy advocacy that would make the judges and the crowd sit up and listen? Mother Nature statements might no longer work, so on with new advocacies, the more daring and unheard of the better.

The thing about celebrities turned ambassadors of goodwill is that the advocacies they pick might become mere objects of lip service because these are difficult to accomplish. What we really need to hear is something more specific and workable.

What about Mother Nature’s woes that we want addressed in very specific ways? Is it polluted rivers, endangered polar bears, the destruction of forests, the vanishing indigenous tree species? And how does, say, a beauty queen proceed to do something concrete about it?

Which brings me to the latest news about very important members of the so-called web of life: bees. The latest news on bees is that a species of bumblebee is now on the endangered list, or is in “a race against extinction,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced two weeks ago. The population of the rusty patched bumblebee has dramatically declined by 87 percent in the past 20 years. There have been other bad news on bees before this.

We know by now that when the bee population is in trouble, Planet Earth is in trouble. No bees, not enough food on the planet. Bees help plants that need insect intervention by pollination to produce fruits, seeds, nuts and flowers. We learned this fact in grade school but took it for granted. We thought bees are forever. We equate them only with honey—honey for our pancakes and waffles, and for some, their beauty regimen or as a medicinal agent.

Some time back the Food and Agriculture Organization issued the reminder: “Bees are bellwethers for the healthy agricultural ecosystems they help create.”

I am part of a Facebook group concerned with Philippine native bees and the indigenous people who make sure that bees thrive in our forests. The group is Blessed Bees and Forest Discussion Group (Bee-yaya ng Gubat). We have been invited to this group because of our interest in pure, wild, raw honey.

But the more important thing about this is how to contribute in making wild honey hunting in the Philippines sustainable. And what species of bees are we referring to here? They are the native giant bees or apis dorsata. They thrive in the south Sierra Madre, in the forest triboundary of Rizal, Quezon and Bulacan.

Darwin Flores of Smart Communications Inc. has been providing technical support (part of Smart’s corporate social responsibility) to indigenous groups including the Dumagat of Sierra Madre. The “honey advocacy” resulted in better harvesting conditions and handling of the honey. Transporters have been provided with back frames so that carrying their load across rugged trails and rivers would not be so difficult. We pay a little more for this golden sweetness that, or so it is said, has an eternal shelf life.

The giant apis cordata are stinging bees but the indigenous folk have a way of “taming” them. Honey supply is not limitless; much has to be left for the honeybees that produce them. The Dumagat themselves declare the beginning and end of the harvesting season. The next honey-gathering season starts again this March. The Dumagat have constructed a Bahay Bubuyog in the mountains of Rizal. The specs are based on the University of the Philippines-Los Banos beekeeping training.

Last year Darwin sent an advisory that the intense El Niño heat had affected the flowering of the forest trees that supply the nectar and pollen. He had to equitably allocate the honey among those who ordered. I must say I had my fill and with enough to share contained in mason jars.

I have been advised not to advertise the where, how and how much lest profiteers find their way into the forest primeval. #

Thursday, January 26, 2017


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Crime-ation (noun): hiding a crime of murder by cremating the body of the victim and disposing of the ashes.

That’s a word I have just coined to add to the crime lexicon. A proper name that has also just come up is “Camp Crime”; it was derived from Camp Crame, the name of the national headquarters of the Philippine National Police, where a heinous crime, the murder of a South Korean kidnap-for-ransom victim, was carried out in October 2016 by PNP members. The crime site was just a stone’s throw away from the residence of PNP chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.

According to initial investigations, South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo was murdered on the day that he was abducted—yet ransom was exacted from his family. The prime suspects, ranking police officials, are now in hot water. There is finger-pointing as to who masterminded the deed, who carried out the deed, who stood to gain from the deed. It was, to borrow a title from the Miss Marple movie series, murder most foul.
Jee’s body was cremated in a regular (licensed and operating) funeral facility. This is the part of the criminal modus that I am interested in. I have not known of anything like this, not even from the “CSI” series on TV that features unimaginable crimes being solved through pluck, luck, and, most importantly, scientific means.

We’ve known of human corpses being incinerated, buried in the ground, sealed in drums, or thrown into the sea. The perpetrators of the 2009 Maguindanao/Ampatuan massacre used a backhoe to dig a mass grave where the dead were hastily buried. More than 50 persons, including media workers and passersby, lost their lives in that preelection massacre.

The killers of Ruby Rose Barrameda put her corpse in a drum that was sealed with concrete and thrown into the waters off Navotas. When the drum was fished out in 2009, Barrameda’s body was there, intact and with signs of the cruelty she underwent. Her estranged husband was the prime suspect.

Hitler used gas chambers and incinerators in the Nazi concentration camps to wipe out millions of Jews from the face of the earth. Photographs and documentary films from the World War II archives show piles of emaciated bodies ready for disposal. I have the book “The Last Days of Dachau” which has photos of the dead and near-dead that the Allied Forces found when they arrived. In this day and age it is difficult to hide such mass extermination or what we call ethnocide.

I have always wondered about rescue and retrieval groups operating after tragedies. Do they take photos of the unidentified dead in body bags and number them before these are temporarily buried or cremated en masse?

Modern-day cremation facilities taking part in a crime cover-up, as in Jee’s case, was unheard-of in the past. An anticrime group is now seeking an investigation into the cremation procedures of mortuaries. What papers should be required in cremation—the dead’s identity, death certificate, family’s consent, etc.?

Once the corpse of a crime victim is cremated, the so-called main body of evidence is erased. There is no body to exhume and autopsy, no DNA to extract, no poisons to find. The ashes, if preserved, are almost of the same kind as other ashes, except perhaps if there are metals that survived the extreme heat.

In Jee’s case, there was only his golf set that was found in the funeral facility, a supposed gift in exchange for services rendered. But surely there were witnesses—the undertakers, for example—who handled Jee’s corpse and prepared it for cremation. What were they told, what did they know? Who took away the ashes and flushed these down the toilet?

A report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism says Jee was cremated as “Jose Ruamar Salvador, Filipino.” Did anyone take a photo—surreptitiously, or as a regular procedure—of the dead Jee? Did it occur to any of the undertakers that there might be foul play? And that they were performing a “crime-ation”? Are they also criminally liable?

Are authorities looking into this new criminal modus? Time to put funeral facilities and their services under scrutiny. Dead men tell no tales, or so it is said, but there is no such thing as a perfect crime. #

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Pinkpussyhat Project

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Here’s something US President-elect Donald Trump said about women in 2005 that was recorded and surfaced during the US presidential election: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” For women who value their essence and dignity, that is an insult.

Participants in the Women's March on Washington make their way down Independence Avenue Jan. 21. (CNS photo / Bob Roller)
Hereabouts, President Duterte, when asked by a male reporter about his health, retorted angrily and spoke about foul-smelling vaginas. Well, Trump won over Hillary Clinton but his controversial win is still a puzzle, with some help from Russian hackers, US intelligence has revealed. As the Inquirer banner headline said yesterday: “World on edge as Trump era nears.”

The blurb below the headline: “From China to Germany, nations across the globe are accustomed to US President-elect Donald Trump’s provocative Twitter messages, but they are less clear about whether his remarks represent meaningful policy guidelines, personal judgments or passing whims.”

Trump’s remark where he used the “p” word sure shows the kind of worrisome president of women he could be. What is it about women’s private parts that these have to be disdainfully dragged into discussions? And what is it about the men who refer to them in such a distasteful and derogatory manner?

On Jan. 21, the day after Trump is sworn into office, the National Mall in Washington could become a sea of pink if women are able to mobilize enough people attending the Women’s March to wear pink pussyhats. The march is meant to call attention to civil and human rights issues which include women’s rights. About 1.7 million people can fit in the Washington Mall.

The term “pussyhat” comes from Trump’s infamous statement. The hat—a knitted rectangle-shaped bonnet with two corners that look like cat ears when worn—is meant to be a visual statement, a protest against the denigration of women as exemplified by no less than the man who would be the president of the most powerful nation in the world.

The pussyhat idea was hatched by two women from Los Angeles—Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, who have called on those attending the Women’s March to wear pink pussyhats. Those who cannot be there can knit the hats for those who can’t make them. The website https://www.pussyhatproject.com/ shows how.

They’re bonnets with ears. I think one can even make do with fabric if knitting is not among one’s talents. Even cardboard might do. Women in the United States are encouraged to hold knitting parties to make hats for their sisters. It is cold over there so knits are in fashion. A problem: Pink yarn is running out, a report said.

(Here in the tropics, Filipino women are not into knitting but more into crocheting.)

The Pussyhat Project stresses the “power of the handmade”: “Knitting and crochet are traditionally women’s crafts, and we want to celebrate these arts. Knitting circles are sometimes scoffed at as frivolous ‘gossiping circles.’ When really, these circles are powerful gatherings of women, a safe space to talk, a place where women support women. Anything handmade shows a level of care, and we care about women’s rights, so it is appropriate to symbolize this march with a handmade item, one made with a skill that has been passed down from women to women for generations.”

There is the “power of pussy”: “We love the clever wordplay of ‘pussyhat’ and ‘pussycat,’ but yes, ‘pussy’ is also a derogatory term for female genitalia. We chose this loaded word for our project because we want to reclaim the term as a means of empowerment… Women, whether transgender or cisgender, are mistreated in this society. In order to get fair treatment, the answer is not to take away our pussies, the answer is not to deny our femaleness and femininity, the answer is to demand fair treatment….”

I wish our American sisters, Fil-Ams among them, great pink success. This kind of project should go global.

To quote Eve Ensler of “The Vagina Monologues” fame, founder of V-Day and on how these became phenomenal: “Something is unfolding. It is both mystical and practical. It requires that we show up, do our exercise and get out of the way.”#

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Terror truck attacks

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

What will they think of next? What weapons of terrorism will they use next to kill and maim innocents, paralyze communities with fear, and keep people in a heightened state of anxiety?

These thoughts were uppermost in my mind while the yearly procession of the image of the Black Nazarene was in progress on Jan. 9. Drawing millions of devotees that fill the main streets of Manila, the procession keeps getting bigger every year.
I experienced this up close decades ago when the procession was just confined to the Quiapo and Sta. Cruz areas and the Black Nazarene was not brought to the Rizal Park where, as the practice is now, the procession or traslacion would begin. Some photojournalist friends and I situated ourselves on the high concrete island near Quiapo Church, there to wait for the surging crowd. It was awesome then; it is phantasmagoric now, an almost terrifying, orgiastic feast of faith, indeed.
Last Tuesday’s traslacion of about five kilometers lasted 22 hours. It left the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park at 5 a.m. on Tuesday and reached the minor basilica of St. John the Baptist, the home of the Black Nazarene, at 3:20 a.m. on Wednesday. I was awake to see on TV the poon, with cross and all, stagger into the church entrance. There was no hint of weariness in the devotees’ shouts of “Viva!”

The day before the feast, the Inquirer headline was “Faith swells amid terror alert.”

I had this recent devotional phenomenon in mind because of the series of terror attacks late last year. These came in the form of the ubiquitous trucks one sees everywhere, only they did not ferry goods and could have gone through checkpoints unimpeded. They were not loaded with cargo meant to explode upon reaching their objects of destruction. The drivers simply drove into crowds of people. They did not dissolve in fiery balls like in explosive suicide attacks. The trucks just went “wayward” and plowed into people, killing many of them. The drivers then simply jumped out, disappearing in the melee, leaving the scene of the carnage undetected, their evil intent accomplished.

Is this the new form of terrorist attacks? To borrow the title of an ancient TV Western, have truck will terrorize.

The recent truck attacks happened in France and Germany last year and in Israel last weekend.

In the seaside city of Nice in France in July, a truck plowed into a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations, killing 84 people and injuring dozens, many of them severely. The driver was shot dead by the police. French President Francois Hollande called it a terrorist attack.

Last Dec. 19, a truck drove into a Christmas market in Berlin. A news report said 12 people died in the attack. The Islamic State claimed responsibility and released a video where Anis Amri, the Tunisian driver, was shown pledging allegiance to the IS chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Amri, 24, was later killed in a shootout with police in Milan.

On Jan. 9, a Reuters news report said at least four persons were killed in a truck attack in Jerusalem: “A Palestinian who may be linked to IS rammed his speeding truck into a group of Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem Sunday, killing four people and wounding 15 others before being shot dead in one of the deadliest attacks in a year-long campaign of violence, Israeli police said.

“Five people were arrested Sunday—including the assailant’s father and brother-in-law—in connection with the attack.” Speaking at the scene of the slaughter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there “definitely could be a connection” between Sunday’s horrific attack and similar IS truck attacks in France and Germany in recent months.

Hereabouts, we’ve had previews of this but not of the terrorist kind. How many cases of trucks hitting homes by the roadside have we had?

Some months ago a wayward truck plowed into an RTW tiangge in Taytay, Rizal. The tiangge is the town’s showcase. I had been there a couple of times to shop and see the local RTW industry come alive. The tiangge by the highway was a perfect hit for a truck with faulty brakes.

We can’t be sitting ducks.#