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.