Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas letters from Muslims

Peace, Kapayapaan, Kalinaw, Kalinong, Salam, Shalom, to you this Christmas.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive letters from Muslims working in Saudi Arabia reacting positively to last week’s column piece, ``The Christmas Story in the Koran’’ (12/22/05).

First, I’d like to say that the Inquirer stylebook spells the name of the Muslims’ Holy Book as ``Koran’’ so the few times in the past that I wrote ``Qur’an’’ I always got a call from the proofreading department informing me that the spelling will changed. I again got a call regarding my title.

At first I was a bit hesitant to run the account on Mary’s pregnancy and the events that led to Jesus’ birth as narrated in the Koran. Was my copy of the Koran an accepted translation? I presumed that like the Bible that comes in different translations, the Koran also has many translations. My pocketsize copy is by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House and published in the US. Its title is ``The Koran’’ I got it from Powerbooks for only P125.75. The Bible isn’t as cheap.

Honestly, I was charmed by the account on Mary giving birth beside the trunk of a date palm. Famished and in pain, Mary heard a voice telling her to shake the tree, whereupon ripe dates fell on her. Dates are a good post-partum repast, I suppose. I thought, we have always associated Christmas with castanas (chestnuts). Why don’t we switch to dates?

I really prefer dates. Some of the best I’ve tasted were preserved ones that were still on the twig. They came from Tunisia. Dates, I was told, are a popular food item for Muslims at the end of Ramadan.

Now, if we go by the ripening of the dates and their falling on Mary, this would mean that Jesus was not born during a winter month but in the summer in that part of the world. Not that the exact date and time matters much now.

Anyway, here are some of the letters.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Christmas story in the Qur’an

The Christmas story is not only told in the bible of the Christians, it is also in the Qur’an of the Muslims. I went over the Qur’an which is not familiar terrain for me, I also browsed through an Islamic website where I found interesting stuff.

In the Qur’an one will find an account of Mary’s own birth, the Annunciation and later, the Nativity and Jesus’ public life. Mary is mentioned in the Qur’an 34 times. But before Jesus’ birth is the story about the miraculous conception and birth of John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah that was to come.

The Qur’an says that Mary was the daughter of the wife of Imran. When Imran’s wife was pregnant, she made a vow that she would offer her child to be raised and serve at the Temple. She thought she would give birth to a son, but when she delivered, the child turned out be a girl. The mother was disappointed.

She named the child Mary which meant servant. Mary’s father Imran had died before she was born, so her mother brought her to the temple to be reared by the priests. Zakariyya (John the Baptist’s father?) was one of them. Unable to decide who would have the privilege of having custody of Mary, the priests drew lots. Zakariyya’s name was drawn and he became Mary’s guardian.

When Mary reached the age of puberty, Zakariyya saw to it she was protected from the eyes of men. Mary worshipped Allah in a special partition where nobody could enter except Zakariyya. Whenever Zakariyya came in he always found her with food.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The milkman of Talavera

Guyito, the Inquirer’s carabao mascot, would be happy to know that his fellow ruminants have transformed the town of Talavera in Nueva Ecija into a land flowing with milk and milk products. Thanks to the dream and the daring of entrepreneur Danilo V. Fausto, carabao’s milk is now making a healthy comeback and finding a niche in the market.

Another thing to moo about is fresh cow’s milk produced by small farmers’ cooperatives also finding its way into cafĂ© society and boldly competing with imported milk that isn’t fresh at all.

Fausto’s ``Dare to Dream: A Filipino Entrepreneur’s Tale of Success in Dairy Farming’’ was launched last Monday at UP’s Balay Kalinaw with believers in the Philippine dairy industry in attendance. It was a small but happy affair. National Dairy Authority chief Salvacion Bulatao gave a national situationer while a nervous little farmer named Ka Henry whom Fausto brought along almost stole the thunder and received a standing ovation with his carabao success tale. But that is getting ahead of the story. People went home smiling and sporting white moustaches.

You might have seen in some malls the dainty DVF Dairy Farm’s ``Gatas ng Kalabaw’’ stalls that sell chilled fresh carabao’s milk in sealed bottles, plain or fruit- and pandan-flavored, as well as pastillas de leche and kesong puti. The promdi in you takes a second look and you wonder if this is for real. Carabao’s milk braving the mainstream?

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Oikocredit, small change, big impact

You must have seen a 20-peso bill with a circular doodle with three arrows coming out of it. You must have wondered whether that was someone’s way of venting his ire on the state of the Philippine currency. But when you looked closer, you must have read the words below that whorl--``UN Year of Microcredit 2005, Sustainable Microfinance Services for the Filipino Entrepreneurial Poor’’.

With a big bang, the 2005 UN Year of Microcredit ended last week with the so-called ``Filipino entrepreneurial poor’’, composed mostly of mothers, bannering the theme, ``Tinig ng Mga Nanay, Ating Ipatnubay'' (Let the mothers' voices be our guide). Microfinance beneficiaries, enterprising mothers mostly, from different parts of the country attended the gathering in Quezon City and showed off what has become of the ``small change’’ entrusted them. The delegation from Negros even brought in masscara dancers to provide color.

Oikocredit and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines organized the event that capped the International Year of Microcredit.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

The missing face of AIDS

Today is World AIDS Awareness Day.

Somewhere in today’s Inquirer I’ve written something on the Unicef campaign to help children affected by HIV-AIDS. ``Affected by’’ means these children have parents(persons) living with HIV-AIDS (PLH) or are themselves infected.

By the way, you don’t say PWA (persons with AIDS) anymore. You say PLH. So much for being politically correct.

Children, Unicef says, are the missing face of AIDS. According to the Lunduyan Foundation’s study on Filipino children affected by AIDS, silence, sad to say, best describes the children’s situation. Their parents’ hesitancy to be forthright about the disease is one of the reasons why their children’s plight is not being addressed.

After reading the results of the study I wanted to meet and interview a family affected by HIV-AIDS but I was told that there is a great deal of hesitancy on the part of the families. In fact, out 373 identified children, only 95 were allowed by their parents to participate in the study.

But these children are not totally faceless or voiceless. Some stories in the study gave a face and a voice to the otherwise silent world.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Deadly playgrounds, cold numbers

I had looked into their eyes. I had watched some of them cock their rifles and aim at an imaginary enemy lurking behind the trees. I had aimed my camera at them and captured the resoluteness in their gait as they carried the heavy weight on their frail bodies.

I saw these so-called child soldiers for the first time in the 1980s in a rebel training camp in the mountain fastness of Samar. In Bicol I also saw a young girl, maybe all of 16, carrying a rifle.

My body ached after that journalistic foray in the jungle but I did come up with a long story. We used the photo of the young boy carrying a long firearm, marching with grizzly rebels in the Sunday Inquirer.

That was many years ago but the images still burn in my mind. What a heavy burden for these children, I thought. I had tried carrying some of the heavy metal that the rebels carried and wore a bandoleer of bullets across my chest for a photograph of myself bristling with bullets. But that was for the fun of it. I still have that photo. In the background, heavily armed rebels played dama.

Now the law says you can no longer use the photographs of minors in a publication, show their faces on TV or identify them if they have been involved in illegal activities or are victims of crimes.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rape a violent crime of conquest

Man's discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times. From the prehistoric times to the present, rape has played a critical function. It is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.
-Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will

Stereotypical rape scenes as depicted in movies and komiks do happen in real life. Ginahasa sa cogonan (raped amid tall grass) or ginahasa sa sagingan (raped in a banana grove) aren't imaginary scenes used to simply add color to lewd narratives, they actually and quite commonly take place in those proverbial places.

Tricycle drivers waylaying and then raping their young passengers has become stereotypical. Not that tricycle drivers are generally the raping kind. Maybe they just easily make it to the news because they have nowhere to run. They end up beaten up by the victims’ kin at the police stations and in front of the TV cameras, unlike the powerful types who could run away aboard their SUVs.

US servicemen raping ``the natives’’ should now be stereotypical too if we go by the statistics that Sen. Francis Pangilinan cited—3,000 rape cases against Americans have been dismissed in the Olongapo City court. I would presume that the cases were mostly against uniformed men.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Women’s letter to rape victim

``We believe in you. We do not have to behold your face or know your name in order to say this.’’

Thus began the short but moving letter of 28 women’s groups and their allies to the 22-year-old victim of rape allegedly committed by five US servicemen last Nov. 1 in Subic.

The letter, expressed profoundly in Filipino, offered solace and solidarity with the woman from Mindanao who met her tragic fate while visiting Subic. Some members of the women’s groups that sent the letter are rape survivors themselves.

``We are with you while you weep, because your experience has been the experience of many of us. We are with you as you nurse the pain, because we also feel the pain when your dignity as a woman was trampled upon by US servicemen who had done the same to women in Angeles, Olongapo and other places. We are with you as you seek justice…We know that your healing will depend on many things, one of which is getting justice.’’

Those excerpts are for English speakers who do not understand Filipino. But there is nothing like reading the whole letter in the national language. It stabs deep into the heart. I hope the rape victim, whoever she is, wherever she is, would be able to read this and be convinced, really convinced, that she is not alone. Her kabaro are reaching out to her.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

VCO as bird flu remedy?

News flash.

If coconut oil proved effective for HIV-AIDS cases, it might also be good as a H5N1 (bird flu) remedy. Studies must now be made on the oil’s efficacy against this new disease that threatens to become a worldwide epidemic.

This urgent proposal came from Dr. Conrado S. Dayrit who helped make virgin coconut oil (VCO) a popular dietary supplement and medicine here and abroad and helped remove it from the ``bad oil’’ list.

Dayrit, hale and active at 86, is a known pharmacologist, cardiologist, internist, science researcher author and University of the Philippines professor emeritus. He was former president of the National Academy of Science of Technology, the highest scientific body in the country.

The team Dayrit directed in the early 1990s proved that HIV-AIDS cases responded to coconut oil. The highly promising results are now the bases for continued trials meant to alleviate the suffering of millions HIV-AIDS patients countries especially those in Africa.

Dayrit outlined his proposal and rationale in his Oct. 24 letter personally delivered to the office of health secretary Francisco Duque III.

Dayrit’s proposal was for ``Southeast Asian countries affected by H5N1 (bird flu) to conduct clinical, animal and viral studies on the effectiveness of coconut oil (either RBD copra oil or virgin coconut oil) which the Philippines can supply.’’

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Enriching the earth with our bodies

``You are nothing but an infinitesimal combination of earth's rocks, water and air; these are two billion years of evolutionary explorations, new trials, new combinations, new forms of life.... beauty comes in knowing what you are and where you came and why you be, earth child.'' – Walt Whitman

During the long weekend ahead when we honor our dear departed, it behooves us to ponder on our mortality and immortality.

In the film ``The Lion King’’, King Mufasa gives Simba, the future Lion King of Pride Rock, a lecture on life and death. ``When we die,'' he tells his only begotten son, ``our bodies become the grass. And the antelope eat grass. Then we become part of the great circle of life.''

Human beings are the most notorious when it comes to the disruption of ``the circle.'' By opting not to go back to the earth, humans have cut themselves off from the great circle. Burial practices have deprived our living planet of the enrichment it deserves.

Die-hard ecologists tell us that the best way to bury the dead is to dig a hole in the ground, gently lay the dead in there and cover it with soft, warm earth. There the dead breaks down into different elements and participates in the earth's life-giving process. Why consign a corpse to an airless, concrete tomb where it cannot enrich various life forms?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

`Shameful episode’ in Australia

A visiting friend from Melbourne brought with her an October copy of the Australian newspaper The Age that has the Vivian Alvarez Solon case as banner story. The ombudsman’s report on the bungled immigration case has been released and the axe was expected to fall.

The banner article, Vivian’s huge photo, blurbs and cartoon occupy three-fourths of page one of the daily (which, in this age of shrinking broadsheets, maintains a size that is two columns wider than the Inquirer).

Inside are three more articles, Vivian’s photo as a missing person, and other related items.
The Age doesn’t have a one-liner for a headline like the Inquirer does.

The banner headline is long: ``It is a `shameful episode’ (in red) in the history of immigration in Australia. The management of Solon was `catastrophic’ (in red). The unlawful removal of one of our citizens is `almost unthinkable’ (in red).

The small kicker above it says: ``The Alvarez Solon verdict: A damning judgement against the Immigration Department.’’

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Remembering poverty

October is the month when the world is supposed to pause, remember and confront the issue of poverty and hunger. Oct. 16 is World Food Day while Oct. 17 is the Day for Overcoming Extreme Poverty--the latter by virtue of a UN Resolution and a presidential proclamation.

October is Indigenous People’s (IP) Month in the Philippines, and the IPs being among the poorest and hungriest in the country, the whole of October should belong to them.
In Southern Palawan, IPs and long-time settlers are undertaking a ``Solidarity March for Land and Life’’ that will cover the distance from Rio Tuba to Puerto Princesa City. It started yesterday, Oct. 12, and will last till Oct. 17.

The march will highlight the IPs’ call to the local, provincial and national government to look their way. The issues being raised are the slow processing of ancestral domain claim applications, government neglect and unfair local and national laws that threaten the culture and livelihood of indigenous communities. Among the marchers are members of the Palaw’an and Molbog tribes and fishermen from the towns of Bataraza and Balabac.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Pamulaan, a sign of life

While our national leaders continue to engage in verbal and political acrobatics and while many of us are suffering from political diarrhea and dementia, there are special Filipinos who continue to dream dreams and do their own part as if there indeed is hope for this benighted nation.

Somewhere in bullet-riddled Mindanao, a special tertiary school or college is rising. The school is named Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples Education. Ground breaking will be held next week, Oct. 13. Program partners will sign an agreement after which the construction of buildings will begin. These should be finished in time for school opening in June next year.

By the way, October is Indigenous Peoples (IP) Month. For many years now, the Catholic Church here in the Philippines has been celebrating the second Sunday as Indigenous Peoples Day, focusing attention on the concerns of the IPs, especially the marginalized groups in remote areas.

Pamulaan means seedbed. It is a college education program for the IPs in the Philippines and is a response to the IPs’ dream of an educational program that is rooted in their life, culture and aspirations as a people.

One of the main driving forces behind the endeavor is 42-year-old Benjamin Abadiano, 2004 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership and, at present, executive coordinator of Assisi Development Foundation. A dreamer and doer, Abadiano pulled all stops to make the Ips’ dream come true. He was not disappointed. Help came quietly like spring water flowing to seeds waiting to burst into life.

Pamulaan is the fruit of the partnership of various government and non-government agencies. The partners are the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples, Assisi Development Foundation, Cartwheel Foundation, the Office of Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., and Ilawan Center for Volunteer and Leadership which Abadiano founded.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

`The Philippine’s undiscriminating embrace’

`Everyone has the right to a nationality.’’ Article 15, UN Declaration of Human Rights

``They hope to tell the world about the boundless love that returned to the remaining boat people their inalienable human dignity. That boundless love is none other than the Philippines’ undiscriminating embrace.’’ That moving statement is in a document written on behalf of the Vietnamese boat people who had opted for permanent settlement in the Philippines.

I shed Filipino tears when that was read at the inauguration of Vietville in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan in 1998.

For so long, they were without a country. There was no room for them in the inn. It was the Philippines that made their long wait bearable. It was, in fact, the Philippines that gave many Vietnamese boat people a permanent home when no country out there wanted them.

``16-year stopover finally over,’’ the Inquirer said two days ago of the Vietnamese boat people who had made the Philippines their temporary home. Finally, they were winging their way to the US that had for so long denied them entry. They were just the first batch of 229 from a group of 1,600 stateless individuals who were swept away here. The rest will be flying too in the weeks to come.

But many will be staying behind—either by choice or by force of circumstances. Many have settled in Vietville in Palawan.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Why isn’t it tipping? (2)

I received varied and interesting feedback via email on my Sept. 15 column piece ``Why isn’t it tipping?’’ The piece was on Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller and page-turner ``The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Difference’’ and why the much-awaited or much-dreaded (depending on which side you are) tipping point that would make the Arroyo administration fall was not happening. Gladwell’s book presents events in history, real-life examples and studies that show how the tipping point phenomenon works.

I thought I’d share portions from some letters which show the writers’ take on the tipping point.

From ``Xcathedra’’:

``Social cybernetics is one specialized field of discipline that might give other interesting leads on why there was (and still is) a prevailing `social feedback stasis’ before and following the `oust Arroyo’ initiatives.

``In mathematics (fractals and Chaos Theory) and physics, that `tipping’ point is known as the advent of entropy/chaos. I think you might want to read James Gleick's book (it's old in today's standards, but still grippingly enlightening) titled `Chaos’. There you can have a whiff of an analytical framework for dissecting social change. Personally, I suspect that the stasis has something to do (partly) with the current state of equilibrium of the `system’ (public reaction and feedback). To explain: For every introduction of a (change) variable that would induce disequilibrium (or `chaos’) leading to an adjustment or total change of a system, the adjusted or changed system will always emerge stronger than before (whether in the negative or positive sense).

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Why isn’t it tipping?

``The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire… The tipping point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point…It is the name given to that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all that once.’’

Those definitions are from the bestseller and page-turner ``The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Different’’ by Malcolm Gladwell. (His latest is ``Blink’’.)

I think of the tipping point this way: Imagine holding a tray with a handful of marbles on one side. You tip the tray at an angle but the marbles seem unwilling to roll over to the other side. You tip some more. Then at a certain angle of the tray the marbles suddenly all roll in unison to the other side.

At that tipping point, movement takes place. This example, similar to the seesaw, illustrates in a physical way the so-called tipping point phenomenon which political watchers—in barbershops and beauty salons, political circles, cockpits, churches, academe--are anticipating.

When would it happen? How would it happen? Why isn’t it happening? ``It’’ is some kind of People Power 3, reminiscent of the previous two that saw a long-staying dictator and a president, just two years in office, removed dramatically.

Just an aside. ``The tipping point’’ has found its way to the lips of politicians who love the phrases ``at the end of the day’’ and--this one will make Einstein and editors cringe--``at this point in time’’.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

'Prothom alo', first light

One night last week when some members of the so-called ``Hyatt 10’’ (five to be exact) who wanted the President removed from office were at the Inquirer to talk to editors and to also complain about an editorial that did not put them in a good light, a guest in another room was sharing with some reporters and columnists his experiences as an editor of the biggest daily in Bangladesh.

Our esteemed guest was Matiur Rahman, 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts. Rahman is not just a newspaperman, he is also an advocate of women’s rights who actively uses the power of the media, the written word in particular, to help end violence against women.

Rahman and four others from different fields received their awards (cash included) at solemn ceremonies on Aug. 31.

Rahman was awarded for ``wielding media for constructive social change’’. Sorry, no Filipino awardee this year.

In the media, this year’s RM awards and related activities were clearly eclipsed by all the ado about the impeachment process against the President.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Oil of life

Several times I tried to fall in line to buy a cone of coconut milk ice cream sold from a Mamang Sorbetero push cart but the line was, oh, so long, I gave up. But there were other coconut products that were just as inviting and interesting—lip balm, moisturizers, bath soap, non-dairy creamer, diesel additives, vinegar, all kinds of food. And of course, virgin coconut oil (VCO) which was the centerpiece of the 2005 National coconut Week 4th National Coconut Festival held at SM Megamall last weekend.

A booth selling coconut milk extractors using the centrifugal method was giving a Powerpoint presentation with Harry Belafonte’s popular coconut song as background score. “Coconut!”

Produced in different parts of the country, VCO came in various labels and packaging--ethnic, sophisticated, dignified, classy. But the integrity of the product should be the same.

There is a lot of work to be done in order to put (or put back) Philippine coconut products on the world’s dining tables, medicine shelves, beauty bars and gas stations.

Well, as the Philippine Coconut Authority had announced, VCO exports are up 268 percent from the same period last year; up 569 percent in export earnings from the first five months of last year. That is from the good news article by Christine Gaylican of the Inquirer’s Business Section.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Vinoba Bhave

The year was 1916. A young man was visiting India’s holy city of Benares to contemplate the crossroads before him.

Should he go to the Himalayas and live as a religious hermit immersed in silence and prayer? Or should he take the road to West Bengal and join the freedom movement that was fighting the British colonizers?

Twenty-year-old Vinoba Bhave was intensely drawn to both ways…

Before I continue, let me say that the names of the Ramon Magsaysay Awardees for 2005 have been announced. The RM Awards Foundation (RMAF) will honor these exemplary Asians on Aug. 31. Included in this week’s RMAF to-do is the launching of the second volume of Great Men and Women of Asia (GMWA). This book project is RMAF’s way of popularizing the lives of past RM awardees who, through their work and example, made an impact on the lives of many Asians.

We are in search of models, aren’t we?

I wrote four of the stories in last year’s first volume. This year, because of time constraints, I agreed to do just one. I picked the much-revered Vinoba Bhave, recipient of the first RM Award for Community Leadership in 1958.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Save the tree of life campaign

See, not everyone is cursing the darkness or wallowing helplessly in the political quagmire we are in. Not everyone is threatening to leave for parts unknown where the sun shines brightly, there to momentarily forget the hovering darkness that envelops the country, made darker still by more dark deeds, dark schemes, dark motives.

But yes, if you think this is darkness before daybreak, think again. This is more like darkness at noon and it’s still a long way to midnight and the breaking of a new day.

But there are so many reasons to be hopeful if only we cast a glance at the other side of the septic tank and go toward it.

This week, the Atikha Overseas Filipinos and Communities Initiatives, Inc. is launching a fund drive that intends to help save the coconut tree, push other community initiatives related to it, as well as develop coconut-based enterprises that will create jobs in Laguna and nearby areas.

This is being launched in the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and New York in the USA as well as in Ontario and Toronto in Canada.

Atikha, which is spearheading this, was established in 1996 as an offshoot of a study on the social impact of women’s migration on families and communities in Laguna. Separation brought about by migration caused family difficulties. But more than that, all the years of separation bore fruit of a different kind—dependency on remittances and uncontrolled spending on the part of those left behind. Many overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), upon returning home for good, find out their sacrifices were all for naught.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Roco in search of Camelot

``THINK back,’’ the late Raul Roco had mused, seemingly swallowed up in a fog of memories. ``Think back on all the tales that you remember of Camelot.’’

The words from the 1960s Lerner-Loewe musical often cascaded from Roco’s lips, as he thought back on how King Arthur sang about that ``fleeting wisp of glory, called Camelot.’’

Roco, former congressman, senator, education secretary and presidential aspirant, died of cancer Aug. 5. He was 63. He will be buried today in Naga City. Roco and another 2004 presidential contender, Fernando Poe Jr., died within eight months of each other.

``We were the Camelot boys,’’ Roco recalled when I interviewed him in his Antipolo hillside retreat named An Maogmang Lugar (Bicol for ``the happy place’’) famous for its tropical blooms that became the signature design of his campaign get-up.

The dream--how far back did it go, when first did the glimmer of the presidency come into view?

It was in 1961, Roco said, when he was president of the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP), that something stirred in him. ``Those were the Kennedy years. Pres. Kennedy spoke of Camelot. `Right is might.’ When he said, `Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,’ it was as if he was addressing me.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

A small scary story

While big national issues rage, while the big guys slug it out in the national arena and play to the bloodthirsty gallery, many Filipinos continue to live their lives in the shadows and in quiet desperation. If these skirmishes were projected on the big video wall, we, the spectators and passersby could only cower as the big, dark shadows and images overwhelm us. The cheering and the cajoling come from the bettors lusting for the spoils.

Many Filipinos continue on with their day-to-day chores wondering when and how it will all end. In the meantime, the stereophonic, cacophonic, dumbing din becomes even more assaulting to the senses. We are the proverbial lonely crowd waiting for an intermission and the exit door to swing open so that we could take in a chestful of fresh air.

While the fighting goes on in the big arena, thanks to its life-size projection in the media, our so-called peace and order guardians are busy looking after the top. The rest of us down below have to look after our own survival and safety. Evil is abroad in the land and stalks its prey with freedom and impunity.

During the President’s State of the Nation address, when it seemed all the police and security forces were concentrated in one battle area, the petty and big criminals must have had a field day.

Here is an account from Cierlene Rivera, a mother who saw evil up close. The incident happened two months ago when the ``Now Showing’’ political drama was just unfolding.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

`The countryside that feeds it’

The line from Pres. Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address that played over and over in my mind was: ``Perhaps it’s time to take the power from the center to the countryside that feeds it.’’ GMA received a roaring applause from her promdi (proudly promdi, obviously) supporters. That line lingered like a long-lost refrain that was suddenly, if not conveniently, found.

In saying that, the President was obviously playing to the gallery of supporters from local government units who, at the tipping point of her government’s crisis early this month, rallied around her when many in her own official family abandoned ship. Was GMA’s ode to loyalty perhaps the fruit of her intimate town hall-type campaign sortie during the 2004 elections, a strategy she used to counter FPJ’s crowd-drawing power?

With that statement, GMA was also making a dig at so-called ``imperialist Manila’’, the center of the protest rallies calling for her resignation. Oh, but how her provincial cheering squad in the Batasan rafters reveled in her words. Outside, a mammoth protest rally calling for her ouster was setting her effigy on fire.

The context in which the statement was said may have been full of contradictions and sounded unconvincing to her critics, but taken at face value, the statement sounded like music to the ears of the oft-forgotten local officials who suddenly found themselves important. Perhaps many had all the reasons to feel KSP (kulang sa pansin) for so long, until last Monday’s SONA.

Taken at face value and without its political color, the statement ``Perhaps it’s time to take the power from the center to the countryside that feeds it’’ is indeed a reality to wish for. This is a loaded statement that should not be glibly uttered to merely warm the cockles of the hearts of those far from the center. It should hold weight like a promise made after one is nearly struck down from one’s horse.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The bigger truth

I was away the first two weeks of July for a yearly break which is compulsory for Inquirer employees but I did catch up on the goings-on as soon as I got back. The wonder of it is that Pres. Arroyo is still in Malacanang. I thought I’d find a new scenario on the streets, no longer the ``GMA resign’’ kind, but political and ideological groups at cross purposes tearing one another down and racing for the nearest entrance to Malacanang. I was disappointed.

To the humorless who might think I want anarchy, I say that with tongue in cheek.

I was not exactly out of touch out there in the Mediterranean because the Filipinos (40 percent of the 800-strong international crew) on the cruise ship I was on had a daily news bulletin, Philippines Today, culled from the news wires. The July 9 banner story headline read, ``Arroyo names new ministers, refuses to step down.’’

Although on holiday mode as a paying guest, I did some journalistic work and interviewed (quite clandestinely at first) a good number of Filipinos, among them, engineers, waiters, singers, a wine master, a photographer, a spa attendant, a classic violinist, a pianist, band players, name it. They were concerned about what was happening back home. What is the truth? they asked.

There was really no need for me to be under cover after all and I got to interview the Greek ship captain and the energetic American cruise master who had nothing but high praises for the Filipinos in the crew. In the belly of the ship to which I was allowed to descend, in posh bars and restaurants, on pool sides, on stage and on deck of this floating getaway, the working OFWs were at their best. More on them in a separate feature story.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

`To be poor and obscure’

To be poor and obscure. This is the antithesis of being wealthy and famous. Nothing wrong with being wealthy and famous per se because so much good could also be achieved by being so. But something goes wrong when going there and remaining there become an all-consuming desire that defines a person’ s ``VMG’’ (vision-mission goals, FYI).

But what value, you ask, does being poor and obscure has?

Read Karl Gaspar’s ``To be Poor and Obscure: The Spiritual Sojourn of a Mindanawon.’’ Karl is not exactly poor if the national poverty line is to be used. And he is not unknown to development workers, social scientists and church workers immersed among the truly poor and obscure.

May I say early on that the book is not about darkness and despair. It is, in fact, a smiling book. The cover already tells you that. I judge a book also by its cover, you know.

When you read ``To be Poor and Obscure’’ you enter the world not just of Karl but of the people for whom he has committed his life. Before Karl decided to become a Redemptorist Brother in 1987 (when he was 40), he was already a noted a social scientist and veteran church development worker. Karl was detained for two years during the martial law years, an experience that added color to his worldview.

Karl has several books to his name but ``To be Poor and Obscure’’ would probably the most confessional but in a very relaxed, soothing and loving way. It is a long way from his 1985 ``How Long?: Prison Reflections.’’

Thursday, July 7, 2005

1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 (2)

In October we will know if the nominated ``1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Price 2005’’ will collectively be named as this year’s winner of the Peace Prize.

Last June 29, the names of the nominated 1,000 women (999 actually) from 153 countries were announced simultaneously in different parts of the world. Twenty seven are from the Philippines.

Behind this unprecedented global search for 1,000 women was the Association 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 which was began in 2003 on the conviction that the commitment of women working for peace should be acknowledged and publicized. Last week I wrote about the criteria used.

Who are they, where are they, what are they doing? (You can read the short biographies in www.1000peacewomen.org.) Here are the Philippines’ 27 women and what they have to say on their work for peace.

Ma. Lorenza ``Binky’’ Dalupan-Palm: ``The peace process involves more than negotiations (with armed groups). You can’t achieve social transformation just sitting across a negotiating table.’’

Cecile Guidote-Alvarez: ``I envision a world free from poverty, pollution, ignorance, injustice. This must be done through culture so that it is peaceful. We have to develop minds and hearts that care and share.’’

Miriam ``Dedet’’ L. Suacito: ``Blessed are my companions who offered their lives while walking the path to peace.’’

Thursday, June 30, 2005

1000 Women for 2005 Nobel Peace Prize (1)

Yesterday the names of the 1,000 women collectively nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize were announced simultaneously in different parts of the world. Twenty seven, repeat, 27, of these women nominees are from the Philippines.

The nomination was submitted to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo, Norway in Jan. 2005. In October we will know if these 1,000 women will collectively be named as this year’s winner of the Peace Prize which is often considered the plum of the Nobel awards. For sure there are other nominees (individuals, pairs or groups) in the peace category. The so-called ``1000 Women for the Nobel for the Nobel Peace Prize’’ is just one of them.

Behind this unprecedented global search for 1,000 nominees was the Association 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005. The key words here are ``women’’, ``peace’’ and ``1,000’’.

The Association 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Price 2005 was began in 2003 on the conviction that the commitment of women working for peace should be acknowledged and publicized. It started as a Swiss initiative but interest spread worldwide, thanks to the energy of coordinators and volunteers around the world who identified and documented the peace work of women in their regions. The project has the support of the Swiss Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheline Calmy Rey, UNIFEM. UNDP and UNESCO Switzerland.

The Nobel Peace Prize is not always free from controversy but a Nobel is a Nobel. Other fields like science, literature and economics will also have their nominees and winners. It is not rare that a category would have a couple of winners, but 1,000? And all women at that.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Wire tappers, come forth

``You think something this high just happens?’’ This was Deep Throat speaking to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward in a dark parking area. Follow the money, Deep Throat urged.

The scene is from the movie ``All the President’s Men’’ which was about the Watergate break-in scandal that led to the resignation of Pres. Nixon after he was, to use Pinoy slang, nabuking (found out) wiretapping his opponents.

Deep Throat emerged last month, after 30 years of mystery, as former FBI agent Mark Felt, the deep source of Woodward and Carl Bernstein who would later win the Pulitzer for their investigative reporting.

You think something this high just happens? Follow the money. This could very well be good advice for those investigating the audiotapes of the alleged 2004 post-election conversation between Pres. Arroyo and Comelec commish Virgilio Garcillano. Now money is being followed on someone’s say-so and deposed Pres. Estrada’s mistress Laarni Enriquez is being drawn into the picture. The plot is getting murkier.

It’s been two weeks since the ``Hello, Garci’’ tapes have been thrust upon us and circulated through all forms of communications media and no one among the alleged suspects in the activities in question (the act of wiretapping itself and the wiretapped conversation that could mean election fraud might have been committed) has come out to own up to or deny with credibility anything that had been committed. Not the President, not Garcillano, not the wire tappers.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ruminations on `Aba’

This might sound petty when compared to the razor-sharp analyses and in-your-face fulmination of the countless political analysts who have sprouted like mushrooms under the political rain clouds of June. But I risk sounding petty.

I don’t know if this latest prayer spoof has the tacit ``imprimatur’’ of the Catholic bishops who either have jumped into or have been drawn into the anti- and pro-GMA fracas. One of the text messages that has been going around (I received mine from the head of a known PR agency) is a parody of the ``Aba Ginoong Maria’’ (`Hail Mary’) prayer which damns Pres. Arroyo and her family.

It starts off thus: ``Aba naman Gloria napupuno ka ng grasya…’’ I don’t want to run the whole ``prayer’’ here lest it offend the sensibilities of Marian devotees. I was surely incensed when I read the texted ``prayer’’ because I think there should be respect for what many consider sacred and profound. I texted back the PR lady to say that even Muslims would be offended by that spoof of a prayer because they also have great regard for the mother of Jesus.

Pres. Arroyo could be brought down to her knees or from her perch in whatever way for all I care if indeed she cheated in the last elections. But her detractors should leave the ``Aba…’’ alone. And if the president’s congressman son and congressman brother-in-law indeed accepted jueteng payola as their accusers have alleged--and these two presidential kin know they cannot lie to their consciences--then I say to them, gago pala kayo. If…that is. If you want to repeat history.

But if you didn’t do it and you can stand before your God and say you’re clean, I say, you’re not gago at all. The truth will prevail.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Peace lessons in public schools

A fellow journalist and friend gave me a copy of the draft of ``Peace Education Teaching Exemplars for Elementary Schools’’ which, she said, will be published as a teaching guide for teachers. She told me that some peace-conscious parents who had read the draft were wondering whether this draft has passed scrutiny and will soon be used for the peace education of their children.

The book project is the joint initiative of the Department of Education (Deped) and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

So concerned was this friend that she set a meeting so that she could show me what it was all about. She was worried that the book’s printing seemed imminent. I told her I was not an educator in the strict sense of the word but I have close friends in the Education Revolution and Mentoring for Mentors Program of the Foundation for World Wide People Power whom I could consult.

I promised to go over the draft (which has almost 50 lessons for Grades 1 to 6) with plain common sense and as if I were the pupil myself. The very first lesson for Grade 1 caught my attention. Here it is.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Mosquito war

The rain clouds of June are hovering over us, every now and then releasing torrents to ease our parchedness. In cities, particularly Metro Manila, a thick brown gray soup will soon inundate low lying areas for days and even weeks and play host to deadly vermin, insects and bacteria that will cause health problems and even death.

Classes are about to begin and many young school children will wade into deadly mini-rivers and absorb much of the filth of the city. Meanwhile, drug companies make tongue-in-cheek warnings like ``Bawal magkasakit’’ (Getting sick is prohibited) as if getting sick is a sinful desire.

A few months ago, my friend’s niece died of dengue. She had just graduated from medical school. All it takes is one deadly mosquito.

I bring up the subject of mosquitoes because of what befell TV journalist Reyster Langit, son of broadcast veteran Rey Langit (both of the Kasangga Mo ay Langit docu-type TV program). Reyster was downed by cerebral malaria and is now in critical condition in the US where he was stricken ill. His camera man Arnold succumbed. (I didn’t catch his full name but may he rest in peace.)

Reyster’s team, a TV report said, went to the Palawan jungles a few weeks ago to document what was happening among the Tau’t Bato indigenous community there. Children were dying of something. Footage of the team traversing the wilds was shown on GMA-7 ``Beinte Kuatro’’ news program. Everyone looked strong and healthy. Little did Reyster’s team know that what hit the mountain community would also hit them.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The desecration story

If learned about something really grave and shocking, would I write about it in order to call attention so that people could do something to prevent it or address it? Would I write about it even if I thought it might cause a violent conflagration or a bloody confrontation between parties concerned? Or should I sacrifice revealing the unpleasant truth that I know in order to prevent the worst that could happen?

These were some of the thoughts that raced through my mind after a May 9 Newsweek story gave rise to violent protests in many places around the world. Emotions ran high. At least 15 lives have been lost and dozens have been injured. The smoke has not yet cleared completely.

Newsweek has since retracted that explosive detail in the story reported by Michael Isikoff with John Barry. In the May 23 issue, Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker said: ``We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and the US soldiers caught in its midst.’’

Newsweek came out with a story that mentioned that US personnel who interrogated Afghan inmates in Guantanamo Bay defiled the holy Quran. They story said that the interrogators ``had placed Qurans on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book down the toilet.’’

The problem with the detail on the desecration(the Newsweek story was not wholly about this one grave act) was that the reporter did not see this being done with his own two eyes. He was quoting someone who was not named.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

`Just tell me why’

It was a small news item in the Inquirer’s The World section two days ago, datelined Enniskillen, Northern Ireland and written by Associated Press’ Paul Majendie. The section editor gave it a longish headline that ran across the entire page: ``Just tell me why you did it, grieving father asks IRA bomber.’’ I found myself reading the story again and again. Page A10, if you wish to read it.

The article was very short but powerful. Not weepy at all, except the last small paragraph where the dam broke. Something about the story sounded very familiar, very universal, very primal. Was it the pain, was it the senselessness, was it the wound that would not heal?

``After 25 years of grieving, John Maxwell dearly wants to ask the IRA bomber who killed his teenage son a simple question: `Why did you do it?’

``Only when he knows the answer can he bury the ghosts from one of the most notorious Irish Republican Army attacks in its 30-year fight to oust Britain from Northern Ireland.

``Maxwell’s 15-year-old son Paul was the boat-boy for Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten. Both were killed in 1979 when an IRA bomb exploded on board shortly after they set sail from the fishing village of Mullaghmore…’’

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Will Malacanang let down Aetas to favor CDC?

First the good news. Praise be to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for taking the side of the Aetas of Mabalacat, Pampanga and Bamban, Tarlac by honoring their ancestral land claim. The NCIP even increased the original claim of 5,515 hectares granted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1997 to more than 10,000 hectares in 2004.

The bad news is that Clark Development Corporation (CDC) has been contesting this since the beginning. And pressures from Malacanang, through a directive sent around Sept. 2004, prompted NCIP to hold in abeyance the awarding of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).

Next week, starting May 19, a revalidation process will again be done, even as Aeta beneficiaries are protesting. For after a century of struggle, since the Americans occupied Aeta land and turned it into a huge military base, the Aetas thought victory was theirs. They Aetas are in for a rude awakening if their own government will let them down.

Here are some facts from NCIP documents.

As mentioned in historical accounts, in the 1700s, during the days when bravery was the highest virtue in the land, Juanico, the Son of Arap the Aeta, was chosen to lead the clan in what is now known as San Nicolas.

A Spanish document (obtained from the Bureau of Archives) containing a descriptive report corresponding to the year 1891 and the creation of Tarlac attests to the occupancy of the Aetas. On page 3 of the English translation, it says that the Negritos and Balugas were nomads living on the mountains located at the West of Capas and Bamban.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

The mountains cry out

``Like Moses leading his people out of the plagues, in the time of terror and devotion.’’ –the Inquirer on Reynaldo Punongbayan, its 1991 Filipino of the Year

I just finished going over the book ``Eruption and Exodus: Mount Pinatubo and the Aytas of Zambales’’ for which I wrote the foreword in 1991. This book chronicles the life of the Aytas and the Franciscan Sisters who lived and worked among them, before, during and after the volcanic eruption that saw much of Central Luzon covered in ash.

In it is written that it was in April 1991 that Mount Pinatubo, dormant for more than 600 years, started to awake and grumble. Two months later, in June 1991, the world witnessed an eruption like no other in a long time. The sky turned opaque gray. Ash and rocks rose from the belly of the earth and rained down on towns and cities. Faraway places in Asia even got a sprinkling of volcanic powder.

4:00 p.m., 2 April 1991—that was the day the volcano started to wake up. Fifteen years later, on April 28, 2005, the man who confronted the volcano during those crucial moments, the man who worked to make scientific sense of the grand havoc long, long after the fire had quieted down, volcanologist Reynaldo Punongbayan, 68, left this earth via the bosom of a mountain. That is putting it gently. To say that he died in a helicopter crash is so jarring to the heart.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

`Ein papst aus Deutschland’

I kept switching to Deutsche Welle (DW), the German channel on cable TV, right after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope last week. What was it like for the Germans, the predominantly Catholic Bavarians especially, to have one of them become Papst Benedikt XVI? The crawler on the TV screen said ``Ein papst aus Deutschland’’ (the pope from Germany).

DW had first crack at the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, so to speak, in Ratzinger’s home town in Bavaria, Germany. Now, cookies and bread are being named after him.

DW was game enough to show tabloids with screaming headlines saying ``Papa Ratzi’’, ``German Shepherd’’, ``God’s Rottweiler’’ and something about the Hitlerjungen to which Ratzinger was conscripted in his youth.

I’ve been to Germany a couple of times. Both were journalism-related trips and the second one took us through the so-called ``Romantic Route’’ and the ``Fairy Tale Route’’ that featured castles, places in the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales and even a torture museum. A must-see was the castle of the tragic Bavarian king Ludwig after which the Disneyland logo was modeled.

Bavarians are supposed to be warmer in disposition compared with Germans from the north. Several of my mentors in college were German Benedictine nuns who hailed mostly from Bavaria. I can still name some of them. Sr. Odiliana Rohrwasser (Trigo, Algebra, Physical Science, Theology II),who is now in Baguio; Sr. Ehrentrudis Eichinger (Psychology, Theology III); Sr. Ma. Bruno Allmang (Logic, Cosmology and Ontology, Art Appreciation) who is back at their Motherhouse near Lake Stanberg in Bavaria. The librarian was Sr. Ma. Clemens Schwarzmaier. It was boot camp with a smile.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Billboards from hell

If someone had already used the above title, please, may I use it again? I couldn’t find a nastier one.

Every person and her/his first cousin living in this metropolis and yonder surely have a billboard complaint to air. I have mine, you have yours and chances are, we’re all talking about the same things. The unending row of gigantic billboards lining the highways. The smaller ones, zillions of them, hung on lamp posts in the middle of the road. The defacement, the darkening, the uglification of the sky and the horizon. The offensive, stupid content.

In saecula saeculorum. The repetitiveness, the eternity of this brazen assault on your senses just blows your mind to billboard hell. It is an Andy Warhol nightmare except that it is also yours and mine. How have we come to this?

Last year, I wrote a piece on billboards when the offensive, double-entendre ``kinse anyos’’ ad of Napoleon Brandy created a furor. I had an email avalanche from irate readers who were thankful someone had expressed their pent-up disgust in print.

But that was about content. I mentioned then that before the outcry against the Napoleon Brandy ad, there was this huge billboard near the foot of the Nagtahan Bridge that was just as offensive. I saw it every time I came from the Inquirer in Makati and headed for home via Nagtahan. It showed a young girl, about 15 or 16, in a reclining position and with her legs sufficiently spread out. She had her big pleading eyes looking up, and she had the fly of her jeans unzipped and wide open to show her skimpy panty and most of her pubic area. Lee was the jeans brand. The sell jeans that way?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Allen’s `Conclave’

``The trash heaps of church history are littered with carcasses of journalists who have tried to predict the next pope.’’ This quote comes from journalist John L. Allen Jr., author of the updated ``Conclave: The Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal Election’’ and ``All the Pope’s Men: The Inside Story on How the Vatican Really Thinks.’’.

Jesuit theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo made sure I got a copy of Allen’s book. I rushed to Loyola House of Studies to claim it.

Allen was the familiar face and voice on TV during the week of the unprecedented global outpouring that led up to Pope John Paul II’s funeral. Allen provided background and context to the CNN reports from the Vatican.

A prize-winning Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, Allen is probably the best-known Vatican writer in the English language. He was described by veteran religion writer Kenneth Woodward as ``the journalist other reporters—and not a few cardinals—look to for the inside story on how all the pope’s men direct the world’s largest church.’’

That’s a plug for journalists as book authors. I am sure many of the cardinal electors now in Rome have Allen’s book under their armpits, or are furtively poring over it outside their meditation time.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

John Paul II, beloved pilgrim

It was springtime in January in the souls of millions when Pope John Paul II came to visit the Philippines for the second time 10 years ago in 1995. Like a homecoming pilgrim, he came. It is seedtime, he said in so many words, referring to the promise the youth held for the turn of the millenium, as he rallied them to plunge into ``the great adventure of living life well.’’

Think of that quote.

World Youth Day in 1995 in Manila will be etched in history books as days of wonder and joy ineffable. Four million gathered in one place to pray and commune with each other, to be blessed, to be one. Only Filipinos could throw a spiritual fiesta such as that one.

How wonderful. How wonderful for him to be in our tight embrace and us in his.

A thousand images of this blessed land he was taking home with him, he said before waving goodbye. The thousands of words he said to us we will remember and forever keep in our hearts.

I was one of those assigned to cover his visit, to catch his every word in places where he spoke. The reporters in the police beat had an even more daunting task, to wade into the throng, to watch out, just in case…

Thursday, March 31, 2005

If, you, do, not, speak, for, us

Another media practitioner has been gunned down.

I don’t easily break into a white rage. What I conjured up in my mind was someone, or maybe myself, mounting a podium in slo-mo then mouthing Sophocles: ``Who is the slayer, who the victim?’’

And the adrenaline having risen, to declare with Kennedyesque pathos: ``If, you, do, not, speak, for, us, you, are, killing, us. And, also, yourselves.’’

That was just my mind trying to tame the anger that was surging. All I wanted to say in street-corner language was an exploding, ``BS to you all who did this, and may you be cursed even in the afterlife.’’ But then one didn’t say such things, even silently in one’s heart, while Christendom was commemorating the passion of Jesus and his rising from the dead.

Come to think of it, besides ourselves, who is speaking up for the journalists? Who are the individuals, what are the groups and institutions out there that will come to our defense? By speaking, I mean doing something concrete and reaping results.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The desert mothers

March being Women’s month and today being Holy Thursday, it is a good time to reflect on the contribution of little known Christian women of ancient times.

During my recent visit to the Benedictine Resource Center at the St. Scholastica’s Center of Spirituality in Tagaytay, Sr. Bellarmine Bernas OSB showed me around the new building and library. If you’ve had a Benedictine education as I had (and so Germanic at that), you’d know you’re home amidst this treasure trove that is both ancient and new.

I saw a stack of books titled ``The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives and Stories of Early Christian Women’’ (2001) by Laura Swan, prioress of a Benedictine monastery in the Pacific Northwest. Sr. Bellarmine bought many copies at sale price so that more women and men would know about these trail-blazing women. I went home with a copy.

Swan’s book was the fruit of graduate research in theology and spirituality. ``(When) I began to pursue and collect traces of these women’s stories, it often felt like the sleuthing work of Sister Frevisse or Brother Cadfael in the medieval whodunits I enjoy. I found myself tracking down clues, following strands of evidence, and reading the shadow of texts to find these women. Clues often took the form of rare scholarly material, frequently in footnotes and asides.’’

Women’s history, Swan complains, has often been relegated to the shadow world: felt but not seen. ``Many of our church fathers became prominent because of women. Many of these fathers were educated and supported by strong women, and some are even credited with founding movements that were actually begun by the women in their lives.’’

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bulanghoy, balinghoy

Inday, bayle ta/ Di ko kay kapuy/ Amon pamahaw bulanghoy/ Amon panihudto bulanghoy nga puto/ Amon panihapon bulanghoy gihapon. (Inday, let us dance/ No, I am tired/ Our breakfast was cassava/ Our lunch was cassava cake/ Our supper was still cassava.)

I learned that folk song many years ago from my Cebuano-speaking friends from whom I also learned street-corner lingo, like `Wa ka kuyapi?’ and how to eat boiled unripe bananas with ginamos (fish paste) which, for me, is a gustatory puzzlement. We kept singing the bulanghoy (cassava) song until the guitar strings broke. It was sang best when we were a little soused and it brought us down to earth and away from all the academic stuff.

That song was swimming in my head the past week after 27 school children in Mabini, Bohol died and more than a hundred were downed shortly after they ate fried cassava snacks sold by vendors. Questions were immediately raised. Was it the cassava root that did it? Was it the way the food was prepared? Cassava contains linamarin. If cassava is improperly prepared, this toxic component could remain. When ingested, linamarin converts to cyanide in the human digestive system.

Or was there something else that got into the food? Like poison, pesticides or harmful bacteria? If something had to take the blame I was hoping it would be one of these. I did not want the starchy root to be mired in stigma. Well, two days ago, the Health Department ruled that it was pesticide, present in the cassava snack, that did it. But investigations will continue.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Post-traumatic stress disorder

For those involved in the rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations in the aftermath of the recent series of disasters here and abroad, the realization that the problem is more than material and economic could be daunting. The psychological trauma of survivors could be paralyzing and the effects could be long-lasting if these are not addressed immediately and properly.

The recent killer landslides in our own home ground and the post-Christmas tsunami that killed more than 165,000 people in 11 countries and left millions bereaved and bereft have to mean something and result in something. Otherwise, is it all despair?

Last Monday we wrote about the experiences of a team of clinical psychologists who fanned out to several disaster areas in the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake, the 1991 Mount Pinatubo and 1993 Mayon Volcano eruptions. The team, called HEART (Holistic and Empathetic Approach to Rehabilitation and Training), was composed of Ateneo University masteral and doctoral psychology students led by Dr. Ma. Lourdes A. Carandang, a seasoned clinical psychologist, researcher and author. The effort was funded by Unicef.

One of the fruits of their experiences was the book ``Pakikipagkapwa-Damdamin: Accompanying Survivors of Disasters’’ (Bookmark, 1996). The book is now being updated and redesigned for reprinting. It is a rich source of insights and methodology for those helping survivors to cope with their trauma and find meaning in what is left of their lives. Empowering them is even more daunting. Note that I avoid using the word victim.

That tongue-twister in the title means empathy and more. If sympathy is pakikiramay, empathy goes farther and deeper.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Anti-corruption ribbons, badges

A few weeks ago we were high on the list of the world’s happiest people. This week’s news says we are number 2 on Asia’s graft and corruption list. Are we happy because we are corrupt or are we corrupt because we are happy? Okay, just kidding.

Gusto mong magkapera? (Do you want to make money?) My friend’s boss called my friend to his office one day to ask her that. My friend was working in a government agency/commission that was tasked to improve the lives of many and make people live in peace and harmony.

Easy, the boss told my friend who had spent many years in NGO work before she moved to the government to try it out. (She had since left.) Receipts were the secret. That’s not really a secret, is it?

My friend was so stunned. What came out of her mouth was a polite, ``No, sir, my husband makes enough for all our needs.’’

Why did you give that kind of excuse or reason? I asked. She could have given a better one. My point was: having enough money or being independently rich is not a reason for not stealing. Or that low pay is a justification for being corrupt. Why, some of the most rapacious and greedy already have so much to begin with. Stealing people’s money is simply wrong any way you look at it.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

TV discombobulation

The Inquirer’s editorial two days ago dwelled on Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon ``Dinky’’ Soliman’s warning to parents that excess television viewing by children could stunt their creativity and skills.

Nakakabobo. (It dumbs.) It numbs. Too much TV affects reading skills and seriously inhibits left-brain functions needed for oral and verbal activities. The right brain becomes more dominant and thus makes zombies of TV addicts. That may sound like an exaggeration but try parking yourself in front of the TV the whole day for no urgent reason (urgent would be the stimulating 9/11 or the tsunami updates) and your brain just leaves you. The packs of junk food also vanishes in front of you.

Compare this with reading which makes your mind active and your imagination fly. Compare this with activities such as designing, problem-solving or writing. Writing may be a solitary activity but it does not bring on the loneliness of the long-distance runner. The writer is not really alone. There is a whole caboodle of characters that are alive, ideas and stories playing themselves out in the writer’s brain. And then the images in the landscape of the mind translates into words and these words go to one’s fingers and to the computer screen and finally to the printed page. Later, to be absorbed by other minds.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The martyrdom of Dorothy Stang

``Speaking truth to power is a prophetic act and Sister Dorothy Stang paid for it with her life. (She) spoke for the dispossessed and the voiceless to the wealthy ranchers and lumber companies who ruthlessly savage the rainforest and exploit it for personal gain.’’ This was from the statement of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) of the U.S. on the recent murder of a nun who worked among the poor of the Brazilian Amazon.

A citizen of both the U.S. and Brazil, Stang, 73, took four bullets in her face and head from two gunmen on Feb. 12. The killers attacked Stang in a settlement near the rural town of Anapu, in the state of Para, where she worked to help some 400 families survive. Anapu is along the Trans-Amazon Highway whose construction several decades ago wreaked destruction on the Amazon wilderness.

Stang was murdered less than a week after meeting with Brazil’s human rights officials about threats to farmers from loggers and land owners. After receiving several death threats herself, Stang recently said: ``I don’t want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest. They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment.’’

(After Stang, two other murders followed. Killed were the former president of a rural workers’ union and a farmer.)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Letter from the edge

Here is a letter I received on Valentine’s Day, from Good Shepherd Sisters who live and work both peacefully and dangerously among the lumad (indigenous people) of Agusan del Sur. Peacefully because they have been accepted by the people, they have grown roots with them and their work of 26 years has borne abundant flower and fruit in the community. Dangerously because the people and the nuns have to contend with the hazards of military presence and suspicion.

The Religious of the Good Shepherd-Tribal Filipino Ministry is flourishing in the municipality of San Luis. The place where the nuns run an ``ecology and spirituality farm’’ is called Tuburan, which means spring, which means life in those parts could indeed be joyous and abundant if only…

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Spirituality and nation building

``Never mind, we’re topnotchers naman in spirituality, NGOs and deuterium deposits.’’ That was the comment of Butch Perez on Juan Mercado’s column piece titled ``Cellar Status’’ (Inquirer, Jan. 13, 2005) which was posted in the plaridel e-group. Mercado had bewailed Filipino students’ Math proficiency thus: ``So when do we scramble out this cellar?…Jammed between Morocco and Botswana, our kids limped in putting our country at No. 41 among 45 countries in Math.’’

Perez’s one-liner gave me an aray moment but it made me laugh because of its sheer sarcasm. Aren’t we tops din in jeepney mudguard epigrams?

Seriously now, spirituality—the deeply rooted and enriching variety--ain’t no laughing matter. In the recent Karangalan National Conference/Festival, which had for its theme ``Mobilizing Excellence to Create a Visionary Philippines’’, the subject of spirituality was discussed.

Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB, prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in the Philippines spoke on ``The Role of Spirituality in Nation-Building.’’ She began by noting that a lot was said about the different kinds of energy--economic, political and cultural--needed to re-create the country, as well as the natural energies that must be harnessed. But, she stressed, ``I believe one of the most untapped resources of human kind is spiritual energy and yet no nation building can succeed without it.’’

Thursday, February 3, 2005

SWS corrects my reporting error

Mea maxima culpa.

I missed out on two words--a pronoun and a preposition--and this made a world of a difference. The words were ``it to’’. Because I missed those (my eyes did not coordinate with my brain) I wrote a sentence that turned one of the Social Weather Stations’ 2004 survey findings upside down.

This had to happen in the second to the last sentence of a longish news article, that is, when I was about to put a bullet on the article and write ``30’’. I hope not many readers got to that end part on the jump page. How I wish I had written something shorter and stopped at the usual 5,000 characters. Then the last two sentences would not have been written and live forever in the digital archives of the universe. Oh, but the right and good stuff, too, will live forever.

SWS president Dr. Mahar Mangahas’ letter to the editor will surely see print in a section of this paper but, just the same, here it is :

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Auschwitz 60 years ago

If you have ``Schindler’s List’’, ``The Pianist’’ or other Holocaust movies in your collection you might like to watch one again today. If you have Holocaust books, behold the photographs or immerse yourself in the survivors’ accounts.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of prisoners in the German Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz in Poland.

Thousands will be flocking to Auschwitz today, among them world leaders and monarchs, to remember the more than three million people, the majority of them Jews, who were mass murdered mostly in the gas chambers there and in other death camps in Europe.

The European Jews were the primary victims of the Nazis. According to a Holocaust website, in 1933 nine million Jews lived in the 21 countries of Europe that would be occupied by Germany during World War II. By 1945, two out of every three European Jews had been killed.

But the Jews were not the only group in Hitler’s hate list. So were 500,000 million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally or physically disabled, more than three million Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Social Democrats, Communists, partisans, trade unionists and Polish intelligentsia.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Karangalan, gathering time

The boulders in our hearts will quake and break open, the shroud of grief will lift and the sound of wailing will drift away. I make myself say that and believe it will happen indeed.

A terrible season has just passed, a more terrible one we should not expect otherwise we would be mired in grief and hopelessness. But what is hope? It is not hope but mere passive waiting if there is no action, if there is no effort to restore the mountains that collapsed on us, or to find signs of life amidst the flotsam and the jetsam that were swept away and back into our lives. We cannot gripe forever in our comfort zones.

And so we go out and gather, otherwise we scatter.

Did the angels conspire and the gods inspire that now we see people gathering, bothering once again to seek solutions so that this obdurate and benighted nation would move forward and up? Does the Philippines have a future? Does the Philippines have a future with our generation?

The organizers of the Karangalan Conference/Festival ``are confident that the Philippines has a future.’’ When they say future, they mean good, bright.

After a litany of ills, hope comes hurtling: ``Amidst the anger and frustration, there is also the reality of the other Philippines. This is the Philippines of moral strength, courage, vision, initiative, compassion, integrity, political will, socially-oriented businesses, artistic competence, social entrepreneurship, achievement and excellence. It is a reality that is here, right now. It is something not far away but already here in our midst, slowly but surely re-shaping the future of our country for the better.’’ There.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Post-traumatic stress disorder

For those involved in the rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations in the aftermath of the recent series of disasters here and abroad, the realization that the problem is more than material and economic could be daunting. The psychological trauma of survivors could be paralyzing and the effects could be long-lasting if these are not addressed immediately and properly.

The recent killer landslides in our own home ground and the post-Christmas tsunami that killed more than 165,000 people in 11 countries and left millions bereaved and bereft have to mean something and result in something. Otherwise, is it all despair?

Last Monday we wrote about the experiences of a team of clinical psychologists who fanned out to several disaster areas in the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake, the 1991 Mount Pinatubo and 1993 Mayon Volcano eruptions. The team, called HEART (Holistic and Empathetic Approach to Rehabilitation and Training), was composed of Ateneo University masteral and doctoral psychology students led by Dr. Ma. Lourdes A. Carandang, a seasoned clinical psychologist, researcher and author. The effort was funded by Unicef.

One of the fruits of their experiences was the book ``Pakikipagkapwa-Damdamin: Accompanying Survivors of Disasters’’ (Bookmark, 1996). The book is now being updated and redesigned for reprinting. It is a rich source of insights and methodology for those helping survivors to cope with their trauma and find meaning in what is left of their lives. Empowering them is even more daunting. Note that I avoid using the word victim.
That tongue-twister in the title means empathy and more. If sympathy is pakikiramay, empathy goes farther and deeper.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Poor helping poor

When the poor give to their fellow poor they give of their very substance and in so doing, become materially diminished in a way. There is the Filipino saying ``Isusubo na lang, ibinigay pa.’’ Roughly translated, what one is about to put into one’s mouth, one gives up for someone more needy. Giving even if it hurts--literally. That is often said of mothers of impoverished families.

I am reminded of birds and other wildlife who hunt prey, masticate their catch and then regurgitate the partly digested stuff into the open mouths of their young. You see a lot of these magnificent images on wildlife TV. How literal, how from-the-gut this giving is. But we are not wildlife and as humans we go through a complicated non-gut process in feeding others who are not our own.

Many who have much also give much but they do not hurt as much or may not even hurt at all. Millions of pesos, hundreds of thousands, a few thousands. All that changes are the numbers, not the digits, in the givers’ bank accounts and they may not even notice the change, much less feel it. They will not count the cost. They will still eat their favorite food, ride in one car at a time, fly first class. They are not diminished, nothing of their substance has been given up or taken way. Still, they are to be appreciated. Actress Sandra bullock just donated $1 million to the tsunami victims.

But the poor also give. They may not count the cost but they will certainly feel the cost.