Thursday, January 30, 2014

From war brothels to cybersex?

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

Last year Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said the use of “comfort women” in World War II was “necessary” to keep battle-stressed soldiers in fighting form. His comments sparked outrage in Asian countries and even drew US criticism. Agence France-Presse cited a survey showing that a large majority of Japanese disagreed with the mayor’s position.

This is the 21st century, we are in the third millennium, and Hashimoto didn’t know that having sex slaves is a crime against humanity. At any time, in any place and circumstance.

A similar tempest made the news days ago when Katsuto Momii, Japan’s newly appointed head of public broadcasting station NHK, said military brothels during World War II was “common in any country at war.” And he said this in his first news conference as NHK chair. He might as well have stressed that these comfort women were not Japanese exported abroad to ease the Japanese soldiers’ aching groins but women and girls of the Asian countries Japan occupied and tried to subjugate with much cruelty—the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, China, etc.

Stoking old, unhealed wounds must be the expertise of some Japanese officials conceived during the war years. Momii, 70, was a babe crawling on his belly while his elders were skewering women and babies abroad.

The Associated Press also quoted Momii as saying that: “The comfort women system is considered wrong under today’s moral values. But the military comfort women system existed as a reality [during World War II].” A necessary reality? He then lashed at South Korea for continuing to demand compensation and for criticizing Japan, “as if Japan was the only one that forcibly drafted women into the system.”

As far as I know, only Japan’s disgusting use of comfort women (aka sex slaves) as part of its military boosting strategy has been condemned openly by no less than the victims themselves. Documents indeed showed that the sex abuses were not random or spur-of-the-moment but part of a deliberate effort to fortify soldiers and put them in best fighting form—through sex with unwilling victims.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cardinal-elect Quevedo: A 'God's commando'

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

CARITAS CONGAUDET veritati. Love rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). This is the episcopal motto of Cardinal-elect Orlando B. Quevedo. I had to use a magnifying lens to find it in his coat of arms shown on the Internet. One of the quadrants in the coat of arms has a cross and a crescent and another one has a Moro vinta. Very symbolic, I thought, of where the archbishop serves.

Soon to be “elevated” to the cardinalship, Quevedo heads the archdiocese of Cotabato which covers parts of several provinces in Mindanao. I put the word “elevated” inside quotation marks after I read what Pope Francis said about cardinals. Quevedo belongs to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The OMI has a strong foothold inMindanao with its Notre Dame schools, media presence and priests serving in varied apostolates.

In 1997, when I had to write a feature on the slain bishop of Jolo, Benjamin de Jesus, also an Oblate, I did some research in the OMI’s library in Quezon City and went home with books on its missionary work in the Philippines starting with the coming of the first American Oblates in Mindanao. Some of the accounts of the new arrivals in the late 1930 and early 1940s were straight out of a Wild West adventure book, some hilarious, some heart-pounding.

The OMI was founded in 1826 in Aix, France, by St. Eugene de Mazenod, a count who became a priest and worked among the poor. Some 6,000 Oblates now work in difficult missions in many parts of the world. They were the first missionaries “to brave the howling winds of the North Pole to reach the encampments of neglected Indians, Metis and Eskimos.” Pope Pius XI called them “specialists in most difficult missions.” For their daring, these hardy men who wore the sash and cross earned the name “God’s commandos.”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Questions on the buried cadavers

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

Two months after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” struck, the hundreds of remaining unburied and unidentified cadavers are being rebagged and buried in mass graves after DNA samples and other identity marks have been taken. There remain many questions and criticisms on why it took so long for the bodies to be buried, and why survivors had to live with the stench of the decaying corpses for two months.

Assurances from health officials that corpses do not pose threats to health were not that reassuring, what with intermittent rains adding to the landscape’s somber look of decay. The smell of one decaying dead rat is bad enough, what more hundreds (it used to be thousands) of dead human beings? The survivors, traumatized enough, had to live with this.

The good news is that government agencies are trying to drive the last nails into the coffins, so to speak, though there are no coffins to speak of, only body bags that cannot seal in the smell of putrefaction. The DNA sampling and recording for purposes of identifying the remains in the future have not been described in detail, leaving me and many others wondering how the task of exhumation would proceed in a way satisfactory to the dead’s next of kin. That is, for their missing family members to be finally found beneath the mound and identified with precision.

Or is this all an exercise in futility, a way to make the bereaved feel a little better, a way to meet cultural expectations? That is, that the living will eventually get reunited with their loved ones’ remains so that they can give these proper burial in a place of their own choosing. This, even in the age of cremation when many who are still living are choosing not to be buried (when they’re dead, that is) but to have their ashes scattered to the four winds or merged with the ocean. Not to be kept in urns or cubicles but to be released to the cosmos.

Question: What can survivors in search of missing kin expect in the future? Will they be able to find the remains of their loved ones who are in the mass graves (if they are in the mass graves) and be told with absolute certainty that the remains in a particular body bag are what they are looking for? Are the body bags and their identification numbers impervious to rot, and how do these correspond to the DNA samples on the list? Were photos and thumbprints taken before the bodies decomposed?

The severity of the havoc wreaked by Yolanda was beyond compare that procedures conducted with swiftness, orderliness and precision in the immediate aftermath could not be expected. But now, late in the day, could something still be expected (in the future) in the identification department?

I’ve seen too many “CSI NY” and “CSI Miami” episodes on TV that might make me think identification of corpses and criminals through scientific means is so easy. But the Yolanda superepisode was one of a kind and the dead so numerous (6,000 plus) that it would be hard to meet all the survivors’ expectations as far as finding their dead is concerned.

How indeed will the process of exhumation and identification proceed in the future? Will there be a mass exhumation? Will searching relatives have to present their own DNA samples and spend for the exhumation and identification process? How do you find one body from among thousands buried together (not one on top of another, I suppose) in a mass grave?

According to reports, more than 1,000 bodies were recently buried in a mass grave in Barangay Suhi in Tacloban City, others will be buried at Holy Cross cemetery, and some 800 more are being processed.

I salute the forensic teams of the National Bureau of Investigation and the gravediggers who have been at this for weeks. Health Secretary Enrique Ona and Undersecretary Janet Garin have gone to see the processing of the dead for themselves.

But I really want to know the science part of this. I dread the day when relatives will demand an exhumation, identification and matching process, and the government cannot deliver. How exactly will this be done? Too early to ask?

But shouldn’t families with missing kin instead be prepared to accept that their loved ones, together with thousands of others, have been buried properly and need not be raked up once more, to let the dear departed lie peacefully in hollowed grounds where the living and generations to come can honor them collectively?

Swept to the sea or buried as unknowns, the dead do not care. It is the living who need to come to terms with the suddenness and fierceness of it all, with the reality that life as they knew it will not be the same again, but that life must go on. For as the psalmist said, “Joy comes in the morning.”

                                                                   * * *
Goodbye to Sr. Flor Maria Basa of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) who passed away last Monday at 92. I did a front-page piece on her yesterday. I wrote a series on her in 2012, at the height of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

This nun, who had quietly lived her religious vocation for more than 60 years, came out with guns blazing, so to speak, to shoot down what she believed was not the truth. She spoke truth to power. Though never summoned to the witness stand, her statements corroborated other findings of the impeachment court that eventually found Corona guilty.

She will be laid to rest tomorrow at the FMM burial grounds in Tagaytay, in that resting place on the grassy ridge with the splendorous view of Taal lake and volcano, in that hallowed place where mist turns to dew. #

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Basa, nun who backed kin vs Corona dies at 92

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

Sister Flor Maria Basa of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) who came forward in 2012 to support her niece Ana Basa’s allegations against impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona died on Monday night. She was 92.

A religious for 67 years, Basa died at the FMM retirement home in Gen. Mariano Alvarez town in Cavite. Burial is at the FMM cemetery in Tagaytay City on Jan. 10 after the 9 a.m. funeral services at the retirement home.

During the 2012 impeachment trial when the media was seeking her out, Basa was already having regular medical checkups for what doctors suspected to be colon cancer. But the nun was very clear-minded, articulate and full of humor. She refused surgery and extraordinary medical intervention for her ailment.

Basa had a lengthy interview with the Inquirer, which came out in a two-part special report by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo (May 5 and 6, 2012). A short version of the story is included in Doyo’s latest book “You Can’t Interview God: Church Women and Men in the News” (Anvil, 2013).

Basa was born in Sampaloc, Manila, on Dec. 6, 1921, to Jose Maria Basa and Rosario Guidote. She was one of the four Basa siblings. An older sister, Sister Concepcion, was also a Franciscan nun. Shortly after Flor Maria’s birth, the family moved to a house on Lepanto Street (not far from the controversial Basa-Guidote property that was the subject of arguments in the impeachment trial).

The nun’s grandfather, Jose Ma. Basa Sr., was a renowned Filipino patriot who, along with national hero Jose Rizal, fought Spanish rule. Many streets have been named after him.

Basa was thrust into the limelight because of her family ties to some protagonists during the trial of Corona, who is married to her niece Cristina. Because of the pronouncements she made to uphold a party in a family problem concerning inheritance that could have a bearing on the ongoing trial, the nun became fair game for the paparazzi.

Though never summoned to the witness stand, her pronouncements corroborated other findings of the impeachment court that eventually found Corona guilty.

This nun who had quietly lived her religious vocation for more than 60 years suddenly came out to shoot down what she believed was not the truth and “spoke truth to power.”—Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tabang Visayas

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

First there was Tabang Mindanaw in the past decade or so when large areas in Mindanao suffered from armed conflicts and environmental disasters. These left thousands of families in need of not just relief and rehabilitation that would bring them back to their original state but something even better and concrete to look forward to. Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) or civil society groups (CSOs) linked arms with business, church groups, international organizations and government agencies not only to deliver material aid but also to kindle hopes for peace. I think of the selfless individuals I’ve met who tread the less-traveled paths in those parts.

Among the most affected then were marginalized indigenous communities (indigenous people or IP). I have seen for myself and written about the groundbreaking, continuing and remarkable work done by CSOs for these communities. But not to underestimate the local people’s participation to uplift themselves.

Among the amazing breakthroughs are special schools that continue to graduate batches of IP students (up to tertiary level) who are now serving their own communities and even beyond. Think of a Tiduray from Mindanao now doing technology work among the Mangyans of Mindoro. Ah, the vision and out-of-the-box quiet persistence of groups and young individuals! (I am again being invited to those parts to see for myself the great distance that has been covered.)

Now, there is Tabang Visayas.

Launched in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda”  (international name: “Haiyan”) that blew to smithereens [large parts of the Visayas], and some parts of Luzon, was Tabang Visayas which, from the briefing I got, is even more daunting than Tabang Mindanaw. Words to describe the kind and extent of the devastation and loss in human lives (more than 6,000 as of now) have run out.