Thursday, March 1, 2018

Journalism in real life and the movies

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

I have a copy of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography “Personal History” (1997), which I had hurriedly bought to read before interviewing her daughter Elizabeth “Lally” Graham Weymouth in 2001. Weymouth was here at that time to interview then President Gloria Arroyo for Newsweek (also a publication of the Washington Post Company) as she had other heads of state.

Inquirer chair Marixi Prieto had arranged for the interview at a hotel lobby. It was short and quick, but it (and reading the book) gave me a glimpse of the storied life of Weymouth’s mother. Two months after the interview, Graham died at the age of 84.
So watching “The Post” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep (as Graham) and Tom Hanks (as Post executive editor Ben Bradlee) was not at all like knowing about the story for the first time, also because — in an eerie sort of way — something similar had played out in the Philippines before and is again playing out here and now. Although in different magnitudes at different times and circumstances.

Allison Brie played Lally Graham Weymouth who, in the movie, gave her mother a what-to-do-and-not-do list when she entered, for the first time, the lion’s den made up of corporate men.

“The Post” is about Washington Post’s 1971 exposé on the highly classified Pentagon Papers that would throw light on the United States’ involvement and loss in the Vietnam War that was being kept secret while hundreds of thousands of young Americans continued to die in the battlefield. Then President Richard Nixon, like his predecessors, had secrets to keep.

Graham, newly widowed and who took over the helm of the Washington Post, had to contend with her friendship with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, the Post’s editors and reporters, the company’s overbearing stockholders, as well as a possible lawsuit that could spell the end of the company if the newspaper spilled what was in the Pentagon Papers. The movie draws much from Chapters 21 and 22 of Graham’s 26-chapter autobiography (with photos). The choice was hard but Graham had to make it. The newspaper triumphed, with the Supreme Court upholding the correctness of the paper’s decision to publish.

In her book, Graham quotes a letter from Bradlee: “I’m not sure I could handle another one of these tomorrow, but it is so great to know that this whole newspaper will handle the next one with courage and commitment and style.”

Graham follows with: “Indeed, publishing the Pentagon Papers made future decisions easier, even possible. Most of all it prepared us — and I suspect, unfortunately, Nixon as well — for Watergate.”

Yes, daring, defiant journalism that exposes the truth no matter who is in power has its own redemptive power.

A number of journalism-related movies based on real events have gotten their share of Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences which is going 90 this year, as well as awards from other bodies. March 4 is the big day and already, “The Post,” Streep in particular (for the nth time in her life), are in the running. In 2016, “Spotlight” which was about Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team that investigated sex abuses in the Church, ran away with the Best Picture award.

The 1976 “All the President’s Men” (starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, respectively, and Jason Robards as editor Bradlee) which was on the Watergate scandal during the Nixon presidency had its share of awards and nominations from award-giving bodies. The 2017 movie “The Post” is like a prequel to the 1976 movie “All the President’s Men,” the former ending with a hint of the exposé that was to explode next — the Watergate break-in.

The riveting drama in these movies that I see as a journalist consists of the characters, the hidden sources, the legwork, the digging up, the locking horns with publishers and editors, and, of course, the consequences. In real life it is heart-pounding, exhausting, frightening, exhilarating. As one shapes and writes the story in solitude, the characters, living and dead, come to life — to haunt, torment, cast doubt, and also assure. The truth one knows has a way of sneaking back in.#

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reclaiming public services

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

In the country last week were experts who spoke about how public services have been or are being reclaimed by citizens who had been in the grip of private enterprises that made profit out of dispensing public services. The gathering was a good prelude to this week’s activities commemorating 1986 People Power that reclaimed freedom and democracy and ended more than a decade of tyranny and martial rule.

The event was initiated by the Asia Europe Peoples Forum’s Thematic Circle on Social Justice. Founded in 1996, AEPF is an interregional network of people’s movements, trade unions, activists, scholars and parliamentarians in Asia and Europe. I have been in on its activities these many years, attending some of its events here and abroad — how it engages governments in Asia and Europe on issues such as social and economic justice, trade and corporate accountability, climate justice, peace, security, democracy and human rights.

Tackled at the recent event was how public services are increasingly becoming inaccessible to millions worldwide. Healthcare, education, water, electricity, housing and transportation — services indispensable to a life of dignity and security — have become expensive while in private hands and as states continue to cut subsidies.

Privatization, marketization and commodification, AEPF notes, have become conditions imposed by multilateral financial institutions for financially strapped borrower-countries. States relinquish to profit-making private corporations the task and duty to provide public services. Public-private partnerships (PPP) have become the name of the game. Vulnerable sectors such as the unemployed, the sick and elderly, those with disabilities, and ethnic minorities are affected by private-sector takeover.

If the state, the duty bearer, cannot guarantee democratization of public services, what are the “doable alternatives” in which people can take part? How do people “reclaim” the services that the state is supposed to deliver? (I could not help thinking of the almost-daily multiple breakdown of the MRT system on Edsa, the metro’s main artery, which hundreds of thousands distressed commuters navigate daily.)

The “reclaim” concept is not new and has not remained a concept. It is, in fact, doable, as proven by successful cases in countries where people’s resolve and participation made them possible. Speakers at the gathering shared their experiences and insights.

The research and advocacy group Transnational Institute (TNI) has recorded at least 835 examples of what it calls “(re)municipalization of public services” worldwide in recent years, which involved more than 1,600 cities in 45 countries. TNI uses “(re)municipalization” to refer to “the process of bringing previously private or privatized services which are under private control and management at the local level.” Other newly coined terms are “renationalization” and “deprivatization.” The latter is “an overarching term for remunicipalization, renationalization and citizen-led reclaiming of public services, all of which are oriented towards fighting against the ills of privatization.”

To cite a few cases: In Oslo, Norway, waste collection was taken from a service provider and remunicipalized in 2017. In 2015, the government of the newly elected Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, India, began delivering on its promises of affordable healthcare by putting up 1,000 community clinics.

Grenoble (France) became a pioneer in water remunicipalization when it ended a corrupt contract with a multinational provider in the early 2000s. In Lithuania, central heating was remunicipalized after investigation showed manipulation of heating prices.

The book “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation” (2017), edited by Satoko Kishimoto and Olivier Petitjean, is a great reference for “untold stories” on reclaiming successes.

Ongoing beside the People Power Monument on Edsa are round-the-clock, nine-day fasting and prayer activities, called “Dasal at Ayuno Laban sa ChaCha, Para sa Demokrasya: Pagaamin, Pagtitika, Pagbabago at Pagkakaisa.” It is led by Gomburza, a group of priests, religious and lay people who believe in prayer and action to make this country a better place for all.

Join the prayers and reflections at any time of day or night. The activities end before noon of Feb. 25, the 32nd anniversary of People Power. I was present at the Feb. 22, 1986, breakaway press conference in Camp Aguinaldo and the rest of the days that spelled the beginning of the end.#

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Dead in the freezer

"Dead in the water” is an expression that refers to something bereft of any outcome or future, like a crippled ship with nowhere to go but the dark depths below. In politics, it would apply to bills killed before they could see the light of day. And because yesterday was Valentine’s Day and also Ash Wednesday, the phrase might well apply to a starting fire reduced to a pile of ashes before it had a chance to become a lovely conflagration.
Seriously, the phrase kept repeating itself in my mind. “Dead in the water” and “dead in the freezer” do rhyme, I thought to myself, while wrapping my head around what happened to a Filipino domestic helper in Kuwait, Joanna Demafelis, whose corpse — ice-hard and preserved — was found in a freezer.
“Dead in the freezer” could well be an expression to refer to what could happen to overseas Filipino workers bent on setting off to parts unknown, aka the Middle East, where many of our compatriots suffer unspeakable cruelty in the hands of their employers who are also Muslims.
In using the expression, I am not trivializing the plight of the likes of Demafelis. I am, in fact, livid with rage. But I am not hearing about such a case for the first time, someone might tell me. I say, first time or not, my rage is undiminished. But yes, this is the first time we learn about a dead OFW found inside a freezer. But not the first time about fly-by-night recruiters and neglectful government agencies.

As a journalist, I have written a number of feature stories on OFWs — from an abused Filipino domestic helper who killed a Saudi princess to the so-called “japayukis” to the spouses and children they have left behind, etc. I had thought of putting these OFW stories between covers, but I later decided on a variety of stories instead.
We will keep on telling the stories until there are no more. Centuries from now, when Filipinos in the Philippines have long enjoyed living in a different country of the same name (and the descendants of Filipinos in the diaspora as well) and they read about OFWs, they might find themselves shedding tears over the travails of their ancestors. Like we do when we read Carlos Bulosan’s “America is in the Heart.”
As I said, I again find myself wrapping my head around the abuses committed against OFWs, the domestic workers particularly, and I ask: What is it about them, how are they regarded, and why are they treated with such cruelty? But even more importantly, what is it about their employers that they must subject their household workers to such habitual abuse? There is in many of them the intent, the habit, to inflict suffering. What kind of human beings are they? How do they regard those in their household employ? As slaves?
Some things need to be said. I might have reason to believe that the employers who are Muslims regard non-Muslims in their employ as unbelievers, infidels and therefore worthy to be exterminated or wiped off the face of the earth. A mindset? Am I right or am I right? Somebody should write a dissertation on why I should not think so. And don’t bring up the Crusades because we now have the International Declaration on Human Rights.
In the case of Demafelis’ employers, a Syrian-Lebanese couple living in Kuwait and who left the country a year ago after stuffing her corpse in the freezer, I presume they are Muslims. If proven guilty they deserve the worst punishment that the Koran prescribes for those who kill helpless innocents. Hey, there is no paradise and waiting virgins for you
I do not delight in listening to President Duterte’s trash talk but if there was a time that I wish he had cussed more than he did, it was when he spoke about Demafelis’ fate and called the Kuwaiti government to account for the abuses committed against OFWs. >:*#&X?!< That many OFWs are driven to end their misery by jumping off high-rise buildings is proof of their loneliness and helplessness aggravated by constant abuse.#

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Vaccine phobia; Flavier on my mind

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

The bag of excrement has hit the ceiling fan. Vaccine phobia and a lynch mob, just to name a few toxic concerns, have been spawned, virus-like, because of the Senate and House hearings these past weeks on the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy and fueled by other motivated parties. Pardon the mixed metaphors.

While the continuing hearings on the antidengue vaccine manufactured by French big pharma Sanofi Pasteur are shedding light on the why, who, where, when, how and how much (with all the blame-throwing and finger-pointing), these have also generated misplaced panic among the populace. Add to these the seemingly “differently motivated” parties who delight in arousing strong emotions among the already worried parents whose children, either seropositive or seronegative, have been given the vaccine, some completely (in three doses) and others not.

One thing is a success — the rousing of fear for anything spelled v-a-c-c-i-n-e. The panic arose from the reported 14 deaths out of more than 830,000 vaccinated, deaths which have yet to be directly attributed to Dengvaxia.

No less than Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has called for sobriety, noting with concern that even deworming is now looked upon with suspicion. Good thing that Duque, also a health secretary during the Arroyo administration, is not the type to grandstand, sow distrust, or throw mud at his immediate predecessors to make pogi points for himself.

"It behooves us to allow only evidence-based information to influence decisions,” Duque said at the hearing two days ago. I caught Sen. JV Ejercito saying we should “bring back the confidence” in vaccination programs. It’s the right thing to say while the ceiling fan is spreading the sh*t.

This is not to say there is no one to blame. There are many, Sanofi Pasteur among them. But the toxic thing about it is how the situation is being exploited to create another situation—that of panic, genuine or feigned, for some ulterior purpose.

Gee, I really miss the late former-health-secretary-turned-senator Juan “Let’s DOH it!” Flavier’s down-home wisdom and folksy humor. What questions would he ask at the Senate inquiry? What would he tell the protagonists, the antagonists, the rabble-rousers? An expert in public health and a communication whiz who had spent much of his life as a doctor in the grassroots sector, he always had a gem of a thought for every situation.

To detoxify and make myself smile, I pulled out one of Flavier’s seven books (all autographed). Here is his “Parable of the Diagnoses” to learn from. (I had to delete the next half of this column to give it space.)

“Three barrio albularyos sat together exchanging experiences, recent cases and sure-fire treatments. Soon their conversation shifted to bragging about their special abilities to diagnose patients just by looking at them.

"An elderly woman who overheard their claims had an excellent suggestion. ‘There is a man walking slowly towards us with a peculiar gait, holding his waist. You each state your diagnosis and then we can verify directly with him what ails him. Then we will know who made the best diagnosis.’ The albularyos agreed and observed the approaching man.

“The first albularyo decided fast. ‘He has a stomach ache. Look at the way he holds his waist.’ The second then announced his own diagnosis.

“No, not stomach ache. He has a back ache because of his hunched appearance.’ The third was ready with his own pronouncement. ‘You are both wrong. He is suffering from rheumatism of the right knee. Notice how he limps.’

“Soon the man was just across from them. The woman asked him: ‘Ano ho ang nararamdaman ninyo? May sakit ba kayo?’ “The man looked surprised and straightened up. ‘Wala ho akong nararamdaman. At lalo namang wala akong sakit. Papunta lang ako sa palikuran para dumumi.’

“All three men could not help laughing at their wrong presumptions. The elderly woman admonished them: ‘Kaya kayo, sa uli uli ay huwag gamut nang gamut. Tanungin muna ang dinaramdam ng pasyente para malaman ang sakit. Ganoon din sa nayon, huwag paunlad nang paunlad ng proyekto. Tanungin muna ang suliranin at pangangailangan ng tao.’”

I say, wise woman.#

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pope Francis on fake news

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

Call it synchronicity. While I was going over Pope Francis’ advance message for World Communications Day, the hearing of the Senate committee on public information and mass media was starting, with its chair Sen. Grace Poe conducting.

It was difficult to get my eyes and ears off the TV set, especially with the jaw-dropping presentation of Maria Ressa, CEO of the beleaguered online news network Rappler, who showed how the “fake news ecosystem” was spawned during the 2016 election campaign and exposed a state-sponsored online hate and harassment campaign “to silence and intimidate.”
 There were inputs from journalists, bloggers, techies, lawyers, senators and Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and his colleagues who maintain personal blogs while being paid with taxpayer money.

The inputs came in the form of questions, answers, opinions, information and even confrontations and accusations. The exchanges were far from heated compared with the hearings on drugs, sex, bribery and corruption, but if one listened well there was a lot of information to be derived. And also insights on what has become of us in this woebegone country.

The topic was fake news in social and mainstream media — its definition, sources, purveyors and recipients, the technology involved, how it has shaped politics, the toxicity it has generated, etc.

Clearly, there was a gray area in social media beyond the reach of the law, and the potential for enormous good and enormous evil.

I noticed the attempt to replace the words “fake news” with misinformation and disinformation, which are euphemisms for lies, falsehoods and untruths.

So “swak na swak” (apropos) is Pope Francis’ message released last week, which is “The truth will set your free (from John 8:32),” with focus on fake news and “journalism for peace.” The Pope’s message is traditionally released on Feb. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of Catholic journalists. It is timed months before World Communications Day (May 13 this year), the Sunday before Pentecost, to give church groups months to prepare.

World Communications Day was launched in 1967 during the pontificate of Blessed Pope Paul VI, who had the prescience to see the power of media for cultural transformation.

Pope Francis (who has had his share of bad-mouthing from President Duterte) said that “the capacity to twist the truth is symptomatic of our condition, both as individuals and communities… In today’s fast changing world of communications and digital systems, we are witnessing the spread of what has come to be known as ‘fake news.’”

Fake news, he said, “refers to the spreading of disinformation online or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on nonexistent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.

“The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to mimic real news, to seem plausible. Secondly, this false but believable news is ‘captious,’ inasmuch as it grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices, and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration. The ability to spread such fake news often relies on a manipulative use of the social networks and the way they function. Untrue stories can spread so quickly that even authoritative denials fail to contain the damage.”

Praiseworthy, the Pope added, are the efforts at helping people “take an active part in unmasking falsehoods” and “those institutional and legal initiatives aimed at developing regulations for curbing the phenomenon… Yet preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment.”

Fake news, the Pope stressed, are rooted in thirst for power and greed. If responsibility is the answer to fake news, then the weight rests on those “whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protector of news.” Theirs is not just a job, he said. “It is a mission.”

He ends by borrowing from the structure and cadence of the famous Prayer of St. Francis: “Where there is shouting, let us practice listening… where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity … where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.” #

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The forgotten mosquito

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

I have this caricature in my head showing lawmakers, other government officials, health experts, big pharma, worried parents and other persons of interest exchanging barbs at a Senate hearing over the antidengue vaccination program that went awry. They are at one another’s throat over the what, where, who, when, why, how, and how much.

Separately, in another box of the cartoon, are deadly dengue mosquitoes in a huddle and plotting their next biting spree that would spread the virus and cause illness and death. “They are not talking about us,” the head mosquito tells the swarm.
The Senate inquiry into the Dengvaxia vaccine administered to hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren and its possible ill effects on the seronegative ones (those who have not been exposed to the dengue virus) is not quite over. Neither are the outcry, the blame-throwing, and the finger-pointing. Fears have not been assuaged. The staggering amount of money spent for the vaccine from French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur has yet to be fully recovered.

It is all about the vaccine, the money gone down the drain, and the vaccinated children on whom the vaccine might not work and which might even make them sicker if dengue strikes. All but forgotten is the female dengue mosquito that transmits the virus through its bite.

About a dozen vaccinated seronegative children have reportedly died but their deaths have not been conclusively and solely attributed to Dengvaxia itself, but to some preexisting health condition. And if they died because of dengue itself, then the vaccine did not work for them (as expected) and made their condition worse?

In the case of the seropositive ones who had been previously exposed to dengue, the group supposed to benefit from Dengvaxia’s protection if at all, were there deaths because of dengue? If there were, this means Dengvaxia did not protect them at all?

Questions arose because of Sanofi’s own announcement late last year that Dengvaxia might (or would?) cause some adverse effects on seronegative children who were vaccinated. What parent would not raise a howl? And there were questions, too, on why Sanofi’s announcement was phrased in an alarming way — and was it therefore a case of “lost in translation” or a communication fiasco? I have always been wary of big pharma.

At the latest Senate hearing former health secretary Enrique Ona said that were he in charge in 2016 he would not have allowed immunization on such a massive scale. He cited a 2015 New England Journal of Medicine editorial titled “A candidate dengue vaccine walks a tightrope.” And so the onus was on his successor, Janette Garin, who implemented the P3.5-billion program in 2016.

After Sanofi’s announcement last month, the vaccination program was stopped. But the question remains: What prompted the Department of Health to hurry with the immunization in 2016? The then approaching 2016 national elections is now being factored in by former health secretary Paulyn Ubial, who has been replaced by Francisco Duque, himself a health secretary several presidents ago. Duque stays cool and invokes “prudence and due diligence” where the lives of children are concerned.

Question: Had massive immunization (which was there to offer) not been implemented, and there happened to be a massive dengue outbreak at that time, with casualties in its wake, would the sin of omission or indecisiveness be cited against the incumbents then? As in, many lives could have been saved, illness and death could have been prevented, all the expense could have been worth it. But that was not the case. The immunization program pushed through and a new scenario came into view: possible severe dengue cases among the seronegatives who had Dengvaxia injections.

For those in charge, it’s damned if you didn’t, damned if you did. Still, there were lessons learned. Meanwhile, the female aedes aegypti mosquito rules. It is the species of mosquito that carries dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses. The mosquito bites a dengue-infected person, becomes a carrier, and when it again bites, the virus is transmitted, and so on and so forth. Anything being done in mosquito country?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

'Je suis' Rappler

If our colleagues in the frontline of public debate do not take the risk, then the barbarians have won.” That is a French woman journalist speaking in the documentary on the mass shooting of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo carried out by terrorists in Paris in January 2015.
The administration has made good its threat against Rappler, the online news and investigative media platform that has been critical of the Duterte presidency (oh, but that is not all it does). How? Citing foreign ownership, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is revoking Rappler’s certificate of incorporation. Which means Rappler is no longer licensed to operate. Which means Rappler would be shut up and shut down.
“Harassment!” Rappler cried. For Rappler there is still time and a chance for appeal and prove the accusation wrong — that Rappler is, in fact, owned by Filipinos.

Although there has always been a proverbial sword hanging over Rappler these past many months, the SEC’s shocker three days ago still caught many by surprise. But after surveying the sorry landscape littered with rolling heads from various agencies (as in the cases of Commission on Higher Education Chair Patricia Licuanan and of two in the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board), many of us, stunned and angry, can only interject: It was to be expected; the iron hand has unsheathed the sword.

Like wildfire the news spread and soon social media was fast sprouting memes.
Remember #iameverywoman after the slew of sexist presidential verbal attacks on women? And on the global scene, the Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie) cry after the terrorist attack on the French publication Charlie Hebdo that killed 12, eight of them journalists.
A journalist-friend had gifted me with the publication “I Am Charlie: Editorial Cartoonists Honor Free Speech” that came out after the 2015 Paris tragedy. On the cover is a caricature of New York’s Statue of Liberty (a 1880s gift from the French people) wearing a black Je suis Charlie T-shirt and holding high, not her torch, but a pen.
Most of the 47 cartoons from 22 countries in “I Am Charlie” show pens, pencils and paint brushes as “deadly weapons” against extremists, despots and tyrants. One shows a huge pen planted on a dead armalite-wielding terrorist. On the pen are the words: “This machine kills fascists. Je suis Charlie.”
The other day, I took out a black T-shirt I have kept all these years. On it is a white drawing of an antique typewriter and the words, “VINCIT OMNIA VERITAS.” Truth conquers all. I photographed it and posted it on Facebook to add to the uproar over the Rappler case. I still have my vintage 1980s “Stop Harassing Journalists” T-shirt and two patches embroidered with “Don’t Shoot Journalists.” Relics of the past they are, indeed.
Journalism was under siege during the Marcos dictatorship and many of us fought hard, sometimes with risk to our personal lives. But there was no blocking the truth completely. There was the so-called mosquito press, publications from the church sector — “The Communicator,” “Various Issues,” “Signs of the Times,” “Ichthys.” Threaten one and two would sprout up, like wild mushrooms in a thunderstorm.
Remember how the Inquirer was being killed through an ad boycott in 2000, at the behest of the short-lived plunderous Estrada presidency? The Elvis look-alike president ended up doing “Jailhouse Rock.”

Je suis Rappler could well be our collective battle cry. If the administration succeeds for now in bringing Rappler to its knees, Rappler will surely rise again.  And how. Je suis Rappler!
On the bright side, Gawad Kalinga (GK) is holding its fifth Social and Business Summit (Jan. 19-21) at its 43-hectare Enchanted Farm in Bulacan. Participants from different sectors will learn from one another.
Enchanted Farm is GK’s platform to raise social entrepreneurs, help local farmers, and create wealth in the countryside. GK is a nongovernment organization that pioneered in fast-tracking massive housing projects for the poor, but its founder Antonio Meloto believes that providing homes (hundreds of thousands) is merely a beginning on the road out of poverty, and that the country’s wealth of resources can be harnessed further so that every Filipino may live a life of dignity.#



Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Tectonic shift'

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

The 65th Golden Globe Awards three days ago was like no other because of the color, tone and theme that its black-clad participants pushed, which was “Time’s Up.” Time’s up for those who sexually harass women, time to speak out openly and condemn and expose. Black said it loud.

Oprah Winfrey, media giant (producer, talk show host, actress), received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Award — the first black woman to be given such an honor. She spoke, and the people in the audience rose to applaud. What she said has gone viral on social media but, as always, not everybody is happy for what was said or not said.

Winfrey is criticized for having compared — but did she? — the “black women’s Jim Crow era rape to that of rich white women’s #MeToo” in Hollywood and business. That is, there is no way to compare the two and that she shouldn’t have done so. Writer Charlie Peach pointed out the gaps in Winfrey’s speech and gave more that the world should know about the plight of black women. Well, thanks for all that.

But I read the transcript of Winfrey’s speech and I could not see how or where she was comparing the two eras and the women who were victimized and their victimizers. She was simply presenting cases in a bygone era to emphasize her point. That Winfrey is a black woman billionaire (having risen from an impoverished background) does not mean she has lost the feel for her roots. That she is now touted as a presidential contender is another story.

For this Asian in Southeast Asia, I thought Winfrey’s speech immensely helped in further stoking the fire. Whatever she did not say in those few minutes on stage, whatever blanks there were could be filled up by others in, say, books and books and books and other media.

In Asia, South Asia especially, women do not only get raped, they also get doused with kerosene and set on fire by their husbands and even by their female in-laws. If they survive, they are scarred and disfigured for life, both physically and emotionally.

Yes, there is also no way to compare even loosely the “rich white women’s #MeToo” in corporate and Hollywood’s America with Asian women’s experience of sexual violence. But I thought Winfrey’s message, constrained as it was by time and place, is true and acceptable in different contexts—and it helps if one knew where she is coming from.

Earlier, Time magazine honored the “Silence Breakers” as the publication’s 2017 Persons of the Year, women who exposed sexual assault and harassment. So every act that goes in the direction of women’s freedom from violence and discrimination is a step in the right direction, an affirmation.

I liked what Winfrey said about the media which is her turf: “I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To … to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room is celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.”

This year’s “stories” being the women’s stories about sexual harassment and abuse. So, yes to storytelling! We journalists are more than just reporters and feature writers. We are storytellers.

The Globes’ best actress for drama, Frances McDormand (of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” which won as Best Picture), found the right words: “It’s great to be here and be part of the tectonic shift in our industry’s power structure.”

Hyperbolic though it may sound, the tectonic shift is real. Feel the earth move.#

Thursday, January 4, 2018

SOS for police's mistaken targets

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

Police cordon off the crime scene around the corner of Shaw Boulevard and Old Wack Wack Road (Photo by JUSTIN PUNSALANG / Radyo Inquirer)
I was a Girl Scout so I know that in Morse code, SOS is …—… . It is a distress signal. The three letters do not stand for anything (not for “save our ship” or “save our souls”) except to call for help. (More later.)

What do you do if you find yourself in the crosshairs of armed law enforcers and you do not know why, you have not broken the law, and are not in the company of felons? You are not a bystander in the crossfire, you are mistaken prey.

This is what happened in Mandaluyong City a few days after Christmas Day, news reports of which have clearly shown that the “kill, kill, kill” mindset of cops and barangay tanod (village watchmen) are not figments of one’s cinematic imagination. Picture a car full of people rushing a woman with a gunshot wound to a hospital mistaken as a vehicle with armed criminals on board, chased and repeatedly shot at. Even without return fire from the car being pursued, the firing continued.

When the smoke cleared, two passengers were dead and several badly wounded. At least 36 empty shells and slugs were recovered from the scene, a number of them fired by the tanod who shouldn’t be armed.

While there are rules of engagement for cops in hot pursuit or involved in shootouts and the like, what are innocents who suddenly find themselves prey supposed to do to save their lives? Earthquake drills and bad weather warnings we have plenty of to prepare ourselves for the worst. (None for nuclear fallout so far.)

We even have warnings for “carmaggedon” (traffic gridlock) and how-tos in case of fire, flood, dengue fever, etc. For drivers, we have defensive driving. But as the police’s mistaken target, none, nada, zilch, wala.

Criminals on the run and who fight back are on their own, but if unarmed or surrendering, they are not supposed to be killed. Though that is not how it has been in the past one-and-a-half years in the Duterte Wild West. Consider the alleged 12,000-plus drug-related kills, both by cops and by unknown assailants. But that is another story.

The Mandaluyong case is another territory. It did not seem to be a drug-related one; the victims were not pursued because they were on the drug list or even maliciously listed. The police and the tanod—more than 10 of them—simply acted on somebody’s say-so. And so what happened happened.

“Ayan na nga ba, eh,” could be our collective refrain, which translates roughly to: “But of course, it was waiting to happen. Ilonggos would say “Tê?” and Bicolanos “Nem …” with the proper inflection or tone of voice to convey a variety of meanings.

No ill intent, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa said of his men’s foul-up in Mandaluyong. Metro Manila police chief Oscar “Accordingly” Albayalde was sufficiently incensed and promptly investigated the cops involved.

So how do we innocents protect ourselves when we find ourselves becoming prey and in the police crosshairs? Shouldn’t we — or the police — provide some dos and don’ts for us innocents who might find ourselves the object of police pursuit? Even suspects on the run are given fair warning—to go down on their knees, with their hands up or on their heads. (I’ve been watching too many real-life “COPS” shows on cable TV.) Not quite so in “Oplan Tokhang.”

As I said, I was a Girl Scout so I know that SOS in Morse code is …—… and the signal can be sent as sound or light. Because I drive, I thought a distress signal can be sent repeatedly using the car horn—three short sounds, three long, three short—or using the headlights. Do not use a flashlight because the light could be mistaken as gunfire.

Have a white hankie or tissue to wave as a no-fight, give-up sign. Do not dash out of the car or you might perish in a hail of bullets.

I ask the police authorities: What else can you suggest that we can all agree upon and that bumbling, trigger-happy cops can understand? These …—…, …—…, …—…? And more. #

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas and Facebook depression

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

First, some stray thoughts from me this Christmas season: Do not be despondent, annoyed or envious when people repeatedly and continuously make Facebook posts about their awesome blessings and great fortune that most people in this world can only pine for. Christmas should not be such a cruel season. Search for gems hidden in your own life and be grateful. Look to The Manger.

I say that because there have been a good number of studies linking Facebook to depression. In fact, psychologists have coined a name for a condition or experience that afflicts not a few Facebook users: Facebook depression. Which makes me think that if, once upon a time, Freud had named a kind of envy that women supposedly felt for not having the appendage that men have (something post-Freud women have debunked), now there is a more real kind of envy that many Facebook users from all walks of life may be experiencing: Facebook envy, a condition psychologists have named.

I cannot see or observe what people in the entire Facebook universe post. I only see, read and observe what my Facebook friends and friends of friends (and the public sometimes) — as they are technically called — posts. And that is about themselves, their families, friends and enemies, triumphs and tragedies, blessings, sightings, acquisitions, milestones and events, food and travel, loud thoughts and feelings, unsolicited opinions, wounds and ailments, losses and gains. A whole range of tangibles and intangibles.
Reading and viewing all that, one can sense or guess the reasons behind postings. They also run a whole range. From simple, joyful sharing (“We want you to know how happy we are”), to something like showing off (absentmindedly?) what they have (materially, that is) that many do not have a fraction of. Intentionally or unintentionally, the latter kind could sometimes border on the distasteful and annoying, as in, enough already.

Am not talking here of bashers, trashers, hecklers, cyberbullies and other Facebook pests from hell. I am referring to those in one’s Facebook circles whose repeated posts from Cloud 9 could trigger negative reactions in those not as well situated, in those who are groveling in the dark because of adverse weather conditions in their personal lives.

Why Facebook envy? Because those who have the tendency to compare their situation with others who are richer, happier, healthier, more accomplished, more successful in the many departments of life may develop in themselves a diminished self-worth. Highly-evolved individuals — in the spiritual realm that is — would not get affected by the show-offs except perhaps to be amused, but those of us on hard ground could harbor self-deprecating thoughts. And those who are on rocky ground (may pinagdadaanan) could really feel left out, despondent, depressed. Especially this Christmas season of revelry and sharing in the name of The One who was born in a stable 2,017 years ago.

I do not say that those reveling in triumph and swimming in a surfeit of blessings should calibrate their rejoicing or tame their happy posts on Facebook. But those already in the doldrums should perhaps stay away from aggravating stimuli on Facebook that could trigger comparisons and feelings of being outsiders in life’s celebrations. Not to skulk further away but to find for themselves hidden springs no matter how distant. Pity-me memes on Facebook could be cries for help though. Hearken.

Today, Holy Innocents Day, we remember those who perished in various tragedies within days before and during Christmas Day — the hundreds in two successive typhoons, many of them buried in landslides; the 38 in a Davao City mall blaze; the dozens in road and sea mishaps. Let us embrace the grieving with our prayers and presence. A deathly Christmas season it has been for so many.

“A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loudly lamenting: it was Rachel weeping for her children; refusing to be comforted because they were no more” (Jer. 31:15; Mat. 2:18).

For the New Year, one more stray thought from me: May you find what you seek, if not now, sometime soon, if not right here, somewhere beyond. Ora et labora, don’t give up. Let’s go! #

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Why midnight replacements at HRVCB?

If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
At the 11th hour when 93 percent of some 75,000 cases filed by human rights violations victims have been adjudicated at the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB), and five months to go before the board’s mandate ends in May 2018, why did President Duterte have to make midnight replacements? The board was naturally shocked to learn that the President had replaced two of its board members “without cause and due process.”

The midnight replacements worried claimants that there might be more replacements and that the claims would be compromised.
There was no explanation at all except for presidential spokesperson Harry Roque saying that it was presidential prerogative, and that as far as he knew there would be no more replacements.

The nine members of the HRVCB when it began were chair Lina Sarmiento, members Wilfred D. Asis, Galuasch G. Ballaho, Byron D. Bocar, Glenda Litong, Aurora Corazon A. Parong, Erlinda N. Senturias, Dexter B. Calizar and Jacqueline V. Mejia. They were appointed by then President Benigno Aquino III.

Calizar was replaced by Nasser Pangandaman Jr., a former mayor of Masui, Lanao del Sur, whose appointment was signed on Nov. 27. Mejia was replaced by Ricardo Moldez whose appointment was dated Dec. 8. Mejia was Commission on Human Rights executive director for 27 years. “She had excellent work ethic,” a colleague of hers in the HRVCB said.
Former Presidential Commission on Good Government commissioner Ruben Carranza reacted to the news thus: “I wrote the very first draft of this law. So when … spokesperson Harry Roque says ‘We can’t rebuke (President Duterte’s) wisdom’ in appointing these two new persons to the board …, he’s wrong. Not only are these appointments unwise, they’re unlawful.”
In his Facebook post, Carranza said what he thought of the two new appointees and cited Section 8 of Republic Act No. 10368 that created the HRVCB and set the qualifications of its members: “(a) must be of known probity, competence and integrity; (b) must have a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos; (c) at least three of them must be members of the Philippine bar who have been engaged in the practice of law for at least 10 years; and (d) must have a clear understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy.”
Question: Do Pangandaman and Moldez have these qualifications?
I was told that Pangandaman was interested in another post and not, for heaven’s sake, in a seat in the HRVCB.
Victims of the Marcos dictatorship belonging to the group Claimants 1081 promptly drafted a resolution “expressing grave concern over the midnight replacement of two members of the human rights victims claims board; urging the claims board to faithfully implement its mandate by expediting the adjudication and resolution of all claims; and calling on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to protect, safeguard and maintain the integrity and independence of the claims board and to immediately direct the organization of the memorial commission and the establishment of the human rights museum pursuant to the provisions of (RA) 10368.”
The HRVCB is “an independent quasi-judicial body charged to, among others, receive, evaluate, investigate and adjudicate claims for reparation and/or recognition for human rights violations victims during the martial law period from September 21, 1972, to February 25, 1986.”

It is divided into three commissions but acts as a single collegiate body and meets en banc on certain matters specified under the law. It maintains a staff of about 150, many of them lawyers and paralegals described as “hardworking and very dedicated.”
The P10 billion allotted for rights victims came from Marcos hidden wealth returned by the government of Switzerland on condition that it would go to victims.
The claims filed with the HRVCB are different and separate from the $2-billion class suit that victims filed against the Marcos estate and won in a Hawaii court in 1994.
The last batch of the HRVCB’s approved claimants is expected to be out before the yearend. The first months of 2018 will be for appeals and oppositions to claims.
With firm resolve, let us find the true essence of Christmas.#