Thursday, December 8, 2016

Martial law killed them in their youth

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

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
—from “Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

For lack of space, I could not write about each of the 19 new heroes/martyrs honored on Nov. 30 at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in last week’s banner story of the Inquirer (“19 heroes to be honored at Bantayog,” 11/29/16). The lives of the six young men who were slain in their prime during the Marcos dictatorship are worth knowing about.

Eduardo Aquino (1953-1973) was 20 when he was killed. Born in Pangasinan, he was the youngest of eight children, the family’s doted-on, boy-next-door type, what one would now call a fashionista. He became an activist when he was studying political science at the University of the Philippines. When martial law was declared in 1972, Aquino left school and got involved in political work among farmers in Tarlac. He died when soldiers from Camp Macabulos in Sitio Pagasa, Tarlac, fired at the hut where he was meeting with farmers. He and his companions were unarmed.

Marciano “Chuck” Anastacio (1955-1982) was 27 when he was killed. Baguio-born, he went through a difficult adolescence. He studied at the University of the East for a while. He figured in brawls and was into drugs and alcohol until he met a female activist who opened his eyes to the ills of society. His life found direction and because organizing was second nature to him, he got involved in labor issues.

In 1980 a military agent shot Anastacio in the face and left him for dead in an isolated garbage dump. He spent a month in intensive care where he was put under surveillance. When he was well enough, he headed to the Sierra Madre to join the armed resistance. He and a companion were seen captured alive on Dec. 18, 1982. But the following day their bullet-riddled bodies were paraded in front of the San Jose Panganiban town hall in Camarines Norte. Two months later, his family, with the help of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines and the Paracale parish, was able to claim his remains, which were found wrapped in plastic and left in a dumpsite near the town cemetery.

Fortunato Camus (1949-1976) was killed at 26. Born in Cebu, he became a youth organizer of the Consolidation of Reforms for the Youth in the University of the Visayas where he studied law for two years. He later joined the armed resistance in Luzon against the Marcos dictatorship. He was killed in an encounter with the military in Nueva Ecija.

Hernando Cortez (1954-1983) was 29 when he was killed reportedly during an encounter with the military. His family believes otherwise. Cortez attended the Gregorio Araneta University in Caloocan City. A trade union organizer, he was with labor leaders when the military raided their meeting place. The Task Force Detainees reported that he was tortured before he was killed.

Edgardo Dojillo (1948-1972) was 24 when he was killed. A popular figure in the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos where he studied accountancy, he led consciousness-raising events against the exploitation of the sacada in Sugarlandia. A few weeks into the Marcos dictatorship, Dojillo and a friend were on a motorcycle when they were ambushed by members of the Philippine Constabulary. Badly wounded, the two were tied up and hung like animal carcasses on the side of a cargo truck, then transferred to a weapons carrier where they bled to death.

Ricardo Filio (1953-1976) was 22 when he was killed by friendly fire while government military operations were going on in Laac (now part of Compostela Valley). Filio was a student in Ateneo de Davao when he joined the Left-leaning Kabataang Makabayan. Because of his activities, his family’s house was raided and he had to seek sanctuary in the hills. He was among the first recruits of the New People’s Army in Davao.

They are the unang alay (first offerings), as the song goes. #

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Forgiveness for the unrepentant

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

Art work by Edicio dela Torre
It is one thing to have forgiveness in one’s heart for tormentors and abusers, even for the most hardened and unrepentant, and, in silence, lift one’s pain to the heavens—something victims can do for themselves to exorcise the pain. But it is quite another to bestow honors on the hardened and unrepentant, allow them to reopen wounds and mock the victims of their unspeakable crimes—and expect the victims to call it forgiveness, or moving on.

To those who, with good intentions, admonish the victims to forgive because that is choosing the better part, I say: That is indeed godly. But it is quite insensitive to say “Forgive” or “Move on” while watching the unrepentant deny their culpability, spit at the wounds of victims and claim honors for a tyrant and plunderer. Does forgiveness mean allowing the uncontrite to strut about with impunity while the wounded nurse their reopened wounds?  
Think what it is like to have one’s wound reopened and rubbed with salt, vinegar (sukang Iloko) and the hottest chili pepper.

To those who preach forgiveness from the goodness of their souls, I will not snarl at you, but please find it in your hearts to see things from the side of those who suffered extreme pain during the Marcos dictatorship. This is not about forgiveness of sins, this is about justice.

Please do not talk about moving on and letting go because many victims of the Marcos dictatorship have indeed done that, while proudly bearing the scars, even the unhealed wounds, of yesteryears. But allowing the unrepentant beneficiaries of the Marcos loot to dig at the victims’ pain and sneakily bury the dictator in hallowed grounds with honors—does allowing this constitute forgiveness?

Hateful and unforgiving—this is how victims of Marcos tyranny are labeled by those who wish to shut them up. But why turn the tables on the victims? Why demonize those who truly suffered and knew what it was like to take the blows, to be made to sit on blocks of ice, to be made to drink urine and eat feces, to go through water torture and bear the unnamable pain of loss for the disappearance of loved ones or finding their mutilated remains?

Why portray as vengeful those whose rights were trampled upon and whose properties were taken away? But how do you call those who wish to revise history by honoring the dishonored former soldier and president? How do you forgive an unrepentant family whose members continue to flaunt their impunity?

Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do—is this the prayer we want victims to say to their offenders every time their rights are trampled? Why should we expect so much from the victims but not from the uncontrite victimizers and their cheering squad?

And then there are those who say, “That happened more than 30 years ago, let history be the judge.” Precisely! We are now in that historical future and judgement is due. If it is not now, when in the future? A thousand years from now?

There are those who sneer and say, “Well, the victims went to the Supreme Court, and now that the Supreme Court has spoken, they complain and protest?” When the victims went to the Supreme Court, they were called petitioners. They pleaded that their side be heard, that the honorable justices see the justness of their plea. They did not go there to simply seek an opinion, as in “Tell us, is this red or green?” and whatever is handed down should be good enough. No.

And so the weeping and gnashing of teeth, the raising of fists, the howling in the streets.

“Not yet, Rizal, not yet,” the poet Rafael Zulueta da Costa’s cry pierces the darkening sky, “the land has need of young blood…”

Many millennials—those who knew little about the atrocities committed under martial rule—are now eager to know the truth from their elders. And having known, they do not want a repeat now and in the future. Hear them roar.#

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

19 heroes to be honored at Bantayog

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

The names of 19 people who fought the Marcos dictatorship have been engraved on the Wall of Remembrance at Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City. They will be honored in solemn ceremonies tomorrow, Bonifacio Day. The names include those of the late Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc and former Sen. Jovito Salonga. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA
Three journalists led by the late Inquirer editor in chief, Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, are among 19 honorees whose names will be added to the roster of heroes on Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City during solemn ceremonies on Wednesday. The event will also coincide with the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, which was founded in 1986 shortly after the Edsa People Power Revolution that toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Aside from Magsanoc, 74 (1941-2015), the other journalists to be honored are Antonio L. Zumel, 69 (1932-2001), and Lourdes Estella-Simbulan, 53 (1957-2011). Their names and those of the others have been etched on the black granite of the Wall of Remembrance.

Seven of the honorees are from the youth sector. They are Marciano Anastacio Jr., 27 (1955-1982); Eduardo Q. Aquino, 20 (1953-1973); Fortunato Camus, 26 (1949-1976); Hernando Cortez, 29 (1954-1983); Edgardo Dojillo, 24; Ricardo P. Filio, 22 (1953-1976); and Joel O. Jose, 35 (1951-1987). All seven honorees, except one, were killed in their prime during the martial law years that lasted from 1972 to 1986.

Various sectors

The honorees from various sectors are Jovito R. Salonga, 95 (1920-2016), public servant, lawyer, senator; Simplicio Villados, 70, (1928-1998), labor; Danilo Vizmanos, 60 (1928-1998), professional, retired soldier; Manuel G. Dorotan, 35 (1948- 1983), professional; Ma. Margarita F. Gomez, 65 (1947-2012), women’s sector; Benjamin H. Cervantes, 74 (1938-2013), the arts. Three come from the church sector: Bishop Julio L. Labayen, 89 (1926-2016); Romulo Peralta, 60 (1941-2001); and Jose T. Tangente, 37 (1949-1987).

Details about the lives and heroic sacrifices of each of the honorees may be found on www.bantayog.org.

Speaking truth to power

Magsanoc was editor in chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer from 1990 to 2015. She was the editor of Panorama magazine from the late 1970s to 1980, when the articles she published and her own writings displeased the powers-that-be. She used the written word to challenge the Marcos dictatorship.

Her forced resignation sparked indignation in the media sector. After the assassination of former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, Magsanoc edited Mr & Ms Special Edition that exposed the excesses of the Marcos regime. She was among those who attended the birth of the Inquirer in 1985.

A multiawarded journalist, Magsanoc died of natural causes on Dec. 24, 2015. After her death, then President Benigno Aquino III conferred on her the People Power Award. The Philippine Senate passed a resolution citing her contribution to the restoration of press freedom. Bantayog cites Magsanoc “for speaking truth to power” and “for testing the limits of press freedom as writer and editor.”

The citation for Magsanoc on the Bantayog ng mga Bayani reads:

For unleashing the power of the written word for the common good, for justice, freedom and democracy;

For challenging and exposing the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship through the media even at great personal risk;

For testing the limits of press freedom as writer and editor, for defying media restrictions and censorship under martial rule and for facing up to the wrath of the dictatorship;

For encouraging and giving space to bold and daring writers despite threats from the powers-that-be;

For the warmth, kindness and understanding she showed those who were victims of tyranny;

For keeping the vigil lamps lighted in the media so that freedom won may never again be taken away;

And for speaking truth to power without fear, for her faith in her fellow Filipinos, for placing above herself, God, family and country.”

Fearless for freedom

Salonga, a lawyer, former senator and prolific writer, was known for his uncompromising stance against martial rule. In 1980 he was arrested, detained and charged with subversion. Upon his release, the Salonga family lived in exile in the United States until freedom was restored in 1986.

Labayen was a “voice in the wilderness” when many in the Catholic Church hierarchy had yet to find their voices during the dark days of martial rule. He immersed himself among the poor of his prelature, espoused social justice and gave voice to the oppressed. He risked the ire of the dictatorship.

Agent for change

Cervantes, an outspoken critic of the Marcos dictatorship, used theater and film as an agent for change and to raise people’s political awareness. He was on the front line of street rallies against the dictatorship. He was detained three times—in 1975, 1977 and 1985.

Zumel was a newspaperman. When martial law was declared, he went underground and joined the leftist underground movement and spent many years in remote and difficult places where he continued to write and fight the dictatorship. heroes. After the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, Zumel represented the communist-led National Democratic Front in peace talks with the administration of President Corazon C. Aquino in 1986. When the talks failed, he sought political asylum in The Netherlands, where he died in 2001.

287 names to date

The 19 2016 honorees bring to 287 the names engraved on The Wall, which stands just meters away from the 13.5-meter bronze monument created by renowned sculptor Eduardo Castrillo.

The monument depicts a defiant mother holding a fallen son. The monument, the commemorative wall and other structures at Bantayog Memorial Center are dedicated to the nation’s modern-day martyrs and heroes who fought against all odds to help restore freedom, peace, justice, truth and democracy in the Philippines.

Through its Never Again Never Forget Project, Bantayog addresses “attempts by certain groups to rewrite Philippine history, to confuse the young generation about the truths of the Marcos dictatorship, to erase its horrors, abuses and deceptions and to have it remembered as a ‘golden era’ in the Philippines.” Bantayog’s activities include publishing biographies, dissemination of informative materials, film showing, roving exhibitions and museum tours.

The Bantayog complex now includes a building that houses a small auditorium, library, archives and a museum. Its 1.5-hectare property on Quezon Avenue and Edsa was donated by the administration of President Corazon Aquino, through Land Bank of the Philippines, in 1986. Every year, names are added to the Wall of Remembrance. The first 65 names were engraved on the wall in 1992. The Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation is chaired by former senator Wigberto Tanada. Salonga served as chair emeritus before he died. May Rodriguez is the executive director.

The ceremonies on Wednesday will begin at 4 p.m. The public is invited. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/848784/19-heroes-to-be-honored-at-bantayog

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Caught sleeping

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

Whether or not it was a toenail of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, or a clump of his hair, or an arm bone, or his wax likeness that was hastily buried with military honors in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LMNB)—translated as cemetery for heroes—on Nov. 18, that whole exercise was one of deception, cunning and stealth on the part not only of the Marcoses but also of some feckless government authorities who allowed it.
Now those accessories to the wanton disregard for the judicial process—President Duterte included—are all feigning cluelessness. Because not yet final and executory was the Supreme Court’s Nov. 8 majority decision (9-5-1) that dug deep at the martial law victims’ wounds and denied their petition to prevent the dictator’s burial on hallowed grounds. A motion for reconsideration was forthcoming.

Clueless? Also feckless. From President Duterte and the presidential staff to the military officers who flew the Marcos family and the dictator’s 27-year-old corpse (if indeed there was a corpse) from Ilocos Norte to LNMB and who provided the honors—none of them had earlier knowledge that the burial was going to take place that soon?

This is quite plain to see—President Duterte’s campaign promise to the Marcoses has been accomplished. Consummatum est?

But as is often said to us and by us, “Wait lang.”

It is way past the November day of remembering the dead, but here we are, still preoccupied by issues pertaining to corpses, cadavers and other forms of human remains. The corpses, whether touched or not by methamphetamine hydrochloride, continue to pile up. Even those already in police custody or safely behind bars end up dead with the “nanlaban” reason always invoked.

Separately, a number of government bureaucrats have joined the body count lately—one from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, another from the Bureau of Customs, money-collecting bureaus both. Both took in assassins’ bullets. A director from the Energy Regulatory Commission ended his own life and opened a can of worms.

Now comes another corpse or non-corpse, supposedly that of the dictator Marcos, that is causing upheaval in the streets because, “like a thief in the night,” the Marcos family went through with the burial without so much as a by-your-leave. Government authorities who were supposed to be in the know simply said they knew neither the day nor the hour and were caught by surprise. In street-corner journalese, “nakatulog sa pansitan” (fell asleep at the noodle house) or caught sleeping on the job.

If that were so, barbarians would be at the gates and the country’s protectors would not know it. Scary. So much for the simplest information gathering.

And so, indeed, now there is banging at the gates and there will be more from martial law victims and their supporters upon the arrival of President Duterte from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meet in Peru. Worth noting was the President’s absence at the gala dinner for heads of state and, later, at the Apec “class photo.” He was jetlagged and sleepy, was his presidential reason for not showing up. Did he have one Peruvian Pisco too many? He had eyes only for Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jing Ping.

So while he was sleeping in the land of Machu Picchu, his subalterns back home were also sleeping on the job—deliberately, one can’t help concluding—and let the thieves come in the dead of night.

Speaking of true heroes, 19 heroes and martyrs—three journalists among them—will be honored on Nov. 30, at the Bantayog ng mg Bayani which marks its 30th anniversary this year. The ceremonies will start at 4 p.m.

The names, to be announced soon, will be added to the more than 200 names etched on the black granite Wall of Remembrance. The Bantayog Memorial Center is located on Quezon Avenue corner Edsa, near Centris. The entrance is beside the National Power Corporation. The public is invited.

Come early and find familiar names—of comrades, friends and persons you knew and admired—on The Wall. Light candles, offer flowers and prayers. Celebrate their lives.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The outrage at the memory

When nine justices of the Supreme Court voted two days ago in favor of the burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani of the 27-year-old remains of the fallen dictator Ferdinand Marcos which were brought back from abroad in 1993, they insulted the memory of those who died fighting tyranny. They spat on the wounds of the tortured, they mocked the mothers whose sons and daughters disappeared in the night.
They belittled the efforts of those who spread out their bodies before thundering military tanks during the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolt that saw the fall of the tyrant. The justices who voted yes to the dictator’s burial in hallowed grounds for heroes chose to forget his reign of terror, they chose to belittle the freedom won for them by tens of thousands who fought, suffered and died.
They voted according to the law and their conscience. So did the five justices who voted no.
In 1992, when word spread that Marcos’ remains would be brought back to the country (Fidel Ramos was president then) and that the late dictator might be given honors, victims of martial rule protested. Still, the Marcoses succeeded in bringing back his body to his hometown in Ilocos Norte, where its wax likeness has been exposed for viewing all these years.
I interviewed victims of martial rule in 1992, and here were their sentiments then:
Princess Nemenzo: “At first I could not imagine Marcos coming back after we kicked him out. Later, I thought, we should have allowed him to come back while he was still alive so he could be made to answer for his  crimes and face the wrath of the people.
“Honor somebody who dishonored his country, massacred and looted his people? That would be a mockery. Marcos has carved a niche as the most corrupt and brutal of all. He should be quietly buried. Not in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Why should he deserve that? His wartime exploits are even doubtful.”
Antonio Lacaba: “We cannot forgive that kind of person. Does Marcos deserve the honors? Go to the barrios, go to those who suffered. Ask them.”
Wilfredo Quijano, detained for almost 10 years: “Give him honors? I cannot even think of that because he victimized so many people. I was one of them. I was in high school when I became an activist. The military arrested me during a raid of a house in Butuan. In Camp Alagar soldiers mauled us, beat us with a piece of wood. We were made to drink urine. I don’t know whose urine it was. I took a sip and pretended to swallow it. We were interrogated, sabay suntok (and punched at the same time). I spent my 17th birthday in prison.”
Paula Romero, widowed mother of Henry Romero, a newspaperman who later joined the Ministry of Agrarian Reform (Henry is among the desaparecidos, the disappeared): “One day, they took him. After a week in detention, he was allowed home visits but accompanied by guards. I visited him every week even though I was not strong. I brought him food, pillows, a mosquito net. One day when I was sick, his guard named Villanueva came and told me, ‘Ang anak ninyo, wala na (Your son is gone).
“I searched for my son in camps in Pampanga and Tarlac. I consulted a fortune teller who said Henry was alive. Since he was no longer around to support me, I borrowed money to put up a sari-sari store.
“Naubusan na ako ng luha. Para akong nabibitin sa isang pisi, hindi ako makalapag. (I have run out of tears. It’s as if I am hanging suspended on a string and I cannot come down.) Should Marcos be given honors? I have nothing to say.” (She wipes away a tear.)
I have interviewed many victims these past many years—that is, after the dictator fled into exile—but I had also interviewed a good number during the martial law years. Thousands of stories will hopefully be archived in the soon-to-rise Memorial Museum and Library (as provided for in Republic Act No. 10368).
That we may NEVER FORGET.

Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/99113/the-outrage-at-the-memory#ixzz4PYqBrYBW 
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Thursday, November 3, 2016

From conflict to commmunion

Oct. 31 was a special day for Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Pope Francis went to Lund, Sweden, for the joint Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation led by Martin Luther in 1517 that marked a bitter schism.
What a bloody split that was, after Luther, German priest, monk and theologian of high intellect, pinned his “95 Theses” on a church door in Germany to dramatize his issues against the Catholic Church, many of them crying to be addressed, if not legitimate indeed. You can look it up on the Internet.
The Catholic Church got it straight in the face, and Luther was unceremoniously excommunicated. But his move created a divide so deep that things were never the same again. He had shaken the ramparts of an institution believed to be divinely ordained but so immovable and ruled by men with feet of clay.
For church historians, the Reformation was a pivotal point in the history of Christendom that cannot be ignored. The Reformation was the harbinger of things to come—the rise of Protestantism and the Counter Reformation in the Catholic Church among them.
Over the decades after Vatican II (1960s), the Catholic Church has had so many occasions to sincerely say mea maxima culpa for the errors of the past and to seek forgiveness and hold out a hand in reconciliation. Pope John Paul II was a natural in this aspect. Still, it seems never enough. (The human weaknesses and sins of its individual shepherds—as in other religious institutions—are another story.)
Sweden, by the way, played a big part in the troubled years after the Reformation. Catholics in Sweden were persecuted and killed. “As recently as 1951, Catholics were barred from becoming doctors, teachers and nurses, and Catholic convents were banned until the 1970s,” said a report.
Last Monday night I watched the live, one-and-a-half-hour TV coverage of the Common Prayer Service at the Lund Cathedral where Pope Francis and his Lutheran counterparts took turns, within the liturgy, in expressing their hopes for more dialogue and unity. The statements were crisp and direct to the point. No long sermons. The reality that “what unites us is far greater than what divides us” was repeated several times. “From conflict to communion” was on everyone’s lips.
The liturgy, by the way, was decidedly multiracial and multilingual—and even multigender, with female Archbishop Antje Jackelen sharing the altar with the Pope and the male hierarchy. The two gave each other a peace embrace. (I googled: The Swedish Jackelen, 61, is married and a mother of two.) I spotted quite a number of women in Roman collars on the pews. This kept me smiling.
In a joint declaration, Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, said: “With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give a greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life.”
And addressing those in mixed marriages: “We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the Eucharistic table. We long for this wound in the body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also be renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.”
Dialogue already began 50 years ago, and in 1999 the Vatican and the Lutheran federation signed a joint declaration on “the doctrine of justification,” which is a core belief in God’s forgiveness of sins and which theme fired up Luther’s “95 Theses.”
“From Conflict to Communion: A Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017” is the title of the 93-page document that accompanied Pope Francis in his journey to Lutheran country. The foreword begins: “Martin Luther’s struggle with God drove and defined his whole life. The question, How can I find a gracious God? plagued him constantly. He found the gracious God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. True theology and the knowledge of God are in the crucified Christ. (“Heidelberg Disputation”)
“Conflict to Communion,” its framers say, “is a way whose goal we have not yet reached.”#

Thursday, October 27, 2016

In an altered state of consciousness?

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

Was he hexed, or did he have too much MSG?

President Duterte’s hosts in China must have been hot under the collar for his unabashed display of eagerness to offer alliance to a bullying nation, and to prove it by dumping—in so many words—a longtime Philippine ally, the United States. He was practically doing cartwheels.

The Philippines’ head of state, standing on the world stage, announced extemporaneously to what seemed like a fawning crowd: “I announce my separation from the United States, both in the military… not social, but economics also.”

That must have been quite discomfiting even to Chinese President Xi Jinping, the members of the Philippine delegation, and, most of all, to Mr. Duterte’s compatriots back home and those in the diaspora. And in the United States as well.

“Ano raw?” “Unsa kuno?” Exclamations of disbelief from the perplexed, bewildered and befuddled came fast and furious. The men at the Department of Interpretation and Reinterpretation must have been falling all over themselves (onomatopoeically in Filipino, nagkandarapa; in Ilonggo, nagkinarankaran) to find euphemisms for that bombshell of a foreign policy statement.

Well, what do you know, so many hours later the President said: “It was not severance of ties” with the United States. A “rebalancing” was more like it, said his spokespersons. So what was that sindak statement all about? But then what’s new? This happens all the time—the reinterpretation and the recalibration.

If you were the Chinese—not that they were overeager to hear such an avowal of friendship from a neighbor they bully and about a realignment of alliances—how would you view someone who flip-flops and blows hot and cold? The Chinese have not hinted that they felt slighted by Mr. Duterte’s backtracking, or that they felt they were being toyed with for the world to see, by a foul-mouthed leader who is adored by the 16 million or so Filipinos who voted for him.

The United States has sent a representative to find out what exactly this “separation” is all about. No word yet from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin who, Mr. Duterte said, he also hoped to woo. While Asean countries are circumspect, Mr. Duterte seems to want to ingratiate himself with communist-led undemocratic governments. China, Russia and the Philippines against the world, he said. Why not include North Korea, too?

Who wants to be a vassal of America? But who wants to be a lapdog of China and Russia?

Manuel Quezon III, who wrote a column in the Inquirer before he joined the Aquino administration, recently wrote an insightful piece on what it was like to be part of the entourage of a visiting Philippine head of state in China—how the Chinese pulled out all the stops and flaunted their bigness (the towering guards, the halls, the furniture, etc.), making one feel like a pygmy amidst giants. All that could have some kind of hypnotic effect. An Inquirer banner photo last week showed the Chinese presenting basketball giant Yao Ming to Mr. Duterte.

Hitler did something similar in Nazi Germany, through film and other massive and mesmerizing displays of power and strength. As Filipinos would say, dinadaan sa laki at lakas.

The Chinese leadership wowed the President and his party. Did they also throw him into an altered state of consciousness that made him behave and speak the way he did while he was there? Am I kidding? No. In graduate school we had exercises in altered states of consciousness, including hypnosis as a tool to alter behavior.

Years ago, I did a series on “budol-budol” operations in which the unsuspecting victims are thrown into an altered state of consciousness and made to hand over to con men, without resistance, their heirloom jewelry and their life savings in the bank.

If you’re feeling spooked by all these even before Halloween, find an exorcist.

Have a meaningful All Saints and All Souls week ahead. #

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Privately run prisons

Yes, there are privately-run prisons in the United States. They will soon see the end of their days. The idea has been tried, and it didn’t work. Might the idea have worked in the Philippines’ biggest, the New Bilibid Prisons, which the inmates practically run like it were their private fiefdom?
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Not quite as out-of-the-box as Bob Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature that sent the literati abuzz is the Nobel for economics that went to Oliver Hart, a Harvard economist, and Bengt Holmstrom of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The two were awarded because of their study of business contracts, a subject matter that seems so mundane it would make Dylan’s oeuvre sound so far out in the ocean. The two men’s research conclusions about privatization and its implications have brought to light the desirability or undesirability of such arrangements.
Hart’s studies included prisons, education and even garbage collection. Are these services better or worse in government hands?  Are these better or worse if handled by private companies?
Several months ago the US Justice Department announced that it would phase out privately-owned and -run prisons for safety concerns. In our neck of the woods not many know that many US prisons are run by private parties; the common knowledge is that only the government runs the prisons. Whether badly or very badly there is no choice.
A US news report said stock prices for GEO Corp and Corrections Corporation of America, which are known to be “the largest publicly traded companies in the for-profit prison industry” are plummeting because of the justice department’s announcement that it would let its contracts with private prison companies expire.
The report also said the decision applies to federal prisons which account for a relatively small percentage of US prisoners. The majority of prisoners are in state-run prisons.
There have been exposés about these privately-run facilities described as a “private, for-profit prison racket.” Last year, Mother Jones magazine ran an article written by its reporter who worked as a guard at a private prison for four months. Read “The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery” by Vicky Pelaez for Global Research.
What is going on in Philippine prisons has been headline news these past weeks. Senate and House inquiries “in aid of legislation” (or “in aid of persecution,” as some say) have at least revealed—but only partly—the terrible rot in these facilities. The massive trade in illegal drugs, prostitution, wanton disregard for prison rules, powerful inmates lording it over and living luxurious lives in the facility—name it. Our jaws dropped when an inmate boasted at a House hearing about his five-star-hotel amenities, holding concerts, bringing in truckloads of beer, etc., making tons of money in the process.
Only after we had picked our jaws off the floor did we manage to ask: How long has this been going on? Of course we had seen the trailer of this sometime last year. But only recently did we get to see the full movie, so to speak, the plot more expanded, with blood and guts spilling outside prison walls even as we speak.
Privately-run prisons piqued my interest because these had to do with a Nobel laureate’s study of business contracts and also because the Nobel came at a time when the US Justice Department just announced that it was allowing its contracts with at least 13 private prisons to expire in the next five years. I could not help thinking about our own prisons which became “privately run” by the inmates while we were sleeping. Who were sleeping on the job?
In this era of privatized public services (water, for example) and having seen the difference between government-run and privately-run, give or take some downsides, privatizing prisons is an idea to try. Laugh me out of the room for saying it, but in this woebegone country where nothing (in prison) has worked, a failed scheme might.
Same for the vaunted new drug rehab facilities. Can the government run them well?