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.