Thursday, October 31, 2013

"The Nameless' virtual monument

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

This All Saints-All Souls Day weekend there is much to remember. Memories crash in like a strong wave coming from a great distance. We fall on our knees to pray and be grateful.

“We are nameless and all names are ours.” This is the subtitle of the website “The Nameless” run by the Project Nameless Collective. The website is yet another way to remember and celebrate the heroic lives of individuals who spent much of their time on earth in the service of their fellow Filipinos, they who fought for justice and freedom without counting the cost.

Many of them crossed over to the Great Beyond with much blood and pain, some with nary a trace, leaving behind families and comrades with grief so deep and wounds still unhealed. Others peacefully moved on in the faint glow of sunset, the trails they blazed now become well-lit and well-travelled paths for a new generation..

But many, too, are those who have not been publicly hailed, known only to those who lived and fought closely and even secretly with them, but who deserve to be known nonetheless, not so much to earn for them belated honors as to allow their sacrifices to be imitated, duplicated.

And so while “nameless” may be a figure of speech, it honors and, just as importantly, includes those who are literally nameless, faceless or unknown to many, those who perished in the night with the name of their beloved country on their lips, who died alone in wildernesses with clenched fists slowly opening to receive eternal reward, their eyes beholding their own new dawn.

The Project Nameless Collective is composed of volunteers who contribute content to The Nameless website and keep it running. They are mostly comrades, relatives and friends of the heroes honored on the virtual shrine. The collective also mounts projects, such as mobile exhibits about the heroes and martyrs honored on this website.

The Nameless website is the collective’s way to make people “remember and celebrate the heroes…of the struggle for national freedom and democracy in the Philippines.” The collective collaborates with individuals and groups with similar objectives, like the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation and Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Tayo Ngayon and Tibak Pilipinas, to name a few.

 It can, for example, gather and provide documentation that can assist in pending nominations for Bantayog ng mga Bayani. Speaking of Bantayog ng mga Bayani, I am sure it will have its share of visitors during this All Saints-All Souls Day weekend. The remains of more than 200 (and counting) Bantayog heroes and martyrs are not buried there but their names are engraved on the black granite Wall of Remembrance that reminds us of their sufferings and sacrifices for the motherland.

I learned that although there are more than 200 names engraved on the Wall of Remembrance, there are more than 1,000 more in the Bantayog files, awaiting more substantial documentation. And there are tens of thousands more, many of them poor and unknown who died fighting for justice and democracy during the dark days of martial rule. To them, Bantayog trustee and multiawarded poet Jose “Pete” Lacaba dedicated the poem, “The Nameless” (excerpts at the end of this column).

The Nameless website is “a community-based, community-driven, intercreative, and interactive site: that is, it will rely on the comrades, friends, and relatives of ‘the nameless’ to continuously provide content, and to have discussions about our heroes and martyrs. It is a social network built to serve the needs of communities who seek to name ‘the nameless.’” Threaded comments, like those in social networking sites, are a feature of the website.

Launched last February, this project is an initiative of activists of the martial-law period. The website says that those who contribute to the site honor not only those who are no longer around but also the nameless who remember them, and who continue to make their legacy known. The site wishes to remember and celebrate heroes of all political persuasions, and possibly of different historical periods. (For starters, writer Carlos Bulosan who championed the cause of Filipino laborers in the United States during the Great Depression has been included to represent those from a long bygone era.)

I looked at the roster of names of The Nameless and realized that I had written about a good number of them for the mainstream media—from rebel priest Fr. Zacarias Agatep to “Kristo” to “Bullet X,” etc. I will be sending copies of my articles to the site.

Those who wish to contribute to the site may write to info@nameless.org.ph.

The Nameless by Jose “Pete” Lacaba

Nalalaman na lang natin/Ang kanilang mga pangalan /Kung sila ay wala na/Subalit habang sila’y nabubuhay/ Sila’y walang mga pangalan/Walang mukhang madaling tandaan/Hindi sila naiimbitang magtalumpati sa liwasan/Hindi inilalathala ng pahayagan/Ang kanilang mga larawan/At kung makasalubong mo sa daan/Kahit anong pomada ang gamit nila/ Ay hindi ka mapapalingon/Sila’y walang mga pangalan/Walang mukhang madaling tandaan/ Subalit sila ang nagpapatakbo/Sa motor ng kilusang mapagpalaya/Sila ang mga paang nagmartsa/Sa mga kalsadang nababakuran/ Ng alambreng tinik/Sila ang mga bisig na nagwawagayway/Ng mga bandila ng pakikibaka/Sa harap ng batuta at bala/Sila ang mga kamaong nagtaas/Ng nagliliyab na sulo Sa madilim na gabi ng diktadura/Sila ang mga tinig na sumigaw ng “Katarungan! Kalayaan!…”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Benedictines from all over meet in PH for educational thrust

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

MANILA, Philippines—Educators from schools run by members of the Benedictine Order in different countries are holding a four-day global conference in Manila on the theme “Benedictine Education: A Gift to the World.”

Some 100 religious sisters, monks and their lay collaborators are gathered for the Benet 2013 Conference, which opened on Wednesday and will end on Saturday, on the St. Scholastica’s College Manila campus.

The Benedictines are monks, nuns and lay brothers who are members of congregations following the rule created by St. Benedict of Nursia, Italy, in the 6th century. Benedictine congregations are known for their scholarship and liturgical worship. Benedictine monasteries in Europe were especially known to be repositories of learning and literature in the Middle Ages.

Abbot Primate Dr. Norkel Wolf OSB said the education of young people has been a hallmark of the Benedictine and Cistercian Orders for more than a millennium. Timeless values “(Our) vocation as educators is a strong testimony of the vitality and richness of our timeless Benedictine values, in particular, seeing and reverencing Christ in the young, old and most vulnerable among us,” he said.

In many countries, and especially in the Philippines, Benedictine institutions of learning are “forces for sociopolitical cultural transformation,” said Sr. Josefina Nepomuceno OSB, executive director of the Association of Benedictine Schools in the Philippines and chair of the conference committee.

“A socially oriented Benedictine education is our gift to the world,” said Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB, former prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters and former president of St. Scholastica’s College. She said St. Benedict was a patron of “sustainable agriculture” and peace, the “Pax Benedictina.”

In her keynote speech, Mananzan spoke about priorities for Benedictine education in these times, about “academic leaders as servant and prophetic leaders of their communities toward education for justice and social transformation.”

Liberating pedagogy

She related how, during the repressive martial law years, St. Scholastica’s College adopted a “liberating pedagogy” that contributed to social awareness and responsibility.

Among the countries represented at the conference are South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Columbia, Germany, England, the United States and the Philippines. The last Benet conference was held in Germany in 2010. The triennial conference was organized by the International Benedictine Committee for Education headed by Fr. Christopher Jamison OSB of Worth Abbey in England. The abbey runs Worth School, a boarding school that is the alma mater of a number of Filipinos, most prominently Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the brothers Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala.

Besides speakers at plenary sessions, the conference features “best-practice workshops” tackling topics such as “Young People and Benedict’s Rule Today” (Philippines), “Good Samaritan Education” (Australia), “E-twinning” (Germany), “The African Experience” (South Africa) and “Boarding Schools” (England).

The big Benedictine schools in the Philippines are St. Scholastica’s College run by the Missionary Benedictine Sisters, with many branches around the country, and San Beda College and its branches run by Benedictine monks.

The conference host, St. Scholastica’s College and Priory began in the Philippines in 1906 with the arrival of Benedictine sisters from Tutzing, Germany. Among the school’s prominent alumnae are the late President Corazon C. Aquino and the first woman Supreme Court justice, Cecilia Muñoz Palma.

The Benedictine Sisters established the country’s first college of music at St. Scholastica’s. The school is known for its strict discipline, academic standards and involvement in social issues.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

'Repair my house'

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

The first images of the destruction wrought by the killer quake that struck the island provinces of Bohol and Cebu on Oct. 15 were those of ancient churches that crumbled to the ground like polvoron. Only later, after the media had arrived, were more images seen and voices heard from ruins in remote places.

Churches, being the prominent landmarks and tourist-drawers in hard-hit Bohol, became, for a while, the focus of interest and panghihinayang (feeling of loss). Not to say that lost lives and the suddenly homeless and injured human beings are secondary. But for many Boholanos, the churches are also their homes, part of their lives and the history of generations.

And so ancient churches crashing down, and what might be the symbolic meaning of the heaps of debris, are not lost on many. It really depends on what the word “church” signifies to whoever is contemplating the devastation. From power to powder? What means “church”? Structure or people?

I have visited the churches in Baclayon, Loboc and Maribojoc in Bohol. In the Loboc church (home of the famous children’s choir) I was able to photograph the paintings on the ceiling (frescoes) that showed Jesus calming the wind and the turbulent waves opposite a rendition of the compassionate Jesus the Good Shepherd. The paintings are framed by what look like carved pink moldings which are actually flat, done in renaissance Italian chiaroscuro style that gives depth and volume.

After the earthquake ruined the Loboc church, I posted the photo on Facebook and got many “likes”.

Discovered only a few years ago in the Baclayon church was Misa Baclayana, an old musical score believed to have been written in the 1800s. I was able to see the huge original score and listen to the children of Loboc sing the hymns in Intramuros in 2010. I did write about it (“Misa Baclayana: ancient beauty that sounds so new,” May 27, 2010).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Poverty porn'

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

Sunday, we were reminded, was “Extreme Poverty Sunday.” Today, Oct. 17, is the “World Day for Overcoming Poverty,” declared so by the United Nations in 1992.

Do you know that in Rizal Park (Luneta), there is a marker that serves as a reminder? It was installed there through the efforts of ATD-Fourth World, a nongovernment organization whose French founder, Fr. Joseph Wresinski, was the inspiration behind Oct. 17. Groups will be gathering there this morning.

The first marker was unveiled in Paris’ Trocadero Human Rights Plaza on Oct. 17, 1987, in the presence of some 100,000 people from varying social backgrounds. (I’ve seen it there.) On the marble marker is engraved: “Whenever men and women are condemned to live in poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.” A

ll these bring me to the much debated subject of “poverty porn,” which focuses on practices of the media (journalists, photojournalists, documentarists, filmmakers), development aid groups, fund raisers and those who have poverty among their concerns.

I don’t know when the words were coined, or who did. The general definition that I can glean from all the lofty and sharp arguments on the Internet—and this is a composite definition—is that poverty porn is the use and display of stark images of persons in extreme poverty that border on the exploitative and intrusive, in order to generate sympathy and donations, to increase newspaper circulation and TV ratings, or even to gain fame. And, it is stressed, noble ends do not justify such “exploitation.”

As to generating funds, I can say from personal experience that I was so repulsed by the images of poverty in the Philippines, and of particular families at that (with names and all), shown at a high-end fund-raising dinner to which I was invited (as a journalist). I almost hyperventilated and choked on my food, but the regular guests to that yearly affair must have dug deep into their pockets. Poverty porn wasn’t yet a byword then, and I didn’t have a name for what I saw on screen.

As a journalist I have seen and written enough about poverty. Years ago I was invited by a big Catholic university to share with the entire faculty and staff going through formation sessions my encounters with poverty. What insights could I impart? Sometime back the Inquirer editors asked me to write some kind of module for reporters covering the poverty beat.

And now this debate about poverty porn, as if the media were the main purveyor of it. So how far can media practitioners—and aid workers, too—go to inform, prick consciences, afflict the comfortable, show reality, etc., and not be called pornographers?

A friend once told me that her intrepid daughter who worked with a TV production that investigated poverty in far-flung areas was assigned to be an advance party. Her task was to find a situation of extreme poverty, preferably a family, “yung nilalangaw” (fly-infested). After some time, her daughter resigned, not because of the difficult work…

In the 1980s, when it was tiempos muertes or deadly August in Negros island and despite the dictatorship’s aversion to subversive pictures, we proceeded to write and capture images. The skin-and-bones Joel Abong became the poster child of starvation in the social volcano that was Negros. I shot a photo of a young emaciated girl named April Trabocon who suffered from what looked like kwashiorkor, or extreme malnutrition. “April with August in her eyes” was the title of my magazine piece with her photo. (I want to know if she is alive.)

Dorothea Lange photographed faces and images during the US Great Depression that became famous. I have a book of her photographs that I bought during the exhibition of her works in San Francisco. A heartbreaking shot shows Filipinos working in a lettuce field in the 1930s. Her photo of a distressed woman is like a Mona Lisa in reverse. I first saw it in my book of photographs, “The Family of Man,” which is a collection “from the greatest photographic exhibition of all time” (1955). Beside that photo is another famous Lange photo of a sullen man holding a cup that looks empty.

I don’t see poverty porn in Lange’s black-and-whites. I feel her compassion.

I watch local TV documentaries and sense the journalists’ desire to let people and government know about hidden poverty and brazen neglect. I am grateful. But sometimes—and now that I have the name for it—some images could border on so-called poverty porn, if not exhibitionism, voyeurism or intrusion. The poor are further diminished when they are shown as “nilalangaw.”

There are award-winning docus that have captured my heart: Ditsi Carolino’s black-and-white “Minsan Lang Sila Bata” (about child labor) and “Riles” (about families living near railroad tracks). I myself wrote a two-part special report on “homes along the riles.” I photographed people in their shacks while the trains were roaring behind me. Was I doing poverty porn?

Years ago I did a magazine feature on the sex life of the urban poor, which had true-to-life stories and all. Recently, when the debate on the reproductive health bill was heating up, I resurrected and turned it into two serious column pieces—no photos, just words. I couldn’t believe the readers’ reactions. Many seemed entertained. For some, it brought laughter.

What about photos of Mother Teresa embracing the dying amid a landscape of destitution? What about movie director Lino Brocka showing the festering wounds of society and Gil Portes’ “Mulanay” showing a poor child defecating in the open? What do we make of the new foreign movies depicting the underside of Manila?

What is poverty porn for you? Tell me what you think.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

'New evangelization' and plunder

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

I can bet my month’s earnings that most of the suspected, accused and guilty (the guilty know they are guilty even before they are proven guilty or innocent in court) in the blockbuster multibillion-peso plunder case under investigation are Catholic Christians by affiliation, or profess to be. At least one of them had, at some point, surrounded herself with members of the clergy, and reportedly even donated sumptuous sums to them.

Some could say, But of course, it’s but logical and proportionate because Catholic Christians are the majority in this country. But of course? If we follow that logic or computation, and because there is a more or less equal number of men and women in this country and planet, then why is there not an equal number of men and women convicts in prison? Male convicts largely outnumber female convicts behind bars.

These thoughts have been running in my mind these past days. Being a Catholic Christian (by birth, choice, current affiliation, and in practice), I can point to my own and not be called a stone-thrower or pharisaical. Those from other faiths or affiliations have not openly pointed at this condemnable state of affairs (they’d rather hammer at doctrines and “false teachings”) lest they be accused of being like the Pharisee in the Bible, but I am sure the figures are not lost on them.

And so, here I am, pointing it out and hoping not to get stoned back to a pulp. At least I am pointing to the mote in my own Church’s eye. I bring this up because of the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE) which will be held on Oct. 16-18 and which is expected to draw some 5,000 participants from all over the country and abroad.

Might this gathering help bring some healing to this country’s depraved and wounded state, and bring about renewed vigor to combat the evil rampant in our land? The fruits may not come now, but maybe in the next generation? The venue is the University of Santo Tomas, with its new Quadricentennial Pavilion serving as plenary center. The main organizers are the Archdiocese of Manila under Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle (chair) and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission and Catechesis and Catholic Education. Msgr. Garardo Santos is vice chair, and former Ambassador to the Holy See Henrietta de Villa is executive secretary.

A report recently quoted Cardinal Tagle as saying that “the eyes of the Vatican are on us”—not for the Vatican to police but to know what the Philippine Church can contribute to the experience and clarification of the new evangelization. A Vatican observer might be present. But more important, I think, is what Filipino Catholics will take back to their respective communities and the local churches that will fire up the practice of their faith and that will bring about positive change.

As forcefully stressed in the vademecum for the media and the PCNE announcements: “We are still challenged by pluralism, burdened by much graft and corruption in politics and governance, saddled in economics with ‘inequalities of the grossest kind’ and widespread poverty resulting in the poor becoming poorer and the rich becoming richer, and confronted with increasing imbalances in the educational sector.” (Emphasis is mine.)

The three-day gathering will feature many simultaneous talks and sharing sessions on various topics. I hope graft and corruption in high places, in the ranks, in government and outside government, in nongovernment organizations, and even religious institutions will be brought into discussions. I am sure Church-related NGOs will be well-represented at the PCNE.

If I remember right, Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan (one of the “three Furies” exposing and investigating the plunder case) said—and I paraphrase—that in the end, even with all the preventive and punitive measures, it is really the individual person who will make the choice for the good or for the evil. “Ang tao pa rin.”

Which just easily brings us back to our core values that we learned from our parents, teachers, churches, experiences. What we learned in kindergarten, at play, from nature, from life. Take only what is for you. And give back. Is it really so difficult to choose what is right and just and honest? It must be, it must be, especially for those who are in touch with tremendous power and for whom immense wealth is within reach with a little “creative” effort.

(If I may digress a bit, that is why I am for the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan in the barangays where the young and impressionable can be and are exposed early to financial maneuverings by “creative” adults. I am not saying barangay officials are generally corrupt, not at all, but there are incidents that one can’t help wonder about, like why do some barangay candidates kill for an elective position?)

I am honored to be invited to the PCNE preopening ceremonies (Oct. 15) presided over by Cardinal Tagle, and where my latest book, “You Can’t Interview God: Church Women and Men in the News” (Anvil), will be among those presented and blessed. As of today, I am not sure if Anvil will have a booth at the PCNE. But the book will surely be in National Bookstore outlets.

The book consists of some 50 profiles, feature stories, essays, interviews and column pieces I have written on Church women and men—inspiring lives and a piece on the dark side. All, except two, came out in the Inquirer. Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, wrote the foreword. Send me e-mail if you want to see the book’s eye-popping front and back covers. Book design is by Joshene Bersales, cover by Francis Manio.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Launch of "One Billion Rising" against women abuse

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

A few days ago I received a call from a woman (let’s name her Lilah) who needed legal help because of the violence inflicted on her by her husband who happens to wield some power in the community. Lilah wanted to know if there were women’s groups that offered free legal help as she was still not financially able. (I am not giving details of the case here because the abusive husband may get to read this column piece and terrorize his wife and children some more.)

I called five or more women who I knew were connected with nongovernment organizations and a government office that I thought might have legal services for someone like Lilah. The responses were discouraging. How they wished they could still help, several told me.

I learned that their legal services had to stop because of funding problems. One said that all they could provide now is legal counseling by phone or referrals to women lawyers who may take up cases pro bono or accept reduced legal fees on installment. Or, one suggested, Lilah can try the lawyers at the Public Attorney’s Office, but then their hands may also be full with all kinds of cases.

One lawyer I know who has handled a big controversial case said her pro bono quota was really filled up but—how kind of her—she gave Lilah legal advice through the phone and made a referral. One antiviolence-against-women (VAW) advocate told me her group had to close the crisis center and their legal services because funds had dried up. One of the reasons, she said, was that foreign donors thought the Philippines was “now okay” and no longer in need of aid in the VAW department.

And then she gave me a rundown of what the Magna Carta for Women includes, which is that local government units should provide services for victims of VAW. There should be funds for this, but where did they go? Your guess is as good as mine. Some have been used for tree planting and whatever else.

She cited the training workshops on women’s concerns and gender awareness that personnel of government agencies and LGUs have gone through. Great. But after all that training in gender sensitivity, what next? Of what use are these workshops if the participants have nothing to start with when they go back to those they serve?

But empowered women do not take no for an answer and will continue to take up the cudgels for their sisters who have yet to be in step with them—the oppressed and abused at home or in workplaces, victims of familial, societal, cultural and religious structures and beliefs.

Announced yesterday was the global launch on Oct. 7 of “One Billion Rising for Justice,” a global action day on Feb. 14, 2014, which is an escalation of women’s efforts “to demand an end to violence against women and girls by ending the culture of impunity that keeps it in place.” Stage veteran, actress and women’s advocate Monique Wilson is now the global director of the campaign and representing the Philippines in this global position.

There will be simultaneous launches on Oct. 7 in 30 places, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia and the United States. Eve Ensler, writer and head of V-Day who spearheaded One Billion Rising, will be doing a simultaneous launch in New York. One Billion Rising for Justice is “a global call to women survivors of violence and those who love them to gather safely in community outside places where they are entitled to justice—courts, police stations, government offices, colleges, workplaces, places of worship, homes. It is a call to survivors to break the silence and release their stories—politically, spiritually, outrageously—through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever way feels right.”

The organizers stress that the statistics have not changed. “One in three women on the planet is raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION women violated. ONE BILLION daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, lovers and friends. We need to do all we can, speak louder, go further, be bolder—to make sure this [situation] changes. We need more than one billion women and men to sign up for this revolutionary justice…”

And so the call: “On 14 February 2013, one billion people in 207 countries rose and danced to demand an end to violence against women and girls. On 14 February 2014, we are escalating our efforts, calling on women and men everywhere to RISE, RELEASE, DANCE and demand JUSTICE!

“Our stories have been buried, denied, erased, altered and minimized by patriarchal systems that allow impunity to reign. Justice begins when we speak, release and acknowledge the truth in solidarity and community. ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE is an invitation to break free from confinement, obligation, shame, guilt, grief, pain, humiliation, rage, and bondage. It is a call to bring on revolutionary justice.”

You can go to the One Billion Rising for Justice website (onebillionrising.org) and include your name among the one billion. You can also watch what it was like last year.
Breast Cancer Awareness month: ICanServe Foundation is holding a Pink Positive Wellness Forum and a free breast and cervical clinic on Oct. 5, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., at the Filinvest Tent in Alabang, Muntinlupa City. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of October there will be ICanServe gift booths in Rockwell (near Rustan’s) in Makati, and every Saturday and Sunday at Festival Mall (near the Carousel) in Alabang. There will be pledge walls for people to write messages of hope for the breast cancer community. Please support the battle against breast cancer.