Thursday, December 30, 2004

`Backpack of a Jesus-seeker’

If you’re one of those trying to make sense of the seemingly senseless Christmas to-do, groaning under the weight of gifts that had to be wrapped, trees that had to be lighted; if you’re suffering from christmasa nervosa, misplaced anxieties, worries and edginess (because it’s Christmas), pause awhile, inhale and gather your wits. Maybe Christmas has indeed passed you by. Good for you or good on you. You brought this condition upon yourself.

Missed out on the Christ in Christmas?

Noted Jesuit theologian Fr. Carlos Abesamis has come out with a sequel to his ``travel guide’’ of a book ``A Third Look at Jesus’’ which we wrote about in this space some years ago.

This new one, titled ``Backpack of a Jesus-seeker’’, has the format of conversations going on among several characters. One character is Carl (not Karl Marx but the author); the seeker who has been in search of the original Jesus and has found him but still continues to search; and the Backpack.

``Backpack’’ answers questions Christian believers ask about the basics of their faith—the teachings and ministry of Jesus as well as his death and resurrection, the Kingdom of God, heaven, etc. Through the conversations, Abesamis deconstructs and gives fresh interpretation to the hard-bound catechism gathering dust on the shelf.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

From an old Christmas story

``Are you ready?’’ asked his wife who was standing by the door. Concha handed the general a plastic bag. ``Use my car, okay? I insist. It’s safer.’’ She was almost whispering.

``Of course,’’ he assured his wife. ``Just tell the guests I was suddenly summoned to headquarters and will be back before sundown. Tell my sisters… They’ll understand. I’m sure many of them will still be around for supper.’’ He looked around for his daughter but Amelia had gone back to the living room to mingle with the guests. It was as if she did not want to see her father slip away. Such moments she usually left to her mother to handle.

The general bussed his wife on the cheek then boarded the car. Two men were with him.

The one-and-a-half ride to Bulacan was smooth. The general was alone in the backseat. He stretched his neck, pulled back his head and put on his dark glasses. He told the driver to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows. He liked the wind on his face. The men with him stopped their conversation thinking the general wanted to doze off. But the general was wide awake, his eyes were wide open.

The expressway was practically empty and the car was running at very high speed. Through the open windows the general could see the fields, the lamp posts, the houses, the trees streaming past him and he felt like the car was slicing through it all. The highway was like the Red Sea parting, he thought. He felt small and a little overwhelmed.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

`Sick of the Times’

A weepy week it could have been, what with William Chua leaving for the Great Courtroom in the Sky. Sure this is a time for weeping but this is also a time for celebrating a great life. A great friend of 25 years William was to me and many others who had pen as weapon and to his fellow human rights lawyers who knew what a good fight meant. (See yesterday’s Inquirer front page news story.)

William passed in the evening of Dec. 13 after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer which he faced with vigor and grace. William spent his last few days at St. Luke’s Hospital where there was a big commotion because movie king FPJ was there lying comatose after suffering a stroke. (FPJ died a minute after midnight.)One had to wade through the endless stream of cars and the throng of fans and politicians. Parking was a nightmare. Oh God, I thought, would I ever get there? I did and by the time I left, the crowd had thickened.

The scene outside was surreal. Inside, in his own little space, warmed by soft lights and the prayers of family and friends around him, William waited then gently slipped away and passed on to the Great Beyond.

My story yesterday said that William was the anonymous publisher/editor of the well-remembered ``Sick of the Times’’ that spoofed and satirized the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship through jokes, essays and illustrations. Okay, I will now confess that I was one of the cub writers. The rest will have to remain unknown. But why will I not reveal that PCGG head and recent Magsaysay Awardee Haydee Yorac, William’s UP law professor then, also wrote for ``Sick’’?

I still have copies of the second and third ``Sick’’ issues. I’m looking for the first issue because that was where, I think, the languorous ``The Autumn of the Patriarch’’ came out. It was a take-off from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel about an ailing despot whose regime and body were slowly being corrupted.

No one knew if an issue would be the last so it had, near the masthead, ``Volume One, Only One.’’

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Books in memory of trees

When you read the following excerpt and you are not awed and moved to action and meditation, you must not be a child of Earth.

``The Spaniards called her Mother Mountain, this vast range stretching down the northeastern flank of the island of Luzon like the heaving back of massive whales. Through the years, the trees and slopes of the Sierra Madre, acting like giant windbreaks, broke the backs of tropical cyclones swirling in from the West Pacific. She was also a weather maker. Her peaks and lonely upland valleys, blanketed with great sweeps of rain forest, were magnets for moisture, constantly building towering stacks of cumulus clouds, and rain. Bringing precious water to the rivers and rice fields of the thirsty lowlands. Her twisted branches and massive buttressed roots sheltered and nourished more plants and animals than anywhere else in Luzon. This intricate food chain, believed to have more components and interactive links than any other habitat on the surface of the earth, kept the forest alive…After thousands and thousands of years, the gentle, wandering Dumagats have found no other home like this endless tract of green, where time has pooled for generations.’’

That, my dear reader, is the brief introduction of the amazing book ``The Last Great Forest: Luzon’s Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park’’ (Bookmark, 2000) by Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan who now heads the World Wildlife Fund in the Philippines. The book is wildly designed, by the way, and handy too, and those not keen on reading might just pause to dig into it.

Farmers used to only reading the signs on the soil liked the book that I had to buy a few more copies a couple of years ago. How many of our politicians who gather no life-giving moss on their mouths have read this?

Thursday, December 2, 2004

20 years since Bhopal

In this season of disasters, both natural and man-made, it behooves us to remember the Bhopal tragedy in India which killed more than 20,000 and whose aftereffects continue to destroy the health of thousands. It was one of the worst ecological disasters in history, rivaling Chernobyl in Russia, and it could have been prevented.

Many of the youth of today and the future might not know about Bhopal because the tragedy is not likely going to make it to the textbooks. Does it not qualify as a historical entry like the 79 A.D. Mt. Vesuvius eruption that buried Pompeii? Will our own 1991 Ormoc mudslide that killed thousands in a blink of an eye make it to our error-ridden textbooks (which are a huge disaster in themselves)? And didn’t we see a likeness of Ormoc in the past few days? And not to forget the Marcopper disaster in Marinduque.

On the night of Dec. 2 and early morning of Dec. 3, 1984, a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal began leaking some 27 tons of the methyl isocynate (MIC), a deadly gas. According to The Bhopal Medical Appeal and Sambhavna Trust that espouse the cause of victims, none of the six safety systems designed to contain that kind of a leak was operational and soon the gas to spread throughout the city.

An estimated half a million people were exposed to the gas and 20,000 have so far died as a result of this. More than 120,000 continue to suffer ailments such as blindness, breathing problems, and reproductive disorders.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Women and AIDS

It’s six days before World AIDS Day which falls on Dec. 1. This year’s theme is ``Women and AIDS’’. For the past two successive years (2002 and 2003) the theme was ``Stigma and Discrimination’’. That this ran for two years means that the problem took a lot of time and effort to address.

In 2001 the theme was ``I care, don’t you?’’ and in 2000 it was ``AIDS: Men make a difference.’’ There has been a variety of themes since 1988. Now it’s the women’s turn.

HIV-AIDS has been around for more than two decades, at least, and millions have died of it since it was identified in the early 1980s. How much do you know? Here’s a little quiz that might bring up a few hard facts. See how you fare.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Media and hoaxes

If I came out with your story and found out later that there was no iota of truth to what you had told me, I am going to sue you, right?

I had said this a few times to interviewees who had told me stories that were either too good or too bad to be true and especially if it put certain persons in a bad light. Of course, this was said with a smile on my face and only after I had made the interviewees realize that I had given my time and heart and mind to hear them out. And so to remind and speak softly while carrying a big stick, so to speak.

I remember someone who broke into tears when I said this and my heart broke along with that storyteller’s but it had to be said even if there were supporters who stood by the veracity of the story and the credibility of the storyteller.

Nothing personal, I explained ever so gently. I’m just protecting my paper, I said. It helped a lot when the subject had a written account and all I had to do was for him or her to sign it. That is, if there was no sworn statement to begin with. One could always use tapes and videos. But there is nothing foolproof in this world.

Sometimes, because of security reasons the interviewee wants to hide behind an alias. But if the interviewee was the one who sought me out, I have reason to say, good for you, but what about me? Ako ang mapapatay dito. (I could get killed for this.) You have to help me prove that you’re real.

It’s bad enough to be taken for a ride, it’s worse than death for a journalist to be accused of fabricating a story and, worst of all, to be proven that one did.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Pearl of great price

``Dahil sa paniniwala ng mga Palawano na ang isang isda ay pinahahati sa lahat, nang dumating ang mga Cagayancillo tinanggap namin sila, nang dumating ang mga Muslim tinanggap namin sila, nang dumating ang mga Kristiyano tinanggap namin sila, nang dumating si Cojuangco ay pinaalis kaming lahat. Masakit ang nangyari.’’ (Because of the Palawanos’ belief that a fish is to be divided among all, when the Cagayancillo came we accepted them, when the Muslims came we accepted them, when the Christians came we accepted them, when Cojuangco came we were all driven out. This is painful for us.’’

Words of Pala’wan elder Upo Gariba in his narration about Apu, also known as Bugsok Island. He was quoted in Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel’s Nov. 8 privilege speech. The congresswoman condemned Jewelmer Inc. and the Philippine National Police’s blocking of Pandanan Channel, preventing fishermen and their supporters from entering what they claimed were their ancestral fishing grounds.

Jewelmer has filed a case against the groups involved.

Last week, this column came out with Jewelmer’s response to the NGOs and PO’s accusations that the pearl farm, owned by business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. and partners, have displaced indigenous groups and barred them from fishing in their ancestral domain.

Sambilog and Task Force Bugsuk strongly belie Jewelmer’s claims point by point. Excerpts.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Jewelmer justifies

In the interest of fairness, I am running in full the response of Jewelmer to my Oct. 21 column piece ``Fishers, pearls and Jewelmer.’’ The news peg there was Sambilog and Task Force Bugsuk’s attempt to fish in waters claimed by some members of indigenous peoples (IP) of Palawan to be part of their ancestral domain and to cross the Pandanan channel, both of which are off limits because of the presence of Jewelmer’s pearl farm. They were joined by Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel. A congressional inquiry is being planned.

Sambilog and Task Force Bugsuk will have their chance next week to demolish some of Jewelmer’s claims.

Here is Jewelmer:

``We are constrained to address the points contained in the aforementioned article for the purpose of presenting the side of Jewelmer International Corp. (Jewelmer) and, at the same time, rectifying the apparent distortion of facts and misrepresentations made by parties associated with the Samahan ng mga Katutubo sa Dulo ng Timog Palawan (Sambilog).

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Limbo un-rocked

Today, Nov. 2, is All Souls Day, the day for our dear departed. But feast-loving Filipinos always do the feasting and remembering in advance as if there might be no more tomorrow. And so Nov. 1, All Saints Day, is what Filipinos consider araw ng mga patay.

We Filipinos have a way of advancing the calendar to suit our festive mood. Well, All Souls Day is the harbinger of the Christmas season. Tomorrow the Christmas season “officially” begins in these islands. It will last for two months.

But hold on awhile to the 11th month. We all have our early memories of this November feast that sends Filipino families in droves to their old hometowns. Celebrations in the provinces are so much more folksy and Pinoy, unlike those in Metro Manila where the feast has taken on an American macabre flavor that I find corny and TH.

On the solemn side of memory lane, some melodies refuse to die. I can still sing the first and last lines of the Latin Gregorian chant that the Benedictine sisters chanted during the Mass for the Dead in the beautiful neo-Romanesque chapel in school. “Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla…” Translated as, “Nigher still, and still more nigh, Draws the day of prophecy…”

It ends with the soaring, “Lacrymosa dies illa, Qua resurget ex favilla…” “Full of tears and full of dread, is the day that wakes the dead…”

Oh, it soaked my soul and shook the ramparts of my young heart.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

'No al bloqueo'

Think of yourself as a citizen of a small island nation of 11 million floating near the armpit of the United States, a powerful nation where milk and honey flow profusely so many of its citizens are groaning under the weight of obesity and too much eating.

Think of yourself as a Cuban, deprived of many necessities and opportunities simply because your neighbor, a giant nation many times your size, has leaders who are fixated in the belief that your dot of a country is a ``threat’’ to their security.

The big one squeezes the small one to make it go down on its knees and cry ``Uncle!’’ But no way, Jorge. Porque no? Because no self-respecting nation, no matter how small, will capitulate to an immoral sanction. Because no sovereign nation that knows the meaning of pride would want to take tutorials on how to run its affairs.

Today, Oct. 28, a draft resolution calling for the ending of US economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba will again be deliberated and voted on at the UN.

For the past 13 consecutive years, Cuba has been submitting resolutions to the United Nations General Assembly, demanding the lifting of the US embargo against it. This embargo/blockade, this continuous crucifixion of the Cuban people is now on its 45th year. Nothing as sustained as this has been imposed by a powerful country against a poor, little one.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Fishers, pearls and Jewelmer

In 1996, Pres. Fidel Ramos issued presidential decree 905 recognizing the South Sea Pearl as the Philippines’ national gem. The local pearl industry, the PD said, has produced the world’s largest pearl known as the ``Pearl of Allah’’ or the ``Pearl of Lao Tze.’’

What’s in a pearl? Plenty, especially if it is a South Sea pearl produced by Jewelmer International Corporation, a Cojuangco-owned pearl farm in Palawan that will soon be the subject of a congressional inquiry.

Last Oct. 16, World Food Day, and in observance of indigenous people’s (IP) month, Palawan IP from the Pala’wan and Molbog tribes rowed out to sea to exercise their right to fish in waters that used to be part of their ancestral fishing grounds. These areas occupied by Jewelmer, the IP said, have been off-limits to them for more than 20 years.

It all began in 1974, during the time of Pres. Marcos. The fishermen became victims of a land swap between business magnate Eduardo Cojuangco and Marcos.

Last Saturday, more than 200 members of the Samahan ng mga Katutubo sa Dulo ng Timog Palawan (Sambilog), accompanied by Akbayan representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and members of Task Force Bugsuk, who were trying to cross the Pandanan Channel, were blocked by the Philippine National Police led by provincial director Col. Rey Lanada who came in a Jewelmer helicopter. Wow.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

New book on family violence

A few months ago, I spent a day at the Bukid Kabataan in Cavite. The place is home and school for abused kids and is run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. One cute little boy there was known for wringing the necks of ducklings and chicks who happened to wander his way. ``I can’t help it, S’ter,’’ he would explain.

This boy is a survivor of family violence. And the book that is the subject of this column is right up his alley.

No fancy title for this book. ``The Path to Healing: A Primer on Family Violence’’ (121 pages, Anvil Publishing) is what it says it is. Written by psychologists Dr. Lourdes A. Carandang and Beatrix Aileen L.Sison, the book is a timely offering in this day and age when women are coming out of closets, bedrooms, basements and prison-homes to talk about their bloody ordeal in the hands of their spouses and partners. Timely too because the number of children who are victims seems to be increasing. The children are, in fact, the main focus of the book.

The book will be launched soon and is now available in bookstores. Are you in need of help or helping someone? ``The Path to Healing’’ is for you.

It is important to stress that the book is the result of in-depth research and intervention of the authors with families exposed to different forms of abuse. And so the extensive use of quotes from the subjects themselves.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

The physiology of hunger

Hunger is a very powerful and heavily loaded word. What is hunger?

``Hunger stalks 13 percent of Pinoy households,’’ the Inquirer’s banner recently announced. The lead sentence said, ``Hunger rose to record levels in Metro Manila and Mindanao just two months into the second term of Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo.’’

One out of every seven (15.1 percent) household heads polled by Social Weather Stations in August said his or her family had nothing to eat at least once in the last three months, triple the number of the previous year.

I don’t know whether these families missed one meal, or they had nothing to eat for one whole day during that three-month period.

A family missing one meal, even if it was only once in the last three months, because there was no money for food means a whole brood went hungry at some point. The thought of not finding food for the next meal must have added to the anxiety.

The poor know what hunger is in the most physical sense—as an intense need for food, as a weakening of the body for lack of it. Food is the first in the hierarchy of needs of all living creatures. Physical hunger is the first need that must be sated.

Experts often discuss hunger in so macro and so global a way. On their side of the divide, the non-hungry discuss the politics and economics of hunger. The spiritually inclined speak about prayer as a hunger. The health buff who has a great horror for obesity watches out for that pang, that wicked craving.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Shrine for the poor

Call it congruence, synchronicity or what, but this week brought a couple of church-related news that are good news.

Rising fast in Tandang Sora in Quezon City is a shrine, Santuario de San Vicente de Paul, dedicated to the cause of the poor of the city. It is named after the 17th-century French saint who dedicated his life to the very poor.

The Santuario’s raison d’etre sounds best in Pilipino: ``Ang tunay na esensiya ng Santuario de San Vicente de Paul ay hindi tumutukoy sa malamig na semento at matayog na pader. Ang Santuario ay ang mga taong bumubuo nito. Ang mahihirap ang tanging buhay ng Santuario, at ang mayayamang nais magbahagi ng kanilang biyaya sa mahihirap ang magiging katuwang nito na magsisilbing kamay at paa para sa patuloy na paglago. Ang Santuario… ay yayakap sa lahat ng uri ng tao, mayaman man o mahirap. Misyon ng simbahang ito ang bigyan ng sapat na atensiyon at pagkalinga ang mahihirap at kulang palad.’’

For those who don’t understand Pilipino: ``The essence of Santuario de San Vicente de Paul lies not in the cold concrete and the high walls. The Santuario is the people who form it. The life of the Santuario draws mainly from the poor, and the rich who want to share their blessings with the poor are the partners who would serve as hands and feet so that it will flourish. The Santuario will embrace all, both the rich and the poor. This church’s mission is to give attention and care to the poor and the less fortunate.’’

Thursday, September 23, 2004

VP Noli writes re `riles’

Very welcome is the letter to this column from Vice President Noli de Castro in response to our concern about the poor families living along the railroad tracks. Tens of thousands of these families will have to go when construction of the modern railway system (the North Rail) starts in a couple of months. The railway project is part of the Strong Republic Transit System, a flagship project of the Arroyo administration.

VP de Castro’s letter is welcome because it would be a gauge for those in the ``Bantay Riles’’ (non-government and people’s organizations) in monitoring how the government handles the human side of this project that will change the landscape and they way people live and travel.

Sure, we all need new ways of doing things and the long awaited modern transit system is welcome but we also need to preserve the dignity of human beings, the poor most especially, who live dangerously along the tracks.

As to the big illegal structures built along the way by the non-poor who wanted to free-load, bulldoze them tomorrow.

Note that VP de Castro does not use the word squatters. He uses the word settlers.
``Thank you very much for your concern over the plight of `riles’ settlers who will be affected by the railway rehabilitation project, which you wrote about in your Sept. 9 column, `Bantay Riles.’

Thursday, September 16, 2004

1,347 unfound

They went missing and have not been found until today. They are the 1,347 victims of ``enforced disappearance’’ from 1971 to 2003. They are the so-called desaparecidos (disappeared) who walked into the darkness and were never seen again.

Sept. 21 is upon us again. It will rake up painful memories and open wide the wounds that never quite heal. It is a time to pause to see where we have healed and where still we bleed. Justice still eludes the countless who had suffered while those who caused the suffering walk with their heads high.

Thirty two years ago on Sept. 21, 1972, when Pres. Marcos declared martial law, many people feared for their lives and their loved ones. But that day, they could not have imagined the greater horror, the sorrow, the darkness that would later visit countless lives.

Although some families already had a foretaste of what was to come the year before (the first case of disappearance happened in 1971) they had no inkling of what still lay ahead. The Reign of Terror would later cut a wide bloody swath across the land and for 14 years the dictatorship would hold the nation in its tight grip.

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Bantay riles

So what is everybody waiting for, the President wanted to know.

There’s no stopping the North Rail project, we are told, and I couldn’t help thinking of ``The Runaway Train’’, the 1988 bone-rattling movie that left viewers breathless and all shook up.

Ten hours after she returned from her state visit to China, Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo expressed impatience over the slowness of the North Rail project that would span the Manila-Clark (Pampanga) distance. Actual work on the ground has yet to start. China had already released the $400 million for the first phase that would connect Manila to Malolos, Bulacan.

Ms. Arroyo’s trip to China had a lot to do with this project. The Chinese Eximbank has also approved the second phase. During her pulong bayan held at the Cubao LRT station, the President, reports said, was impatience personified. She even called for North Rail president Jose Cortez Jr. who was having coffee in another LRT platform. Start now, she ordered. There were no reports about Cortez spilling his coffee and getting scalded.

The Strong Republic Transit System is one of the President’s flagship infrastructure projects meant to boost economic growth and employment. Who does not want to have a modernized railway system that would get people and products faster to their destinations and minus the hassle of road travel? Who does not want a clean, well lighted train speeding with a humming sound, minus garbage bags piling on its roof?

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Asian idols, Asian stars

Star-struck, star-studded, star search, star quality, star factor, star complex, star potential, star in a million, stardom. It’s all about stars. The young are bombarded with star images, dazzled by star dust, enticed with the possibility of becoming instant stars themselves.

TV shows like ``American Idol’’ surely spawned a lot of ``idol’’ contests all over the world. The local electronic media networks are trying to outdo one another in flaunting their latest finds, showing the mesmerized world how good they are in their business of entertaining you and me.

But what’s a star?

If we go by the pop searches and contests on TV here and abroad in the recent past, the stars are those who have captivated their audience and, of course, the ``star’’ judges, with their vocal talent, originality in projecting themselves, persistence, never-say-die attitude, physical stamina and beauty, the quality of their delivery. One could go on and on.

It’s a battle of nerves too and those who endure and survive to the finals, even if they don’t make it to the top three, are stars too. You have to give it to them.

It all looks so open too. The audience is sometimes even privy to the physical make-overs. People listen in to the judging, the cutting remarks, the grudging compliments of the judges. They are witness to how these star wannabes go through the wringer. Why, the TV viewers even participate in the star-making through the use of their thumbs, by texting, that is.

Then, suddenly, a new star, a new idol, is born. The star-making machine continues to churn out more. Some of these finds stay long in the limelight, others fade away too soon. Not a few become victims of their own celebrity status.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Ben of the lumads

His search for meaning, his taking to the less-traveled road, and his encountering the light at last, among mostly forgotten people—these could only be straight out of a continuing divine plot that has yet to fully unravel. The experience thrills him, fills him with awe and thanksgiving.

Benjamin ``Ben’’ Abadiano, 41, is this year’s recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership. In electing Ben, the RM Award Foundation ``recognizes his steadfast commitment to indigenous Filipinos and their hopes for peace and better lives consonant with their distinctive tradition and hallowed ways of life.’’

I met Ben last year when I interviewed him for a front page feature. I had learned about him from Sr. Victricia Pascasio of the Holy Spirit Sisters whose work among the Alangan Mangyans Ben had helped expand.

Twice I had been among the Mangyans before Ben went there to stay, and I had seen what it was like. Now, I am told, things have changed for the better I wouldn’t recognize the place if I wandered into it.

Born in 1963, Ben was raised by his grandparents. The circumstances of his birth are stuff for primetime TV dramas but that is another story. Ben finished sociology in Cagayan de Oro’s Xavier University where a Tingguian anthropologist, Dr. Erlinda Burton, opened his eyes to the world of the lumads or indigenous peoples (IP).

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Woman, religion and spirituality

Every woman who cares about the future of the women of this world and other planets should read this book. So should every caring man. And the befuddled, benighted ones—may they stumble upon this book in the most unlikely climes, at the most unlikely times, may someone care enough to shove it into their path or gift them with it, beautifully wrapped and scented, so that they may look upon it with curiosity and awe, and having read it, be filled with enormous regret that could turn into tremendous resolve to change things for the better.

The good news is that ``Woman, Religion and Spirituality in Asia’’ (Anvil) by Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB was launched last Sunday at the National Book Fair. Mananzan, president of St. Scholastica’s College for six years, was recently elected Prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in the Philippines.

The better news is that there is no better time than now for this book to come out. It comes in the aftermath of the tempest caused by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter on women which caused women (hmm, like me) to answer back.

And the best news? The book is easy to read. Surprisingly simple but engrossing, I would say, coming as it does from a scholar and activist nun whose doctoral dissertation at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome (where almost all the popes studied) was pompously titled ``The Language Game of Confessing One’s Belief: A Wittgensteinian-Austinian Approach to the Linguistic Analysis of Creedal Statements.’’ A journalist would write, tongue in cheek, ``Ways of Saying `I Believe’’’. But I digress.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Rep. Hontiveros takes on Cardinal Ratzinger

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had it coming.

The author of the Vatican’s ``Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World’’ has shown once again how the powerful patriarchy in the Catholic Church views women’s struggle for equality and emancipation. How is the how? With suspicion bordering on paranoia, that’s how. Ratzinger, famous for being an archconservative, should expect a fallout.

Part of the fallout comes from Rep. Anna Theresia ``Risa’’ Hontiveros-Baraquel, a first termer from the Akbayan Party who delivered her maiden privilege speech (``Feminism is Humanism’’) in congress last Tuesday. Hontiveros tackled Ratzinger’s heavy treatise that warned against the rise of antagonism between the sexes, woman power, and other imagined abominations.

I imagine the Lord Jesus Christ, whom I believe to be a thoroughly masculine feminist, befuddled by all this anti-feminist to-do in the Vatican. Jesus posed a counterculture and defended and upheld women so many times. I don’t know why many modern-day high priests could not do the same without being patronizing and suspicious. (Ha, and what would Jesus say about their wearing jewelry and princely raiment embroidered in gold?)

Ratzinger rants: ``Recent years have seen new approaches to women’s issues. A first tendency is to emphasize strongly conditions of subordination in order to give rise to antagonism: women, in order to be themselves, must make themselves the adversaries of men. Faced with the abuse of power, the answer for women is to seek power. This process leads to opposition between men and women, in which the identity and role of one are emphasized to the disadvantage of the other, leading to harmful confusion regarding the human person, which has its most immediate and lethal effects in the family.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Mody with the smiling soul

She did not paint with her mouth or strum the guitar with her feet. She did not write verses or propound mathematical theories. She was no savant, but she was no sorry saint either. She had no spectacular talent or stunning achievements to speak of that could make her a celebrity worth all the fuss.

What she had were syringomyelia—and her immense capacity to take in life and be joyful. And to infect others with her joie de vivre. And to draw people to herself. And to be drawn to others.

Her story is worth retelling, my former editor at the Sunday Inquirer Magazine said to me the other day. I told her that Cecilia ``Mody’’ Chuidian Jurado, whom I had written about in 1991, passed away last Tuesday morning after a bout with respiratory illness. Mody’s body was cremated immediately. She was 46.

Mody had been bedridden, wheelchair-bound for 37 years. Only her head could move normally. And except for her upper limbs that could make slight, difficult movements, the rest of her was practically immobile. Mody was a quadriplegic. What Mody could not do for herself, others had to do for her.

Mody had been that way since she was nine years old. She was stricken with syringomyelia at that age when girls romped about and beat boys their age at their own game. One day all that energy came to a sudden stop. After four months in the hospital, Mody was brought home, never to move freely again and to start life anew.

Syringomyelia is a blister in the spinal cord that results in a chronic and progressive condition associated with sensory disturbances, muscle atrophy and spasticity.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Gracia returns

Avalanched by news stories on the State of the Nation Address delivered by Pres. Arroyo last Monday was the first brief news item on Gracia Burnham’s return to the country and her scheduled appearance in court today at Camp Bagong Diwa.

Sources were quoted as saying that Gracia’s testimony was facilitated by a mutual legal assistance treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines.

As most everyone knows, American missionary couple Gracia and Martin Burnham plus several others were taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf, while they were on holiday at the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan in 2001. The hostage takers beheaded one of the hostages and kept the rest in the jungles of Mindanao for one year. During the rescue operation, Martin and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap were killed, Gracia was wounded but survived.

Gracia now returns in the wake of a different kind of hostage crisis which involved one of our OFWs in Iraq and put the name Angelo de la Cruz on everybody’s lips. Gracia returns as Philippine and US troops start anti-terror war games in North Cotabato and in a rebel area at that. The locals are apprehensive.

`In the Presence of My Enemies,’’ the book Gracia wrote (with Dean Merrill), is a gripping account of the hostages’ ordeal in the Mindanao jungle while in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf. The book’s title is a line from Psalm 23, the shepherd psalm.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

How green is the SONA?

Environmental lawyer Antonio A. Oposa, Jr. whose green opus (two huge colorful books on the Philippine environment) I had featured here, is shaking the ramparts on behalf of all greenies.

Says he: ``In all of Pres. Arroyo’s three State of the Nation Addresses (SONA), she never said a single word on the environment. Repeat, not a single word was said on the condition of the very natural elements—land, air, water—upon which all life in this country depend.’’

Oposa’s little grievance paper is titled ``The President is an Environmental Ignoramus.’’ Ouch. ``Sometimes words have to be a little wild,’’ Oposa says, quoting JM Keynes ``Because they are the assault of thoughts upon the unthinking.’’

In painful silence the greenies listened to the past SONA, they waited for those few little green words. But they heard nothing.

After Pres. Arroyo won a mandate in the recent elections, she laid out her 10-point agenda. Again, not a single word on the environment. (Well, at least she wore green for her oath-taking.) This says something about the President’s level of awareness of the importance of air, water and land resources, Oposa points out. This is a symptom that she is suffering from a severe case of environmental ignorantia.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Psalm for Angelo

Are we speaking as one? Are we standing as one to save his life?

Here is a puny man, a truck driver crouching on an immense world stage, awaiting his fate, his hands tied, knowing next to nothing about what is going on, his heart crying out, why am I here, what is my sin, what is my sin?

They don’t shoot their hostages over there, they prefer to sever the head from the torso. I don’t know how many more hours or days it will take before Angelo de la Cruz is either set free and allowed to go home to the Philippines or beheaded by his Iraqi captors.

I don’t know how many more hours or days it will take before the Philippine government accedes to Angelo’s captors’ demand that Philippine troops be withdrawn from Iraq. (While I was writing this, news came that troops will be withdrawn soon. The US government wasn’t pleased. FU!) I don’t know how many thousand candles have to be lighted, how many more prayer rallies and protest marches have to be staged in order that those who hold Angelo’s life in their hands would make the move to pave the way for his freedom.

Here at home, so many brutal words have been said, so much blame has been hurled. Name-calling, labeling, finger-pointing. The softening ingredients have all but been forgotten. One can’t help thinking—sure, everybody’s really trying to save Angelo’s life but... Are we speaking as one, standing as one, uh, doing prayer rallies as one?

Angelo waits while groups from a broad-spectrum of Angelo savers fall over each other. In the meantime, Angelo’s captors are getting more emboldened.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

US steps back on immunity

The latest good news is that the US has beaten a retreat.

The US has withdrawn its bid for immunity through the renewal of Resolution 1487 at the UN Security Council deliberations. Renewal would have meant a grant of a 12-month period of immunity to peacekeeping personnel who are citizens of countries that are not State Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The US is not a Rome Statue signatory.

The Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a member of an international coalition supported by 150 countries, hailed the development and said the US move to seek immunity would have been another way to escape prosecution by any international body.

According to the Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia), Resolution 1487 would be a corruption of the intent and purpose of the Rome Statute because it exempts a certain class of people from international justice. It undermines the authority of the ICC to determine its own jurisdiction and forces the Security Council to overstep the bounds of its own authority.

This development in the UN shows the Security Council upholding the integrity of the ICC and affirming international justice and the rule of law. Countries that held fast to their position against Resolution 1487 were Benin, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Spain and Romania.

By the way, the Philippines, represented by Amb. Lauro Baja, chaired the Security Council during the deliberations on Resolution 1487. The Philippines’ vote went for Resolution 1487 despite the overwhelming tide against it. The US, seeing the odds, retreated. With its pro-US vote, the Philippines had exposed itself.

Thursday, July 1, 2004


Last week, amidst the post-election noise and proclamation ado, my two-part special feature on death along the riles came out on the front page. I thought the warning train whistle was all but drowned out but on the same day we started the feature, Inquirer TV took up the same issue on its first one-hour weekly show. And it did something more—it asked viewers to text in their views on who they thought was at fault (``sino ang may sala’’) in the endless tragedies on the tracks. The best view won the texter a 21-inch TV.

The winner was Ramil Jimenez of Bulacan who SMSed: ``Pnganib man ay di alntana, buhay riles sa knilay gloria, madurog dto y krngalan pa khit ang gobyerno y iwas pusoy sa kainutilan nila!’’ Straight out of Huseng Batute country.

InqTV producer John Nery said they received hundreds. For both the txt addicts and the txtually-challenged, here are a few more. Have fun deciphering them. ``Mga politikong mpgsmntala bgmt mapiligro mgtayo ng bhy s tbi ng riles pngttangol pa nla ang mga e2, pra boto lng nla ay mkuha.’’

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Home is a distant place

I remembered Sharbat Gula last Sunday. She with the beautiful face framed by a veil, she with the stunning sea-green eyes with flecks of brown, pupils constricted, gazing out from the National Geographic brochure that circulated around the world for several years. Sharbat Gula was a 1985 NG cover girl with no name. But she gave a face to the plight of war refugees the world over.

She was simply called ``Afghan refugee.’’ No one knew, not even photographer Steve McCurry, what her name was until 17 years later. I did write about her two years ago when this NG poster girl, after a long search, was tracked down somewhere in Afghanistan. With the use of scientific methods, she was identified through the pools of her eyes.

I remembered Sharbat Gula last Sunday, World Refugee Day. This year’s theme is ``A Place Called Home.’’ Note that I didn’t say that it was celebrated. Observed, is more appropriate. For what is there to celebrate? Photos and television footage showed, not people in celebration, but human beings with longing in their eyes.

Commemorated is an appropriate word too, if the courage of those who left home, crossed borders and lost their lives in the process are to be taken into consideration. The quest for freedom--from want, from fear--and to leave home to find a new one in a strange place requires much courage. Brave are those who made the step, even braver are those who chose to lead and serve, putting their own interests aside so that others may live free, or simply survive.

Several brave individual women and men who have dedicated their lives in this way have been honored in the recent years by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) and have been written about. It is good that the young get to read about their great deeds.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Gawad for Bishop Labayen

Kagitingan summarizes the best in a human being--nobility, courage, integrity, strength of character, greatness of spirit. It derives from the word magiting.

What does it mean to be magiting? Filipino hero Emilio Jacinto defined it in the cartilla for wanna-be Katipuneros: ``…may magandang asal, may isang pangungusap, may dangal at puri, di nangaapi at di nagpapaapi, marunong magdamdam at ginugugol ang buhay, pagod at talino sa pagiging mabuting anak ng bayan at ng Diyos.’’ (…of good character, has word of honor, integrity and purity, does not oppress and does not allow oppression, sensitive to others and dedicates his/her life, energy and talent toward being a good citizen and child of God.)

Last June 12, 106th anniversary of Philippine Independence, Bishop Julio X. Labayen, retired bishop of the Prelature of Infanta in Quezon received the Gawad Kagitingan Award. The venue couldn’t have been more appropriate—the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City where the names of those who served and died for freedom are etched.

Behind the award was Management and Organization Development for Empowerment, an NGO working for the emancipation of farmers.

This year’s honoree is certainly most deserving. He has served the cause of the poor of Infanta and various sectors in the field of social action. In his response speech at the Gawad rites, the bishop, now in his late 70s, retraced his steps in the battlefields.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The longest day

Qu’il n’est pas d’avenir sans mémoire. There can be no future without memory. French President Jacques Chirac said this at the D-day 60th anniversary celebration in Normandy a few days ago. The TV camera panned the crowd and focused on a group of aging soldiers from different countries that formed the Allied Forces during World War II. Mostly in their 80s, these men now surely have to live with blurring eyesight, weakened knees and fading memories. One of them tried to suppress a sob but failed. My heart was in pieces.

They were, Chirac said, the enfants du monde jetés si jeunes dans le feu de la guerre, the children of the world thrown so young into the fire of war. Today they are young no more, but the memories, I am sure, continue to burn and blister the core of their beings. What was in the minds of these brave survivors as they sat there, this brilliant morning of June 6, 60 years after they stormed the beaches of Normandy to pave the way for the liberation of Western Europe from the clutches of Hitler?

And what was it like then when, as US Pres. Bush waxed, they set out ``in the half light of a Tuesday morning long ago’’? (Arrgh, I grabbed pen and paper to jot that down.)

Those in my generation weren’t human beings yet at that time. We were born in the half light of the post-war era. Many of the war scenes came to us through the war movies that I watched as a kid--``To Hell and Back’’, ``Tobruk’’. ``Guadalcanal Diary’’, ``Heaven Knows Mr. Allison’’, ``Sink the Bismarck!’’ ``Target Zero’’, ``Back to Bataan’’ to name a few. And, of course, ``The Longest Day’’ (1962) based on the best-selling book of war historian Cornelius Ryan.

Thursday, June 3, 2004

The Noy-pi redux

I was with some friends last Saturday, leisurely driving toward C-5. A car with government plates was ahead of us. When traffic slowed down, the car’s driver tossed an empty plastic cup outside the window. We took note of the car’s plate number and model and the time and place. (SEK214, black Excel Hyundai, Katipunan corner Santolan Road, around 11:15 a.m.)

So why do many Filipinos think the road is their trash can? Why do many Filipino males urinate wherever they please? Why is it that where precisely it says, ``Bawal Omehi Deto’’ (sic), it stinks? (Think of the many versions and spellings of that warning.) And where ``Huwag Tapon Basura Dito, Fine P50, By Order’’ is scrawled, a garbage mound arises?

Are Filipino drivers color blind that while the traffic light remains red, many zoom past it? Why do commuters wait for their ride in the middle of the road and not on the sidewalk? Is it coincidental that many employees in some government offices come from the same family tree, town or barrio?

And why is it that despite the extent of poverty in the Philippines, the suicide rate is low compared to that of economic giants? How could a tragic event, such as Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, unleash so many jokes and so much laughter--directed at his killers, of course--from grieving millions? Why do we spend so much for fiestas then fast the rest of the year? How do we make do with so little? Why do Filipinos generally do well in foreign countries?

Why are we always smiling? And gosh, what are we smiling about?

And what’s wrong with us? Is it cultural, structural, moral, spiritual? What is the problem? Is it the home, the church, the school, the state, the weather, the food and water? Is it our genes?

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Berg’s father speaks

I am now going off for my very brief summer break. I take with me the words of Michael Berg, father of Nick Berg, the US contractor beheaded on video in Iraq this month by a group believed to be linked to al-Qaida. This is an extract from his message of support for the Stop The War Coalition's demonstration, End the Torture–Bring the Troops Home Now, held in London last week. This was printed in The Guardian on May 21, 2004.

``My son, Nick, was my teacher and my hero. He was the kindest, gentlest man I know; no, the kindest, gentlest human being I have ever known. He quit the Boy Scouts of America because they wanted to teach him to fire a handgun. Nick, too, poured into me the strength I needed, and still need, to tell the world about him.

``People ask me why I focus on putting the blame for my son's tragic and atrocious end on the Bush administration. They ask: ``Don't you blame the five men who killed him?’’ I have answered that I blame them no more or less than the Bush administration, but I am wrong: I am sure, knowing my son, that somewhere during their association with him these men became aware of what an extraordinary man my son was. I take comfort that when they did the awful thing they did, they weren't quite as in to it as they might have been. I am sure that they came to admire him.

``I am sure that the one who wielded the knife felt Nick's breath on his hand and knew that he had a real human being there. I am sure that the others looked into my son's eyes and got at least a glimmer of what the rest of the world sees. And I am sure that these murderers, for just a brief moment, did not like what they were doing.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The beheading

A reader, Ms. Gloria Parillas Earl, sent a letter to the editor (PDI 5/18/04) castigating me for what I said in my column piece (``Taguba’s report on Abu Ghraib’’, PDI 5/13/04) on the abuses--sexual, physical, psychological--committed by U.S. Army personnel against Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison.

She asked: ``Where is Doyo’s disgust over the videotaped beheading of Nick Berg, whose passion for helping others got him into Iraq?’’

Another reader who read the letter promptly wrote to me via email and agreed with Ms. Earl on ``my lacking in courage’’ to condemn. He/she said I ``had written fair and balanced columns generally in the past but you seem, to `lose it’ when it pertains to issues about war and social injustice.’’ Too anti-U.S meddling, too pro-poor?

But a reader from San Francisco reacted to Ms. Earl’s letter by questioning Berg’s presence in Iraq. What he said was not very flattering to the dead.

So early and I was spilling my coffee.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Taguba’s report on Abu Ghraib

I stayed up very late the other night to watch live on CNN the U.S. Senate investigation of the torture committed by U.S. military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison, with U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba, Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone and Lt. Gen. Lance Smith testifying.

Philippines-born Taguba, a true-brown kayumanggi, is the author of the report that details the shameless acts done to Iraqi detainees by members of the 800th MP Brigade assigned in Abu Ghraib. Gen. Taguba reaped a rain of praises for his no-nonsense report and testimony and for calling intentional abuse intentional abuse.

You must have seen those disgusting photographs that came out starting last week, photographs of naked Iraqi detainees being humiliated, tortured, piled one on top of another like carcass. Being photographed and videotaped while in that humiliated state added to the intensity of the torment. The bad news is that there’s more than what we saw in photos.

How could something like this have happened in this day and age? Yes, Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler do not have the monopoly of evil. Their evil spirit lives on in some U.S. military personnel. If I were an American, I would be red-faced. If I were an American citizen I would write my very own individual letter of apology to the world, to the people of Iraq and to the detainees in Abu Ghraib prison.

Senators, among them Sen. Hillary Clinton, focused on the acts of humiliation and torture detailed on page 16 and 17 of Taguba’s 53-page report. I later downloaded the report from the Internet. Here are those portions that the world ought to read not only for their shock value but also so that people may be forewarned about more 9/11s. This is the very thing that begets hatred.

Thursday, May 6, 2004

The vote of the poor (2)

Last week we shared portions of the findings of the research done by the Ateneo University’s Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) on how the poor view elections and choose their candidates.

IPC’s ``The Vote of the Poor: The Values and Pragmatics of Elections’’ tries to answer the questions: do the poor produce a ``dumb masa’’ vote? What do the poor think of elections? How do they make their choices? How much influence do the media exert on them? What to them are the traits of a true leader?

IPC used focused groups discussions (FGD) as a tool to get to the raw sentiments and perceptions of the subjects.

Here’s more:

The most important sources of influence in the choice of candidates are: media, family, church, political parties, one’s own (sarili lang/walang nakakaimpluwensiya) and surveys.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The metaphors and vote of the poor (1)

The inscrutable poor masses out there have been publicized, lionized, satirized, analyzed and wooed to death. Election time has a way of smoking them out of the woodwork, the cracks and crevices where they dwell, as if candidates realize they exist for the first time. Suddenly the poor are on everyone’s mind and lips, suddenly they rule, they poll.

Do the poor produce a ``dumb masa’’ vote? What do the poor think of elections? How do they make their choices? How much influence do the media exert on them? What to them are the traits of a true leader?
The poor are smarter than you think.

The Ateneo University’s Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) released a few days ago its findings on how the poor view elections and choose their candidates. What, how exactly do they think?

``The Vote of the Poor: The Values and Pragmatics of Elections’’ was the result of a research using focused group discussions (FGD) as a tool to get to the raw sentiments and perceptions of the subjects. Unlike surveys that use statistical methods, the FGD type elicits qualitative responses and scrutinizes the meaning and quality of these responses. In clinical psychology we call it the phenomenological way.

The FGDs were held in Metro Manila, Baguio, Cebu, Zamboanga, Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Davao del Sur. Six groups were all-male and five were all-female (aged 30 and above).Another five groups were composed of mostly young males and females under 30 years old.

IPC did a qualitative analyses of the statements that came from the FGDs but I’m sure readers would like to know what exactly were said. Nothing beats a good quote.

When groups were asked to supply metaphors about leaders, the responses suggested guidance, stability, service and perspective. A sampling:

Thursday, April 22, 2004

'Let the healing begin'

Happy Earth Day!

What nationalist Filipino does not know that `Pearls R Us’?

But pearls could be a source of conflict. The Jewelmer Corporation, a Cojuangco-owned operator of a large pearl farm in Palawan has been the subject of complaints there. Recently, 500 members of indigenous groups, some clad in traditional costumes, sailed on their boats to fish in the waters off the islands off Bugsuk and Pandanan in Balabac, Palawan. These areas are currently off limits to fishermen.

Those who dared ``intrude’’ belonged to the Pal’wan and Molbog tribes and were members of the Samahang Tribo sa Dulo ng Timog Palawan (Sambilog). With the help of the Jesuit-influenced PhilDHRRA, they are claiming back their rights to the 57,000 hectares of ancestral land and waters occupied by Jewelmer.

Sambilog head Sanglima Rudy Calo said that Jewelmer ``has prohibited us from fishing in these waters for almost two decades. But these had been traditional fishing grounds for our ancestors. And now we learned that the operation of the pearl farm is illegal. It does not have an environmental compliance certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources nor any clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development. They have not acquired any consent certificate from us either.’’

Those who have ogled at luscious pearls at Jewelmer stores and scanned their expensive coffeetable book would know why these South Sea pearls are very expensive. I was once tempted to buy a pair of champagne-colored dangling earrings there but the price said, go away. I settled for a look-alike, costing about one-tenth, sold by Muslim traders at a mall tiangge.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Wind, sand and stars and Saint-Ex

They found them, they found them at last.

The remains of the plane piloted by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of the beloved ``The Little Prince’’, have been found almost 60 years after his disappearance, French officials announced last week. The mystery has been solved, but more than that, there is now closure in the fascinating life of this remarkable Frenchman, this wartime pilot, aristocrat, romantic, adventurer, writer.

Saint-Ex’s life ended when he was only 44. Ah, but he lives on.

I pulled out from the shelf two of his books, ``The Little Prince’’ and ``Wind, Sand and Stars’’ (French title: Terre des Hommes). The former sure is a classic which millions of readers know by heart, but ``Wind, Sand and Stars’’ is my all-time favorite because it is Saint-Ex speaking directly, wondrously. (My yellowed copy has many pen markings on it, proof that I read and reread it a long time ago.)

``Wind, Sand and Stars’’ is a symphony, a meditation on life, spiced with true-to-life stories which are not the chicken-soup variety. Saint-Ex writes about his flights and travels to fascinating places in the sky and on land as well.

The sky is not simply a vast and empty space, it is a place where things happen to oneself and within oneself. The deserts and the fields aren’t simply there below to view from the air, they are, many times for Saint-Ex, there to crashland on, and there meet danger and beauty alone and know for the first time strange and wonderful people.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

From `the abyss of sorrow’

A contemplative nun (pen name: Sr. Hyacinth Carmeli) sent her journal on the suicide of her brother Eugene (his real name) after she read something we wrote that resonated with her pain. With the permission of Sr. Hyacinth and other persons concerned, we are sharing excerpts from the journal. This, she said, is her way of reaching out. She can be contacted through this column.

This Holy Week, it behooves us to enter into the pain of others so that we may know and understand.

``Today I bow my head before my brother as almost nine years ago, he put the thick yellow nylon cord around his neck and took hold of the beam. I believe God had tears too as He waited for Eugene because He knew more than anybody else how he had suffered in this life. He cried with Eugene, He cried with me. I believe God is a God who walks with us and never abandons us in all the deepest sorrows of our heart. He feels our pain acutely more than we can ever feel it. But in the beginning these thoughts never entered my heart and if they did, I did not believe a single word of it. I was not ready to listen then.

``I talk to my brother again today in the midst of tears. I have somehow anticipated this sadness as his birthday approaches. It was on his sixth memorial day that I finally told him that it was okay for him to have left....

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Ho y Cruz

What does it profit a university to confer an honorary degree on a gambling mogul, supposedly one of the world’s richest men, who figured in the previous disgraced administration’s aborted move to raise the gambling culture and addiction of this country notches higher? Pray tell, what message does this convey to the young graduates?

To the board of trustees of the Angeles University Foundation (AUF), may I say this in Filipino—dinuraan ninyo ang mga graduates ninyo, binastos ninyo sila. You spat on them, you dishonored them. You will go down in history as the educational institution that gifted its graduates with this ultimate insult. Doctor of humanities, anyone?

Cara y cruz? One does not know which way this gambling country goes. Heads I win, tails you lose--seems to be the dictating rule in the losing battle against gambling lords and their academic fans. Ah, but every once in a while a voice rises above the din to cry, ``Wrong.’’ That is the voice of Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Pangasinan.

A few days to Holy Week and a gambling mogul (lord, king, baron, czar) from Hong Kong and an anti-gambling archbishop and canon lawyer, figure in front-page news. This was over the conferment of a university honorary degree on the gambling lord and the archbishop’s protest and return of his own honorific title.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

More rice with SRI

One unforgettable one-liner that I heard a long time ago from farmers and which made me laugh was: ``Hindi na kami magsasaka, magsasako na.’’ (We’re no longer rice farmers, we’re now rice sack dealers.) That’s one pun that gets totally lost in translation because the punch rests on one vowel of a Filipino word. Forget it if you don’t understand Filipino.

The letter O of magsasako might as well be a fat zero, meaning empty. Empty sacks. Where have all the palay gone?

There are a myriad reasons for troubled rice yields, rice shortages and vanishing rice varieties. One could blame wanton land conversion, chemical poisoning of the soil, wrong government agricultural priorities, overpopulation, environmental destruction and multinationals who play god. Name it.

But there’s hope for the palay. There is hope in SRI or system of rice intensification. Its Filipino practitioners have coined a Filipino name for it—Sipag-Palay or ``ang sistema ng pagpapalago ng palay.’’

Well-known SRI proponent Norman T. Uphoff, director of Cornell International Institute for Food Agriculture and Development, was here last week to speak and listen to SRI farmers. Uphoff, who had been here several times before, was the speaker at the Third National SRI Conference organized by the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, the Philippine Greens, Pabinhi, Broad Initiatives for Negros Development and SRI-Pilipinas.

SRI, I learned, had its beginnings in Madagascar in the 1980s. Jesuit Father Henri de Laulanie who lived among farmers there for three decades helped develop a way to increase rice yield from 50 cavans per hectare to 144 cavans per hectare. In some cases, the yield even reached as high as 200 to 300 cavans. This was possible even in soil that was not fertile and without using modern rice varieties and chemical fertilizers, and even with very little water.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

`Thief and dictator’

So sue me. I’ve been using the words dictator and tyrant for as long as I can remember.

``Mrs. Marcos wants the Department of Justice (DOJ) to rule that Ferdinand Marcos is not a dictator. She wants the (DOJ) to rule that Ferdinand Marcos is not a thief. Since Mrs. Marcos cannot change history, she wants the (DOJ) to do it for her.’’

This is want Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) commissioner Ruben Carranza, through his lawyers from Arroyo Chua Caedo Law Office, said in his scathing counter-affidavit after Imelda Marcos filed a libel suit against him and several journalists from a newspaper that published his statements.

Well, the DOJ did precisely that, Carranza’s lawyer William Chua said, when the DOJ through the Makati prosecutor’s office, charged Carranza et al with libel. An arrest order is to be expected, Chua added.

Last Sunday we came out with a news story on how calling deposed former president Ferdinand Marcos ``a thief and a dictator’’ could get you in trouble. The present government could charge you in court and have you arrested.

Party list representative Crispin Beltran promptly sent his reaction saying: ``Who’s afraid of libel and the Marcoses? Marcos was a thief, a dictator and a traitor to the Filipino people.’’

Beltran is saying, ``Try me.’’ So he goes: ``Thief, dictator, butcher of civilians, traitor to the Filipino people. If I had a wider and bigger vocabulary, I would be able to describe the late dictator Fedinand E. Marcos in more ways.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

‘Kinse anyos’

Nakatikim ka na ba ng kinse anyos? Have you tasted a 15-year-old?

Whoever crafted, produced and approved that ad for Distilleria Limtuaco’s Tanduay Rum cannot come clean and feign ignorance of the question’s double entendre. What’s in a question? Plenty.

The huge, unsightly and offensive Tanduay billboards asking that question have been taken down, or so we think, but the bad taste remains. Now the rum manufacturer is questioning the Ad Board’s authority to call for the bad ad’s removal from the face of the earth. But that is another story.

The bad story is: why that ad, for whom that ad? It was meant to titillate, to arouse the yearning for the 15-year-old liquid. And while at it, might as well intensify the thirst for two-legged 15-year-olds. Or it could be the other way around. Think of 15-year-old waifs, think Tanduay.

So the question suggests: if you have not tasted a kinse anyos, go taste one. Or if you have, and liked it, go and have more. The ad shows a bottle, which is easy to get from a convenience store. But where would one get the one which is not shown, the one which is not in a bottle?

The recent outcry over the gigantic billboards that now dominate the Philippine landscape has not been addressed. Or has it? Have you seen iron structures that hold billboards being dismantled? In fact there are more of them now waiting to be draped. It seems anyone who has a patch of earth or a rooftop can now offer his property to the billboard industry for extra income.

The issue was about unsightliness and defacing the horizon. Add danger because these iron structures get toppled during typhoon season. Now comes bad taste bordering on arousal of lust for children.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Passenger 51

I shudder as I imagine Passenger 51 moments before the ill-fated SuperFerry 14 caught fire last week off the coast of Bataan. Did he or didn’t he?

With unconcealed delight, Abu Sayyaf chief Khadaffy Janjalani announced a few days ago that his terror group, with the special participation of Passenger 51, had caused the tragedy that killed and injured more than a hundred people and left countless traumatized and bereaved. The ship, carrying 879 passengers and crew, had just left Manila on the night of Feb. 26 and was cruising Manila Bay when tragedy struck. Among the 134 still mysteriously missing are scores of high school students who had just attended a national conference in Laguna and were returning to Mindanao. The ship, though keeled to the side, did not go down. Yet only one dead body has so far been found.

Passenger 51, bearer of ticket number 24633972, was to be credited for this latest sea mishap, Janjalani crowed, and he could prove it. Passenger 51 was their own, and he had fulfilled his duty. Government investigators were quick to pooh-pooh this owning up, insisting that there was no proof of an explosion. The disaster was an accident or it could have been human error that brought that about. Any prankster could claim authorship and ride on the tragedy as a ticket to infamy.

But Janjalani waved the smoking gun. Passenger 51, the suicide bomber, Janjalani said, was Arnulfo Alvarado whose real name was Abu Muadz, a native of Pata Island in Sulu. The Abu Sayyaf chief continued to give details of those moments before Passenger 51 sealed the fate of scores of innocents including his own. Oh, but might he still be alive?

At first only Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Soliman made the announcement. Was he for real? ``We did it!’’ the Inquirer quoted him as saying. Sure, the claim could have come from the terrorists, Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo said, but only as an afterthought.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Oratio imperata

Ora pro nobis. Kyrie eleison. Kaawaan mo kami. Malooy ka sa amon. Kahiraki kami. In times of pestilence and impending calamities, famine and drought, disease and danger, the Catholic Church of yore called on the faithful to collectively go down on their knees to implore God to intervene.

Oratio imperata means obligatory prayer. In those days, this was the church’s weapon and shield against the destructive forces that roamed the land and threatened the security of the people. It still is. This phrase in the extinct language of Latin is coming to life again and is being used to exhort the people to cry out to the heavens.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) recently called for oratio imperata. In the bishops’ perception, this country is headed for the edge.

Oratio imperata. I like the archaic sound of it. Trumpets wail and pipe organs roar. The ramparts shake and rattle. Imperata sounds very imperative and urgent, something must be in such grave peril that it needs the prayers of the entire nation. Evil is abroad in the land.

It reminds me of the yearly ``Ora et Labora’’ pageant in the German-style Benedictine-run school where I studied. Barbarians overrun parts of Europe during the Dark Ages. Then Benedict of Nursia emerges to throw light and help dispel the darkness. A new day dawns, thanks in part to the wise and wizened monks whose powerhouses of prayer, fields for sustainable agriculture and archives of knowledge help save Europe from spiritual and cultural devastation. Perfect era for oratio imperata.

Now, where was I?

Thursday, February 19, 2004


I could not make it to the big-screen special viewing at the mall last Sunday so the director lent me a copy in VHS (she wouldn’t part with the DVD) that I could watch at home. But she gave me instructions in a pleading tone. I was to watch her latest film opus with no distractions, preferably in a dimly lighted room, on a big TV screen.

I followed her instructions. I went through the motion of detaching the wires from the DVD and connecting them to the VHS machine and testing if I found the right holes and the sound was right and I had the right remote with the right batteries. My, this took a while. When I was done, I freshened up.

I don’t have a mini-theater, but I guess my clean and spartan room meets the specifications for viewing. What was all this ambiance-preparation supposed to achieve, I wondered. So there I was, in my cool and darkened place smelling of fresh sheets and brewed coffee, ready to behold the unfolding of Ditsi Carolino’s ``Riles: Life on the Tracks’’.

The opening scene jars and assaults immediately. A train roars past a squatter community living dangerously close to the railroad tracks in Sampaloc, Manila. Here is a world so unlike the one where I’m sitting. Cacophonous, foul-smelling, filthy, dangerous, degrading, deprived, rat-infested, unfit for human habitation. This is ``home along da riles’’, no, not of TV sitcom fame. This one is true-to-life, the characters real, the misery real, the hope real but undying. Cinema verite with clenched teeth, and yes, with a dash of Pinoy humor.

The docu (in vivid color, in Filipino with English subtitles) has no narrator. It unravels by itself. The people don’t act and talk to the camera. They are their natural selves. This is as real as it gets.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Agent Orange: Time-delayed violence

News from Agence France Presse (AFP) datelined Hanoi that was prominently bannered in the Inquirer a few days ago said: ``Three Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have begun legal action against manufacturers of the defoliant used by US forces during the Vietnam war, a move analysts say was inevitable given Washington’s failure to atone for its use.’’

The photo that went with the story was that of a cheering Thai Thi Ha, 13, his arms raised, during a fund-raising meeting for Agent Orange victims. All over the boy’s arms and face were black spots that made him look like he had been sprayed with mud. But mud it was not. This child was among the many children born long after the Vietnam war (1961-1975) was over and who bear the scars of that shameful era. To these children have been passed on the effects of the toxin that their parents had ingested. Who knows how far down the line of generations the poison would go to maim and scar the innocents?

Last Jan. 30 the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange filed a lawsuit on behalf of the victims at the US Federal Court in New York. Named were more than 20 American companies that produced Agent Orange, among them Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. Yes, Monsanto, the manufacturer or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). These two giants have been on the dock before for other products that have been cause for worry for inhabitants of this planet.

For ten years, from 1961 to 1971, the US and their ally, the South Vietnamese military, sprayed millions of liters of toxic herbicides, among them, Agent Orange, over parts of Vietnam to destroy the foliage that covered their enemy, the communist forces. This defoliation not only affected the target areas and their population, but also those handling and spraying the defoliants.

The defoliant’s deadly component was dioxin which increases the risk of cancers, immune deficiencies, reproductive and developmental aberrations, nerve diseases and other physical defects.

Thursday, February 5, 2004

The MJ’s leap of faith

``Commitment,’’ the homilist said, ``is not staying in a place from which you cannot leave. It is letting go and holding on to a new call. The important thing is not that one spends a whole life doing something, but what one does with one’s whole life and how one does it. Commitment is the fine art of waiting for a thing to become for us what we thought a long time ago it was--makers of our history and partners in God’s mission. Fr. Joe, this was your dream and the dream of your MJ brothers.’’

That was Father Percy Juan MJ, noted missiologist, speaking during the mass at the wake of Fr. Jose Saplala MJ at St. Scholastica’s College chapel last Sunday. Fr.Joe, 68, died of cancer on Jan. 31. He was buried yesterday after a glorious farewell from kith and kin.

I had plans of writing about the MJ (Missionaries of Jesus) sometime back but I was waiting for the right time. Perhaps now is the time.

The MJ is a group of priest-missionaries (38 Filipinos, two Belgians and one American) that broke away in 2002 from the Belgian-founded CICM (Congregation of the Immmaculate Heart of Mary). The early Belgian missionaries here served the people of the Cordillera, spoke their language and lived among them. The CICM now run huge institutions such as Maryhill School of Theology and St. Louis University.

Those who broke away are among the best and the brightest and the most committed to mission. Father Joe, the first Filipino CICM, and the young-ish Father Percy Juan, former Father Provincial, were among them. This was a split that was bound to happen. East clashes with West, new wine tearing at old wineskins, and the idea of ``doing mission’’ no longer the same for everyone. Ad gentes as against ad extra. The former implies bridging the gap between faith and unbelief and being engaged in intercultural dialogue of life; the latter implies a geographical crossing over sort of.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Watching a convict die in 1999

Tomorrow, if heaven does not intervene, two death convicts will go to the execution chamber. This would be the first in almost five years. In 1999, the second year of the Estrada administration, about half a dozen were sent to Kingdom Come.

In July 1999 I was sent to cover the execution of Convict A who was sentenced to death for raping his daughters. (In deference to his family, I will not mention his name.) I think he was the third to die that year. I did write a news story the following day plus a column piece.

I am resurrecting excerpts from that column--for whatever they are worth--to remind what it was like for me and for those who were there. Here:

It’s been several days since I watched a convicted rapist die by lethal injection and I have yet to have a fitful night, experience horrible nightmares or lose my appetite. I watched a man die, or more precisely, being killed, and I didn’t lose any sleep? I find this disturbing.

I kept thinking—not ruminating, by the way—about it, even rewinding and playing the scene over and over in my mind. Still no tears, goose bumps or knots in my guts. The thing to do is to just let go of it, I told myself.

I have coped well. You see, it all looked like something straight out of a movie. I better rephrase that. I now suspect something in me made it all look like it was something from a movie. That way I would be able to take it and not be a mess. We all try, consciously or unconsciously, to fashion a coping mechanism when we have to face something stressful or dreadful. Only later do we process things.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Not walls but bridges

This first portion of this column I had initially put at the tail end but when I finished writing I decided to cut and paste it up here.

Hear ye. Be shocked. Be ecstatic. Fire-and-brimstone at its best. Jaro archbishop Angel Lagdameo’s message to the Promotion for Church People’s Rights congress this week is something so unlike most ecclesiastical missives. Is this real?

``Each day, because of poverty, there’s an increased widening of estrangement and alienation of the poor from the Church. Perhaps most people feel that the Church does not connect anymore with their language, their anguish and their struggles. When this happens, the Church crumbles from her very core! Such tendency to sanitize prophetic witness and practice faith only in convenience is the reason why we can lose our credibility and effectiveness in mission. And such indictment and challenge is pointed out by this powerful prayer that cries out:

``I simply argue that the cross be raised again/ At the center of the marketplace/ As well as the steeple of the church./ I am recovering the claim that/ Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral/ Between two candles:/ But on a cross between two thieves,/ On a town garbage heap/ At a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan/ That they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Greek…/And at the kind of place where cynics talk smut/And thieves curse and soldiers gamble./Because that is where He died/ And that is what He died about/ That is where Christ’s men ought to be,/And what church people ought to be about.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Tiangge of hope

What a respite from all the bickering, grandstanding, and the self-promoting antics of politicians. Read their lips and their body language and what do they say?

Friday last week I waded into a virtual tiangge of hope, a flea market so to speak, brimming with creativeness and, most of all, with energy. That was the two-day ``Panibagong Paraan’’ the first Philippine Development Innovation Marketplace held at the Megatrade Hall of SM Megamall. The theme was ``making services work for the poor’’ and the key word was ``innovativeness’’.

For the first time, non-government and people’s organizations (NGO and PO) and institutions--or to use a more generic name, civil society groups--came together, this time, to sell their ideas. How were their services going to work for the poor?

More than a 117 (of the 121) finalists set up booths to display their vision translated into concrete projects that they hoped the World Bank and other funders/donors would ``buy’’ or be interested to help. I liken this big to-do to a tiangge or flea market because the participants were mostly community-based stakeholders, small in size but big on hope, big in heart. The atmosphere was both exciting and informal, unlike corporate trade fairs where people walk around in suits smelling of expensive cologne and speak business jargon.

From 1,800 applications from all over the country the 121 finalists/exhibitors were drawn. These finalists were selected on the basis of the following criteria: innovativeness, partnership, impact and cost-effectiveness, sustainability and replicability.

Thursday, January 8, 2004

Mars landing

Have your ever caught yourself suddenly conscious that you were smiling? After being so engrossed with something you’re watching or listening to, you suddenly became conscious that your facial muscles have rearranged themselves to form a smile.

That’s what happened to me last Sunday afternoon while watching on TV the press briefing on the Spirit rover’s Mars landing. I was too engrossed it took some time for me to realize I was wearing a grin that didn’t want to go away. I wanted to freeze my grin and go to the mirror to see how silly I looked but I didn’t want to miss what the NASA team was saying to the media.

They were all in their work clothes, looking so casual, so bright, so scientist. Only the politicians were in dark suits. Everybody was in a celebratory mood, champagne flowed, there were cheers and tears. Murphy’s law didn’t apply this time and everything went perfect.

How could one not share their joy and triumph? I have always loved science stories like this, momentous breakthroughs that make one say, ``Things will never be the same again.’’

In fact mission manager Peter Theisinger said something like that. ``You have no idea how this feels,’’ he was quoted in print as saying. But I did catch him saying ``The world will never be the same again.’’ I had pen and paper and I was able to jot that down.

Thursday, January 1, 2004

Woman clutching her umbrella

She is the year-end image that continues to stay on my mind. She was on the national screen shortly before Christmas day. An elderly woman in a squatting position, looking down on her dead kin, then looking up in supplication to those around her. There she was, in her frail form, squeezing, wringing her folded umbrella with her hands. The mud outlines around her finger nails were dark enough for me to see. She had come from a muddy place where the earth cascaded like a river in a fit of rage, engulfing her village and taking away hundreds of lives, homes, farms, the scent of wild flowers and ripening fruit.

She could not muster a wail. Her weeping was faint, for that was all that her lungs could let out. But her hands looked strong and able, wrapped around her folded umbrella. These hands she used to dig earth, sow seeds, cut firewood, build fire, rock the hammock, bathe the babies and the beasts, move mountains. Suddenly mud and water poured on her village. Suddenly she was helpless and left with nothing. She lost the people that defined her home. She lost them to the mud.

Payong na sira-sira. It could not protect her from the rain. But the umbrella was all she could lean on now and use like a staff, a crutch. She wrung it like wet laundry as if this act, this movement could hasten the coming of tears and drain the pain from the deepest of her where she had stored her small dreams and village memories.

There is something about tattered umbrellas and people in distress who hold them folded and close to their chests that shake the boulders inside me. I once interviewed a bunch of long-term prison inmates for a couple of days and I remember this one prisoner who always came to the visiting hall with his wet umbrella. It was like his most priced possession.