Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Christmas song for Raymond

If I’d make a wish for Christmas
Each day would be like Christmas night
When we put aside our fighting
Find the warmth that comes from giving
When the rushing world slows down for once
To share a song of joy

Then the noise will fade
Weary hearts will find themselves at ease
Throughout the world, all men will learn
To live in Christmas peace

If I’d make a wish for Christmas
Each man would be more like a child
Hearts that marvel at the small things
Love and laughter everlasting
And a worldwide wonder as we raise our eyes
To a million shining stars

Only then will we see the Baby Jesus in our hearts
What a miracle, the Heavenly King born in our hearts… If I’d make a wish for Christmas…

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Reclaiming public water

A water rate hike in Metro Manila is upon us and Ek Sonn Chan is on my mind.

There is something that water managers, providers, consumers, conservationists, activists and worriers, etc. might need to read. It is “Reclaiming Public Water: Achievements, Struggles and Visions from Around the World.” It is about wide-ranging approaches in reforming urban public water systems that are being practiced in developing countries. It’s about vision and against-all-odds innovation. I don’t have the book but I have the abstract and lengthy discussion paper on it.

It was published in 2005 by the Netherlands-based prestigious Transnational Institute and Corporate Europe Observatory and has been going the rounds of international water forums. I picked up the abstract and several papers on water privatization at the recent Asia Europe People’s Forum in Helsinki. Water services privatization in debt-ridden developing countries was among the life-and-death topics discussed there. At first I thought, what’s water doing in debates on globalization and neo-liberalism? As I listened in I realized that water, or access to it, is no longer just a basic human right, it has also become a commodity, a merchandise, what with water services being privatized and taken over by giant multinationals out to make big profits.

The announcement on the water rate hike the other day was like a douse of cold water on consumers’ pre-Christmas warm-up. On New Year’s Day you’ll be paying more. That is also when the cold and dry season begins to be felt. Later, it segues into hot and dry, and humid too, and people will need to take a bath more often, wash clothes more often, water their plants more often. It is indeed ironic, for we have just experienced disasters of the watery kind that wiped out villages.

So are we wet or are we dry?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Climate change, the bigger enemy

While the Philippines was reeling from its yearly dose of typhoons, the worst of which struck recently, something related was happening elsewhere. The Twelfth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol was taking place at the UN office in Nairobi, Kenya from Nov. 6 to 17.

Kenya’s vice president Moody Awori told the delegates: “We are gathered this morning on behalf of humankind because we acknowledge that climate change is rapidly emerging as one of the most serious threats humanity will ever face.”

On a local scale for us, first, it was typhoon Milenyo, then came Reming, then Seniang—all within a span of a month or two, and the last two typhoons within a week of each other. It was as if these superhowlers were trying to be in synch with the political storm that has been buffeting this be-stormed and benighted country these past months.

After the skies had cleared and the body count had begun there was the usual blame-throwing. To Phivolcs: Were the warnings loud enough and the mudslide-prone areas warned? To the local governments: Were the warnings relayed to communities concerned? To the residents: Why didn’t you heed the warnings? To despoilers and destroyers of forest covers: You must pay for the destruction you have wrought. And so forth and so on.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Puta man o santa man

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

I used the above quote last year shortly after the rape of “Nicole” landed in the news and created a furor. I use it again now that a conviction has been made.

Puta man o santa man…. Whore or saint—neither one deserves to be raped. This has been playing in my head for days, before and after the decision on the Subic rape case and until now. At first I thought saying it in Filipino would sound too vulgar but I changed my mind when I read yesterday’s front-page news in the Inquirer.

No less than a bishop—Bishop Oscar Cruz—was lecturing women on how not to get raped, as if there was a way to get raped. As if rape could partly be women’s fault, as if they would have it coming and could bring it upon themselves because of their way of dressing or behaving. Because it is but natural for men to respond by raping? Come on. Hello? I could feel blood rising to my face.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The essential Scholastican

What fruits had we tasted? What pearls had we found? What seeds had been sown in our young lives, and have they grown into great trees? What did we get, what did we give? What food, what richness, what strengths did we take along when we set out into the wilderness?

Did we discover the hidden wells and the orchards? Did we search for life among the ruins? Did we listen, did we speak? Did we laugh and did we weep? Did we hearken, did we heed? And as we journeyed on, who have we become—for ourselves, for others, for God?

Much have been given us and much is to be given back—and forward. The late Sister Caridad Barrion OSB, dean of St. Scholastica’s College for almost two decades, never tired of reminding generations of Scholasticans to give. Her mantra: “You cannot give what you do not have.”

And so we had to fill ourselves first, to drink, by drawing from the deep. To be steeped in a Benedictine tradition of learning for the heart, a way of life so ancient yet ever new. Ora et labora. Pray and work. And study too, for weren’t the Benedictine monks known since the fifth century to be keepers and spreaders of wisdom and knowledge, the bearers of light during the Dark Ages when barbarians threatened to destroy Western civilization?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Workers’ rights and garment labels

“Sr. Stella L.”, a 1984 multi-awarded Mike de Leon-Pete Lacaba film, was on cable TV a few nights ago. While watching it I recalled the hot afternoon we spent at a location where several strike scenes in that movie were shot. A bunch of us women journalists were there as extras shouting “Welga! Welga!” We did it for free. The shooting was in an old bodega-like place that was made to look like a cooking oil factory.

It was quite an outing, what with an award-winning bunch there—Vilma Santos playing Sr. Stella L., the late Tony Santos as Dencio, Laurice Guillen as the other Sr. Stella or the “tokayo”, Anita Linda and several “nuns” linking arms with the workers in the picket line. There was Sr. Stella L. emerging from her baptism of fire and delivering an impassioned plea on behalf of the strikers. And there we were, taking it all in under the scorching sun. It was like the real thing. We each had an orange drink after that.

What timing, I thought while I was watching it again after 22 years and waiting for the credits to roll so I could catch our names. For I had received an urgent call from the Workers Assistance Center (WAC) in Cavite. This was concerning the on-going strike at the Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEPZ). Unlike the “Sr. Stella L.” strike that was in a small local factory, the strikes at the CEPZ are in foreign-owned companies.

I went around CEPZ some years ago to do a labor-day series on the strikes there and to interview CEZ workers, particularly young women and how they lived. I visited some of them at their congested lodging houses where the lodgers took turns in using double-deck beds because, they reasoned, anyway they worked and slept in shifts. They didn’t have beds to call their own. One of the companies on strike was producing sacred images that were exported to Europe.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cheap drugs from India a boon

India has gotten giant drug manufacturers worried. It has challenged the patents on some of the world’s biggest money-making drugs. It has gone into manufacturing of low-cost drugs that would benefit the world’s poor. While India has stumped the big brand-name players, it has given poor nations such as those in Africa with huge numbers of AIDS cases a reason to be thankful.

Well, count the Philippines among the beneficiaries. But can’t the Philippines do the same?

I have been interested in India’s in-your-face kind of upstartness in putting the Goliaths of the drug industry on the defensive (or is it offensive?)

A story in yesterday’s Inquirer said that the government-run Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) will bring in up to P1 billion worth of low-cost medicine in 2007 to make essential drugs affordable to Filipinos. These will be sourced mainly from India and Pakistan. PITC has, in fact, been doing this but next year’s big batch is getting giant drug multinationals even more worried. PITC sells these cheap medicines through its network of Botika ng Bayan and Botika ng Barangay.

So Pfizer took legal action against PITC, saying that it has no assurance its patent rights would not be violated. With the support of international development agency Oxfam, medicine users picketed Pfizer to stress “patients’ rights over patent rights”. There.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Tabang Mindanaw study on Sulu

“The security situation in Sulu is COMPLEX and has to be understood in all its facets if a lasting solution is to be found.”

This sums up the results of a recent survey that Tabang Mindanaw did on behalf of Pagtabangan BaSulTa. The Assisi Foundation was behind the endeavor.

The report entitled “Developing a Culture of Peace for Sulu” is a review of the peace and order situation in Sulu based on a survey conducted in 18 towns of the province. The respondents were composed of religious leaders, traditional leaders, women, the youth and the economic sector.

But what is this “culture of peace” that the report is invoking? The report uses the United Nations definition which is “a set of values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiations among individuals, groups and nations.”

The research team, headed by Victor M. Taylor and Abraham Idjirani, ran the survey that focused on the people’s views on their personal situation, the province, security, factors that contribute to the present situation and factors needed to improve the situation.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

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…”

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The scent of coconuts

One should indulge in life’s little pleasures even while the world goes berserk and the ugly side of politics is constantly spoiling the landscape of our lives. Food is comfort and we look to so-called comfort food, the food that brings back pleasant memories and feelings, when things go awry.

It was good to savor the flavors and scents of the food of Bicolandia last Monday at the EDSA Shangri-la where the two-week (Oct. 23 to Nov. 3) Gayon Food Feast is now going on. This is being co-promoted by the Department of Tourism’s Bicol Regional Division under Maria O. Ravanilla.

Gayon is short for magayon (Bicol for beautiful) and where the name of the awesome Mayon Volcano of Albay is supposed to have come from. Extend the suffix and you have magayunon or very beautiful; magayunonon means very, very beautiful. You could extend the suffix some more to push the meaning to the extreme.

My verdict? The food was not just masiram (delicious), it was masiramon (really delicious). I say this not because my cousin Didette N. Peralta (who co-owns and runs Legazpi City’s Small Talk CafĂ©) was one of the guest cooks but because the flavors did Daragang Magayon (the maiden in Bicol legend) proud. And I judged the spread as it was—somewhat fusion cuisine--not as the home cooked, slow-food fare that purists might pine for. There was pasta pinangat, for example, and Bicol express served on tomato halves. Quite neo-, those. But the real pinangat was there in its coconut-y glory.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Yunus: ‘Poor women are good credit risk’

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) is on Cloud 9 because 1984 Awardee for Community Leadership, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, is this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner. The RMAF was 22 years ahead of the Nobel in recognizing Yunus’ work among the poor.

The Dalai Lama received his RM Award (Asia’s Nobel, so-called) in 1959, 30 years before his Nobel in 1989. Mother Teresa got her RM Award in 1962, 17 years earlier than her Nobel.

This means that Asia, the RMAF of the Philippines in particular, is not behind, it is in fact way ahead, in recognizing its own home-grown heroes and, yes, long before these persons have become familiar names in the world.

Yunus was only 44 when he received the RM Award in 1984, one of the youngest in RMAF’s roster of laureates. Now there is an RM award for Emergent Leadership for those below or on the threshold of 40. Yunus was quite surprised that he was chosen at that time because Grameen banking (microfinance) for the poor was not yet a byword. This is what Yunus said in 1984:

“I still cannot make out how the trustees of this prestigious foundation could notice a small effort such as ours, which has reached only some 100,000 in a population of more than 90 million. (As of July 2006, the population is 147.3 million - Inquirer Research Dept.) I can only admire the foundation for taking a big risk in choosing me…”

Thursday, October 12, 2006


The Catholic Church in the Philippines sets aside the second Sunday of October as Indigenous People’s Sunday and October might as well IP month.

An NGO that has been working for almost 10 years for the education of IPs is Sikat or Schools of Indigenous Knowledge and Tradition or Silungan ng Katututbong Kaalaman at Tradisyon. The Filipino word sikat means shine and when the accent is placed on the second syllable, it means celebrity, a person of note and achievement. Sikat is a non-church, non-profit, non-stock movement that aims to make the IPs find their rightful place, their place of pride, under the sun through education. Not just any education but an education that is attuned to the IP’s way of life—their culture, language, livelihood, habitat, and everything that defines them. This means developing a “culturally responsive education for indigenous peoples”.

Behind Sikat and supporting it every step of the way is the Asian Council for People’s Culture (ACPC).

In December 1997, a group of people from various regions and faiths gathered for the first National Trainers’ Training in order to share and build visions for a national network of cultural workers and community educators. That meeting gave birth to Sikat and the network of schools.

Al Santos, Sikat executive director and founding member says: “In establishing community-owned culturally responsive schools, we create linking pathways for the promotion of indigenous education among various tribes across the country.”

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Billboards from hell(2)

There’s a (2) up there because I used the same title last year when the Anti-Billboard Coalition (ABC) whipped up a storm. Many storms have come and gone since that time and billboards have continued to collapse on highways, vehicles, transport systems, structures and human beings except on those who put them up.

Someone suggested I use the title “Death by billboard”.

The man who instantly died after he was hit by a falling billboard was probably still being embalmed when this outdoor advertising executive said on national TV something like this: Milenyo was a strong typhoon and things standing were expected to fall, among them trees, electric posts and billboards. If we ban billboards, he said, we might as well ban trees and electric posts.

Ano raw? Trees aren’t marijuana. You don’t have to be a true-blue greenie to know the basics about trees. And electric posts? Many have contributed to the ugliness of the metropolis because of the entangled wires they weave around them but they stand there for a purpose. And we expect our power providers to someday do away with unsightly wiring.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Where to take your electronic junk

The good news is that we (from Metro Manila and other major cities) no longer have to search far for an “electronic junkyard” where our unwanted stuff could be consigned to, sorted properly for reuse or recycled. There is a way to prevent the rise of Payatas-like wastelands made up of toxic and harmful non-biodegradables such as computers, cellphones, microwaves ovens, electronic toys and gadgets, batteries and the like. Wall-size TVs, and tiny MP3 players and digital cameras will soon join the march to these junkyards.

Walk through the Jurassic Park that is your house or office and identify the electronic dinosaurs that have been sitting in dusty corners for years. At some point they reached obsolescence or were beyond repair. Where do you take them if there are no takers? They shouldn’t be consigned to the garbage dumps or coral reefs. They could be toxic and hazardous to living things. So where do these hardware go and wait to be reincarnated or recycled?

Some years ago I brought a car trunk-ful of these stuff to a vocational school of electronics that had use for them. I was so thankful they took them all—from cordless phone to dot matrix printer to radio/tape recorder that’s been silent for 20 years plus so many more. But I forgot to bring the 1993 laptop whose manufacturer is now extinct. It’s still waiting to be properly laid to rest.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Pope’s language

A marine scientist, upon seeing the damage of the recent oil spill on Guimaras, is likely to say to his fellow scientists, “The biota exhibited a 100 percent mortality response.”

We journalists would write, “All the fish died.” It thunders in its simplicity and you couldn’t get more dramatic than that.

Author Kurt Vonnegut says that his favorite line among James Joyce’s stories is from the short story “Eveline”. The sentence: “She was tired.” At that point, Vonnegut says, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.

“Simplicity of language,” he says, “is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively 14-year-old: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’”

The subject of simplicity in language—and its sacredness—was going through my mind while I was going over the lecture that Pope Benedict XVI delivered at the University of Regensburg in Germany last week. It was not a papal “to the city and to the world” (Urbi et Orbi) speech, by the way, only a lecture for a select group of intellectuals in an academic compound.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Surging like ‘The Oceanides’

Helsinki--After days of Nordic food, bottomless coffee, workshops, talk shops, civil society networking and so-called “open space” discussions (throw in a few films), the 450 participants of Asia-Europe People’s Forum 6 (AEPF 6) held in Helsinki called it a day.

There was no evidence of rice and spice deprivation withdrawal among the Asians as they were very vocal, as victims and potential victims of neo-liberalism should be. Asians and Europeans of the G&D (grim and determined) grassroots variety have, once again, found their collective voice. On the fourth day, they let it all hang out at a city square through songs, dance, mime and a “people’s soup kitchen” courtesy of the Finns.

Here in the land of a thousand lakes, the land of the revered composer Sibelius, (for cellphonephiles, the land of Nokia), Asian and European voices swirled and rose, like the ocean’s roiling surge in Sibelius’ symphonic poem “The Oceanides”. (Finland is just a wee bit larger in area than the Philippines but has a population of only five million. Compare that to our 80 million plus, or just Metro Manila’s 10 million.)

As AEPF ended, the object of its trajectory, the Asia Europe Meeting (Asem) was about to begin, with government leaders in attendance, GMA among them. These Asian and European leaders forge political and economic links that could spell the race to the top for some or the race to the bottom of the ocean (the Pacific, particularly) for many. Together, the Asem member states have influence over half the world’s GDP.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Asian-European sounds in Helsinki

HELSINKI—Here in the land of revered Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) Asian and European peoples’ voices are being aired loudly. Here is a symphony of sounds, so to speak, rising, blowing with the cold Baltic wind that is getting colder by the day.

The event is the Asia-Europe Peoples’ Forum 6 (AEPF 6) for NGOs and civil society organizations (CVO) that are non-state and non-corporate. The theme is “People’s Vision: Building Solidarity Across Asia and Europe”.

What better way to start than with a short ferry boat ride and an informal dinner-gathering of kindred spirits at Suomenlinna Island, a historic tourist site just off the city. After that it was back to the city and the tasks ahead. Time for long words and CVO-speak.

AEPF aims to bring all these voices from the ground to the official Asia Europe Summit (ASEM) and create alternatives to ASEM’s “neoliberalist agenda”.

ASEM would be to Asia and Europe as APEC is to Asia-Pacific and the US. Well, more or less. Heads of state, Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo, among them, are attending ASEM. ASEM consists of the member countries of the European Union (EU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asian countries China, South Korea and Japan.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Arvind Kejriwal’s battle against corruption

So young and so brave. The opposite of that now-famous line that once aptly described a Filipino bureaucrat-turned politician: So young and so corrupt.

Arvind Kejrawal of India is this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership. Only 38 years old, Kejrawal has spent six years now fighting corruption that is so ingrained in India’s bureaucracy. It has not been a desperate, useless battle though. His efforts have yielded results and benefited the simple and the lowly whose concerns might not have merited the attention of the high and the mighty.

I caught up with Kejrawal the other day during the launching of RM Award Foundation’s (RMAF) 3rd, 4th and 5th volumes of “Great Men and Women of Asia” (Anvil Publishing)—must-haves for school libraries. Kejrawal battles must indeed soon be part of the inspiring stories in these books (for which I have written a number of stories) that should inspire the young and confound the wise and, uh, wily.

(RMAF formal awarding ceremonies will be held tonight at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Inquirer founding chair Eugenia “Eggie” Apostol is this year’s awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Comm

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Just before I sat down to write this piece yesterday, I was reading the Inquirer banner story about another killing, that of peasant leader Hermilito Marqueza in Tandag, Surigao del Sur last Sunday. The lead paragraph said this happened hours after Pres. Arroyo announced the creation of an independent commission that would investigate the wave of politically linked killings.

Marqueza was the 247th victim of this “type” of killing since 2001 when Pres. Arroyo became president. If one goes by the victims listed in Amnesty International’s (AI) report released last week, Marqueza should be the 51st victim of year 2006. AI’s list ended with victim number 50, city mayor Delfinito Albano who was killed on June 27, 2006. The 49th is Wilfredo Cornea, of Task Force Mapalad, who was killed on June 20, 2000.

But one cannot breezily go down the list that way. After AI’s number 50 there must have been a few more before Marqueza who did not make it to the AI list and deadline. I cannot believe that there were no victims in July. What, no victims? That would have been unusual. Killings have been so common, so every-day, that a sudden lull is unbelievable. Marqueza is not the 51st, he’s probably the 55th. Throw in a couple of slain journalists in between.

I am appalled that I am talking numbers, sequence and lists here, like these victims were just to be ticked off a list. But they happen to have names and faces, they have families, professions, places in their communities, organizations, churches and in the hearts of those they loved and those who loved them.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tyre and Sidon

Tyre and Sidon. The names of these two ancient biblical cities have been floating in my head since the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah began a month ago. These two coastal cities in Lebanon are always shown on the war maps on TV, being among the places threatened by Israeli fire.

These cities are mentioned in the bible 14 times, always as a pair (like Sodom and Gomorrah) and in significant situations that they have a way of remaining in one’s subconscious. In mine, at least. But since I’m no bible scholar, I couldn’t easily find where in the bible they’re mentioned.

Then last week, at the height of the Middle East crisis, the twin names popped up on the Inquirer’s “The Daily Gospel” readings. Synchronicity?

The names are mentioned in Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman who begged him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. The scene portrays an example of great faith and feminine spunk. But Tyre and Sidon are mentioned here rather casually, to only establish the location perhaps, while in other parts of the bible, the mention of Tyre and Sidon seems to have greater significance. Like the ones in Isaiah 23, Joel, Luke and Matthew.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Accidental heroes, reluctant exiles

The armed conflict going on between Israel and the Hezbollan in Lebanon that is forcing thousands of terrified overseas Filipino workers (OFW) to go home, the stories and the images one reads, hears and sees are the stuff OFW nightmares are made of.

I couldn’t help thinking of the many past crises in that part of the world that OFWs have had to bear. And I thought, if we were to put together the feature stories on the overseas Filipino workers that came out in the Inquirer, the human interest stories particularly, and the photos too, they would fill several volumes. This has been playing in my head for days now. (By the way, the Inquirer has a book publishing department.) The stories would form part of our written national history. As they are, they would also be interesting stories—cinematic, dramatic, heart-rending, tear-jerking, sad, triumphant. Future generations would certainly look upon these stories with amazement at how their ancestors survived hardships in hostile lands in order to give their descendants a better life.

I have lost count of the many OFW stories I have written over the years. There was this Filipino domestic helper (DH) in Kuwait who killed her employer (a cruel princess) while they were vacationing in Cairo, while another DH lived it up in another royal household somewhere across the desert. Here were husbands and children who were left behind by the women in their lives, and NGOs that help OFW families stay whole. Recently I wrote about the Filipinos who work aboard a luxury cruise ship.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Environmental group sounds an alarm

What is wrong with this piece of news? What is wrong with this picture?

Not so long ago the Manila Bulletin came out with a story that said that The Fuhua Group of China has broken ground in Silang, Cavite. It launched the “first of 500 technology demonstration and industrial processing sites that will be put up in the Philippines over the next five years.”

The industrial site will run under the Philippine Fuhua Sterling Agricultural Corp. (PFSAC) and is part of what is called a programmed production from a corn-sorghum facility from which will come ethanol and other by-products such as milky starch livestock feed, corn protein, corn oil and amino acid.

According to the article by Melody M. Aguiba, the ethanol supply from the integrated plants is apparently aimed at beefing up China’s ethanol requirement in its intensive drive to shift to cheaper and renewable biofuel as alternative to dwindling crude oil. China is also stepping up production in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Just out of the presses is “u.g.: An Underground Tale” by Benjamin Pimentel which is about “the journey of Edgar Jopson and the First Quarter Storm Generation.”

More than 15 years ago, Pimentel came out with a book on Jopson, the young leftist leader in the underground movement who was shot and killed while being chased by the military. Two editions have since been printed but Pimentel, feeling that more needed to be told, recently came out with a more complete story. And so “u.g.”, the book, emerged from the underground, so to speak.

For total political innocents, UG means underground, or that political movement (armed and unarmed) that operated clandestinely at that time and worked toward revolutionary change in society and were therefore considered threats to the status quo. They were called subversives by the establishment. That is my loose definition of it. It still applies today.

“UG” is now part of the leftist jargon, like “mob” (for mobilization), “PO”, “CS”, “DPA”, “H”, “kasams”, “oryentasion”, to name a few. (Hey, someone should do a compilation of the undergroundspeak of the martial law era.)

Anyway, “u.g.” still tells the same story of a young man from a rich family, educated at the Ateneo, and gave up his life of privilege in order to pursue his dream of helping the poor and the powerless by struggling to change the oppressive structures in society. That was what the old edition “Edjop: The Unusual Journey of Edgar Jopson” was about. What “Edjop” did not have “u.g.” now has. “u.g.” includes the nuances of Edjop’s struggle.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

DNA on soiled panties and condoms

In the news these past days were the items related to the alleged rape case that involved Filipino complainant-victim “Nicole” and the four accused US Marines. Forensic analyst Dr. Francisco Supe Jr. of the PNP Crime Laboratory told the court that DNA was indeed present in the two pieces of evidence that he had examined.

The panty yielded male and female DNA samples, with the female DNA sample matching Nicole’s. Strangely, the condom did not yield a male DNA profile. The male DNA found on the panty has yet to be matched with those of the accused, particularly DNA from Lance Corporal Daniel Smith who had used it in what the defense called “consensual sex.”

In this case, a lot will depend on the material evidence. I hope this will yield lessons on how evidence should be preserved and handled with utmost care by the victims and investigators. The accused and their conspirators have all the reasons to cover their tracks.

Well, in their hurry to get back to their ship the accused in this rape case weren’t able to get rid of the condom and Nicole’s panty as well.

Still, there might have been some mishandling of the vital pieces of evidence when these were turned over and this might have allowed environmental factors to damage other vital traces.

A “rape kit” would have come in handy for Nicole and the persons trying to help her immediately after the traumatic incident.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

How much for a drink of urine?

How much would it be for Wildredo Quijano who was made to drink urine (“I don't know whose urine it was,” he said) and who spent his 17th birthday and nine birthdays after that in prison?

How much should Paula Romero, a former seamstress, receive for her missing son Henry, a newspaperman at the time of his disappearance?

How much for the 34-year-old woman in Mindanao who woke up one night to find her house being set on fire by some 15 armed men who then stabbed her husband who died in front of her? How much for her own 10 stab wounds? This woman bled till morning and was still clasping her six-month-old baby when help came. Her five-year-old child ran for his life and called for help. When the village people came it was already morning but the woman was still alive. I interviewed her many years ago.

How do you put a price tag on the pain of Purificacion Viernes, a health worker from Mindanao whose husband and two children were killed? In 1984, armed men came in the dead of night and strafed the home of the Vierneses who were suspected of being rebel sympathizers. The next thing Purificacion saw were brain tissues and blood splattered all over. Her two children died instantly and she heard her husband breathe his last.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Bishops treated as hacks?

If it is true that someone had been distributing money envelopes, supposedly from Malacanang, to members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) during their retreat and plenary assembly I hold the bishops partly to blame. How could this have happened?

According to an Inquirer news report yesterday by Christian V. Esguerra, a bishop (described as “soft-spoken” and “low-key”) admitted having been handed an envelope by a “casual-looking” man who had introduced himself as a messenger “from Malacanang.”

How could the bishops or their personnel allow in an outsider during their retreat and deliberations on a much-awaited statement? Why was this Mr. Moneybags allowed to walk around and distribute envelopes containing between P20,000 and P30,000? If this indeed happened or was allowed to happen, then one could only conclude that the bishops were caught unawares or “tatanga-tanga”. Sorry, but that is the translation in Filipino and its root word does not sound nice.

If they were in conclave electing a pope, word would have gotten out before white smoke could come out of the chimney.

And why didn’t anyone raise a howl right there and then? The bishops were after all in their territory. They were not guests in a place where decorum would have dictated that they did not embarrass their host with an uproar. If I were on the receiving end, I would have roared, “Who the devil sent you?!” or “Begone, Satan!” then called security and staff to help investigate who the uninvited guest was.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Of saints and martyrs

A few days ago, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo said that a canonized saint—Saint Teresa of Avila no less!—and two future possible ones belong to the Arroyo-Tuason-Pidal family tree. Mr. Arroyo made the claim while aboard the flight that took the First Couple to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. He revealed this even as the Arroyo administration is being accused of committing a variety of unsaintly acts.

This makes one review and reflect on what really makes a saint, particularly a martyr, canonized or not, in this day and age.

The Philippines now claims two canonized saints, both males—San Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod (whose name I couldn’t immediately recall) who were canonized in 1987 and 2000 respectively. These two men from a long-ago century left the saintly and daring Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, founder of a major Filipino religious congregation for women, whose cause has been well documented, out in the cold.

In the 1970s the Philippines needed a canonized saint, and so the proponents searched for one. That was how it was in the case of Lorenzo Ruiz who was killed, along with Dominican missionaries, in Japan several centuries ago. I had read the book on the search by Antonio Delgado, ambassador to the Vatican during the Marcos era, and was shocked to learn that there was no candidate at that time. In the beginning there was no name, no face, no place, no event to speak of. But the Philippines had to have a canonized saint and so the search was on. Lorenzo Ruiz surfaced.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A college for indigenous peoples

I wrote in the future tense then, I write in the present tense now. I had some doubts then, I don’t have those doubts now.

Late last year I wrote about Pamulaan, a special tertiary school or college for indigenous peoples (IP) that was being built in Mindanao. The target date for its opening was the opening of classes this June.

The dream has come true. Pamulaan recently opened with 47 IP students (from 19 tribes from all over the Philippines) enrolled in the college program.

Pamulaan means seedbed. The college aims to strengthen the potentials of indigenous youth for community leadership. It is a college education program for the IPs in the Philippines and a response to the IPs' dream of an educational program that is rooted in their life, culture and aspirations as a people.

Pamulaan is under the president of the University of South Eastern Philippines. The site is in USEP's Mintal campus in Davao City. IPs from North America recently came to visit and were surprised to find something so special and so focused.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fake drugs could kill

The Inquirer is one of the institutions behind the current campaign against fake drugs. It is not every day that this paper joins a campaign. We’re quite choosy, you see.

Counterfeit drugs could kill. This was the title of the first part of the three-part series I wrote some years ago. At that time the Philippines landed on the list of proliferators of fake drugs released by the Drug Information Association that was meeting in Canada. Another concern at that time was adverse drug reaction (ADR). For while even genuine drugs could cause ADR, how much more the fake ones whose components only the fakers know about?

Listed as an ADR is ``failure of efficacy’’ or Type F. This is what sends patients asking, ``Why is the drug not working?’’ Therapeutic failure could be due to a drug that has little or nothing in it. In other words, some illegal manufacturers could have tampered with a brand’s contents and unless the doctor and patient get the drug tested, they have no way of knowing the cause of the problem.

A change of prescription could be the next option and if the new drug is not fake, it could work. That is, if it is not too late and the patient has not crossed the bridge of no return.

There has been a debate on whether or not brand names of drugs that have been counterfeited should be published so that the public may know. (I did provide a list.) Legit drug companies whose brands have been counterfeited could raise a howl and say they are getting a double whammy because sales of even the genuine items could suffer because consumers will stay away. That is the short-term adverse effect.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Letter from East Timor

It wasn’t so long ago (2002) when I wept while I watched on television East Timor’s declaration of independence after being under the Portuguese for 400 years and Indonesia for almost 30 years and Xanana Gusmao taking his oath as the first president.

I was in East Timor so very briefly in 1995 for the Ahi Naklakan Solidarity Tour (Ahi Naklakan is Tetum for light) with human rights activists. After several days we were found out and promptly rounded up by the Indonesian military and brought to the airport.

When independence was nigh in 1999 violence erupted and many were killed, among them religious missionary sisters. Foreign journalists left in haste but thanks to information technology and e-mail, the world knew what was happening there. Even while surrounded by bursts of gunfire, missionaries e-mailed letters some of which I used in this space (``Epistles via e-mail’’, 9/23/99).

East Timor is again in the throes of war. (It is now supposedly the other Christian country in Asia besides the Philippines but what does this mean really?) Here again is a letter from a missionary whom I know and who had worked in the Philippines. She was assigned to East Timor a few years ago. For reasons of security I have removed names from her letter.

``Yesterday 28 May, I decided to temporarily leave East Timor via one of the evacuation flights to Darwin, Australia…

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Breathless in Yogya

I was in Indonesia for nine days last week for a vacation with close relatives. We spent six days in Jakarta and three in Yogyakarta (Yogya or Jogja for short) which was among the areas in Central Java hit by the killer earthquake in the early morning of May 27.

Yogya, an ancient capital city, is the cultural center of Java. It isn’t anything like Bali but it has its own charm and cultural richness.

The quake that killed some 5,000 people missed us by 38 hours. I do not want to imagine what it would have been like for us had we chosen a later date for the cultural trip there. The quake left many stranded as the airport runways were damaged. (Yogya is 50 minutes by plane from Jakarta.)

Back in Jakarta I had goose bumps when I saw on TV and in the papers images of death and destruction. Some of the places we had visited around Yogya had suffered damage, among them the Hindu Prambanan temples, a Unesco World Heritage Site 18 km. east of Yogya which is continuously being restored to their original grandeur. With the killer quake’s destructive sweep, restoration work has suffered a setback. But the destruction is nothing compared to the thousands of lives that were lost.

Built in the 9th century during Sanjaya Dynasty, the temple complex has hundreds of temples spread out all over but a dozen or so comprise the major ones. The three biggest for the Hindu trinity—Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma—form the centerpiece.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Culion: the nuns’ story (2)

This month and year, Culion Island in Palawan marks its 100th anniversary as a place where lepers of yore were shipped and confined for most of their lives. Culion, once the biggest leper colony in the world, is a leper colony no more. It is now a thriving island municipality. The new generation no longer bears the marks of the dreaded disease that medical science has finally licked. The scars are still there, but the place and its people have long begun the journey toward healing.

I was one of those who helped write the handsome coffeetable book ``Culion Island: A Leper Colony’s 100-Year Journey Toward Healing.’’ Here is the continuation of the excerpts from “The Nuns’ Story”, one of the pieces that I wrote.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Culion: The nuns’ story (1)

This month and year, Culion Island in Palawan marks its 100th anniversary as a place where lepers of yore were shipped and confined for most of their lives. Culion, once the biggest leper colony in the world, is a leper colony no more. It is now a thriving island municipality. The new generation no longer bears the marks of the dreaded disease that medical science has finally licked. The scars are still there, no doubt, but the place and its people have long begun the journey toward healing.

I was one of those who helped write the handsome coffeetable book ``Culion Island: A Leper Colony’s 100-Year Journey Toward Healing.’’ The experience was rewarding indeed. Here are excerpts from “The Nuns’ Story”, one of the pieces that I wrote.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Incredible mistake re Sally Bulatao

This is one case that tempts me to tell good persons planning to serve in government to please don’t. It has nothing to do with the monetary compensation. It is because despite the hard work you put in you might end up tarred and feathered, with your name irreparably tarnished.

Sure, one could be removed from an appointive position any time and for any number of reasons, loss of confidence among them, but to be given walking papers and accused of wrongdoing without due process is another matter.

Something terrible has been done to Salvacion Bulatao, head of the National Dairy Authority (NDA) for almost six years. I am hoping that things could be reversed, that those who moved with undue haste would be enlightened and realize that they had made a mistake.

Let me state here that I’ve known Sally for 25 years and I can vouch for her good character. I can also say that she has been a great mover in the local milk industry that involves thousands of farmers. Hey, you don’t easily find someone so passionate about milk, dairy farmers and the hungry poor. Sally has, in fact, passed on some of that interest in milk to me. An accounting graduate of the College of the Holy Spirit and with a master’s degree from Harvard University, Sally could have been somewhere more comfortable.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Feedback on “Everest”

Here are some reactions on last week’s column piece “Surfing Everest” that was partly about the efforts to conquer the killer peak by a team and an individual supported respectively by TV network giants ABS-CBN and GMA7. (The rest was about one adventurer’s Himalayan spiritual adventure.) I had expressed my concern about the “race”, what with two competing networks doing a continuing coverage of their respective climbers. And I dread seeing one making it and the other not making it. Or worse…

From Maloli K. Espinosa, vice president of ABS-CBN’s Government, Corporate Affairs and Public Relations

“We are writing in response to your column `Surfing Everest’ published (April 27). Please be informed that ABS-CBN’s commitment to support the first Philippine Mt. Everest expedition was arranged nearly two years ago with The Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, headed by Transportation Undersecretary Arturo Valdez. The network has pledged, among others, a media campaign drive that will promote this quest.

“The decision was made based on two considerations: that it was a legitimate news story and, second, it was in line with the network's commitment to the coverage of momentous sporting events involving Filipino athletes.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Surfing Everest

The two giant Philippine television networks and their respective Mount Everest climbers are racing to get to the peak and hoping to plant a flag of conquest and beam to the world their triumph over height, cold, snow, ice, wind, fatigue. It is not easy for those involved to admit that it is a race to the top. And it is not a question of who gets there first but whether anyone among the hopeful Filipinos there right now could get to the peak at all and come back in one piece.

One hears the usual clichĂ© about conquest of self, that is, the Himalayas within, before triumph over the elements. That is indeed what it is. But when competing media networks—ABS-CBN and GMA-7—do a running coverage of this first-time effort of Filipinos whom the networks are betting on separately, one cannot help but worry. Climbing Everest is not an ordinary sport. It is a life-threatening endeavor, a conquest of a lifetime, if one makes it.

One cannot but be concerned about the safety of the climbers involved (a team for ABS-CBN and a lone climber for GMA-7) and also about how viewers would perceive this whole thing.

Is this about ratings again? Couldn’t the two networks just have covered everyone—the so-called Philippine team (ABS-CBN’s) and lone climber Romi Garduce (GMA-7)? After all the climbers are all carrying the Philippine flag. I don’t mean they have to take the same route. What if one network makes it and the other doesn’t? I dread to see the outcome of such a situation.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Elpidio de la Victoria, Earth Day martyr

Things were beginning to grind to a halt on Wednesday of Holy Week when the murderer struck. He chose the time when media coverage would be minimal, government offices would be closed and most people would be in their homes and in church or away somewhere.

In fact, news about the murder didn’t come out in the national print media until four days later on Easter Sunday. The Cebu media gave it major treatment though. The Inquirer had a brief account on page 20, part of which read:

``One of the city’s leading crusaders against illegal fishing died Thursday, a day after he was shot four times by an unidentified assailant while he was about to enter his house in Barangay Dauis, Talisay City.

``Elpidio de la Victoria, 46, program director of Cebu City’s Bantay Dagat Commission and the city’s market administrator, was shot in the back and arm and twice in the buttocks at around 3 p.m. on Wednesday. He died at the Chong Chua Hospital at 8:50 a.m. the next day.’’

Four shots in all. The killer wanted to be sure his prey died right there and then. (A suspect, a policeman, has been tagged.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Psalm 69 for our times

For this Holy Thursday, here is a variation on the theme of Psalm 69 that I had written for Holy Week in 1992. With a few changes here and there, it still applies 14 years later.

Save me, O God, for their diarrhea of words has come up to my chin. I am drowning in their slimy saliva and I slip everywhere I step. Into this depths I have been pushed and I am engulfed by the torrent of true lies and half-truths. I am weary from pleading that they shut up for a while and give my ears a rest. My throat is hoarse and dry.

More than the hair in their armpits and pubis are the dirt they have spread about one another. Oh, how they hate those who attack them. How they fight over the people’s loyalty. They strut about like angels and yet people know they have stolen, they have lied, they have killed, they have fornicated.

O God, you know I am not faultless but also know that I do not covet a government position.

Do not allow me to become too cynical and do not allow me to be dazzled either. Oh Lord, help me keep my conscience and my actions pure, equip me with the power to smell the rotten a kilometer away.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

From aviation to nursing

The previous column piece ``Mayday! Mayday! for the aviation industry’’ tried to bring to the fore the brain drain problem in the aviation industry which is becoming more acute because of foreign recruiters’ poaching expedition in the country. It is so easy for the foreign poachers to entice our highly trained aviation experts with high pay because the foreign aviation industry did not have to invest in long and expensive training.

That is what the locals are complaining about. It takes 10 years and more than P10 million in training investment to produce an airline captain. Aviation engineers aren’t simply plucked out of an aviation school, their skills are honed over the years. Now they are being snapped up faster than the local industry could produce their replacement.

I had spoken with very worried industry players who wanted to see some kind of moratorium on recruitment. But who can legislate against a person’s right to seek higher pay? Doctors-turned-nurses as well as educators might soon become a vanishing breed as they go away in droves. And now aviation experts who are sorely needed locally are flying away to seek bluer skies. Some are even shifting to nursing.

Here are some letters from those who know first-hand what’s ailing the aviation industry. They give us another view of what’s on the ground and in the sky.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mayday! Mayday! for the aviation industry

The local aviation industry could crash if the exodus of aviation experts does not slow down. The industry is composed of two sectors: the airlines and the service providers.

``Poaching at the highest level’’ was how a Filipino airline executive called the aggressive recruitment by foreign airlines. These ``poachers’’ have been reportedly coming to make choice pickings from the Philippines’ pool of highly trained experts. They could offer higher pay because they had not spent money and time to train their own.

More than 100 hundred Filipino pilots to go. This was what the Indian air industry was reportedly in search of during its recent recruitment foray in the Philippines. That’s too many considering that the Philippines’ has about only 700 commercial pilots to go around.

Singapore reportedly has an active order for 50 pilots pending at the Philippine Overseas and Employment Association.

From 2004 to 2005, more than 200 aircraft mechanics and aviation support staff have left the country according to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) figures. Philippine Airlines (PAL) has lost 75 pilots in the last three years to different airlines in the Middle East and Asia.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rest for the Visayan Sea

While politicians are talking about restiveness, restlessness and unrest in the political front, those concerned about the environment are talking rest.

A group that calls itself the Visayan Sea Squadron is asking the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to give the Visayan Sea a rest, declare a closed season and determine areas available only for certain types of fishing.

Mayors have also petitioned the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to declare the entire area closed to commercial fishing vessels (three tons and above). These local officials also asked the DENR to work for the declaration of the Visayan Sea as a Unesco World Heritage Site for marine biodiveristy.

According to the Visayan Sea Squadron, an outreach program of the Law of Nature Foundation, the Visayan Sea has an area of about one million hectares. It is ``at the apex of the fabled Visayan Marine Triangle which lies at the very heart of the Sulu-Sulawesi Eco-region.’’

The way this triangle is being described makes one imagine a fantastic water wonderland that exists only in tales of yore. But no, this region is still alive, even if now threatened by depletion and destruction.

The Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Triangle, which covers a wide swath from the Philippines to Indonesia, is supposed to be the richest marine eco-region in the world and is home to the largest variety of marine life—fishes, coral, sea grasses, etc., in the whole world.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

PCIJ under siege

At the senate hearing last Tuesday Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) executive director Sheila Coronel and Daily Tribune editor Ninez Cacho Olivarez gave testimonies on harassment and curtailment of media freedom that media organizations have experienced in the past days.

Sen. Arroyo, woefully paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, said, ``Those who want to destroy the freedom of nations will have to start with the freedom of the press.’’

Clashing with the generals during the martial law years wasn’t so bad after all, I said to Sheila and she agreed. At least we knew the enemy then, we knew their names and their faces. But tangling now with those who operate in the shadows is something else. You have to watch your back.

So many media practitioners have died in the hands of such elements in the past couple of years. The recent government attempts to threaten and harass the media serve to embolden those with shady intentions.

Excerpts from Sheila’s opening statement at the Senate illustrate this.

``Late (last Monday afternoon), three members of the Central Police District, accompanied by sound engineer Jonathan Tiongco, asked a Quezon City judge to issue a warrant that will allow the police to search the office of the PCIJ, apparently in connection with a charge of inciting to sedition.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

OFW: From belly of the ship to top deck

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

FROM BOILER room to ballroom, from stage to spa, from poolside to pantry, from bar to fine dining. From the belly of the luxury ship to the topmost deck where one could see forever and behold the azure sea and sky of the Mediterranean.

Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) rule the roost, so to speak, aboard the cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas because of their sheer number and also because of their skills, talent, dependability and graciousness. Filipinos comprise about 60 percent of the 853-strong crew that is composed of 51 nationalities.

"Here I earn the combined salaries of four teachers and three security guards in the Philippines," reveals Jerry Dioneo, 36, who works in the dining section. Dioneo who hails from Silay City in Negros Occidental has been on the ship for about three years and is on his fourth contract. Only the Filipino nationals, Dioneo adds, are compelled to allot and remit 20 percent of their earnings to their folks back home. This is stipulated in their contracts.

And what is work like on cruise days? "Every day here is a Monday," Dioneo chirps as he replenishes the cornucopia of food for the guests.

Victoriano Camacho, 46, of Calamba, Laguna, has been with the cruise company for 16 years and is now the sous chef (assistant of the executive chef). He started out at the Nikko Hotel in Makati. Now he earns $2,600 a month.

$1.7 billion of the total $10.8 billion remitted by OFWs in 2005 came from the sea-based OFWs. The number of Filipino seafarers working abroad as of 2005, is about 250,000 or approximately 20 percent of the world's total.

White List

The rise in the number could be attributed to the inclusion of the Philippines in the International Maritime Organization?s ?White List? of 72 accredited countries. Being on the list means the country has continuously complied with the standards required for competent seafarers.

Being a Filipino seaman or seafarer does not necessarily mean working in cargo ships sailing drearily on a gray sea and being cooped up, fighting ennui until land appears on the horizon. A good number of the sea-based OFWs work in cruise ships. These luxury liners cater to vacation-bound, fun-loving, adventure-seeking humans, people who work hard and play hard, or who just want to be out of reach and listen to the music of the ocean, heeding the cruise logo catchphrase that says, "Get out there." One could also choose to get holed up in the ship?s library.

The three-year-old German-built Brilliance of the Seas belongs to a fleet of cruise ships of the Royal Caribbean International (RCI) that sails in Europe, North America and the Caribbean. It has a passenger capacity of 2,500.

The Filipino seamen and women working on board are there to help make good things happen. The job is demanding as cruises involve service, hospitality, food, fun, travel, safety and, most of all, people.

Earning from tips

Bar server Vergie Mompil, an education course graduate, has spent eight years working on several cruise ships. Her husband, Edwin Vicero also works in another cruise ship, Jewels of the Sea.

Those in food service are not paid the fixed salary rate that workers in other sections receive. Food and drink servers like Vergie receive only $50 per 12-day cruise but the tips (provided for in the bill) earn her about $1,000. Two cruises per month or more than ten cruises in a six-month contract mean a lot when remitted to the Philippines. ?After six months, we go on a two-month break,? Vergie adds.

Vergie is stationed at the bar in the main lobby ballroom at the foot of a luminous stairway where guests in formal wear linger to chat or dance to music provided mainly by?you guessed it?Filipino musicians.

Vergie and her husband have a three-year-old child who is being cared for by two aunts. The couple is building a home south of Manila and planning for a hardware store.

Not everyone is in the direct employ of RCI. Hoffman Roscano, 27, married, works as a photographer of a photo agency that operates aboard the ship. He and several photographers have their hands full during formal dinners and evening activities as well as land tours. During special occasions, they set up a mini studio where guests in their glittering ?Titanic? finery could go for a formal shoot. Guests snap up the photos the morning after. Roscano also receives commissions from the sales.

Better than 5-star salary

Karen del Carmen, in her 20s, works as a beauty therapist in the Brilliance Day Spa operated by an agency. A tourism graduate of a college in Bacolod, she had a work stint in a hotel in the Philippines after which she applied in a maritime agency. The spa company hired her and sent her to London for training.

"Better than a five-star salary," is how del Carmen describes what she earns. After every 12-day cruise she gets two days off. ?It?s fun working here,? she says as she looks up from her desk in the spa?s lavender-scented receiving area.

Nights are busy for the musicians who play in different venues aboard the ship. John Neri, 24, regales the night owls with violin music. As a child he studied music under a scholarship program for the musically gifted.

Neri met his wife in another cruise ship. Married for four years now, the couple is building a house in Kalookan City.

Oye como va

Although now US-based, Vicky Gallarde of Vicky and The Holding Company band still calls the Philippines home. It?s a rollicking night when the band plays for a crowd with itchy feet.

Vicky switches without a hitch from lusty "Amor, amor, amor" to a staccato "Oye como va" while husband Chris and the rest segue from rumba to disco beat. The band is a ship mainstay.

The couple has a room for two of their own at the crew quarters. The standard rooms for two for the crew have TVs and computers with e-mail capabilities. The Filipinos also have a daily two-page news digest called "Philippines Today." There is a bar as well as games and exercise facilities.

Edgardo Villarino, 42, studied music in the University of the Philippines and sang with the UP Concert Chorus. He is married with three kids. The Inquirer chanced upon Villarino playing soothing classic guitar music by the poolside.

He was in the Caribbean several months earlier and he remembers the day a hurricane blew around there. There are less "sea days" in the Mediterranean, he says, meaning, the ship docks often in tourist havens.

Selling the Philippines

On his fifth contract now, Villarino says their own families could enjoy cruise privileges when there is space available. And could the entertainers have some fun during the day? "If there are less than five guests using the pool, we could take a dip," Villarino says.

He dreams of cruises on Philippine waters that could rival those elsewhere. "We try to advertise the Philippines. Subic is so beautiful." He talks of an island in Haiti that Royal Caribbean had developed.

Great workers

Bill Brunkhorst, American cruise director who makes sure entertainment is at its peak, has only good words for the Filipinos. "They are so talented and they learn very quickly," he says. "They're great workers."

The Greek ship captain Michael Lachtaridis, a seasoned sea voyager who has been sailing the seas for 33 years says he has been working with Filipinos since the 1980s. "They get along well with other nationalities," he says. "They are very educated and they are a happy lot."

Whether it is instructing on wine tasting, giving beauty massages, serving at formal dinners, making omelets at the buffet breakfast, playing music, snapping photos amidst the Greek ruins, ensuring security and swiping cards at entry and exit points, disposing garbage or keeping staterooms clean, Filipino seamen and women are doing their best. And why not a Filipino guest chaplain or morgue attendant?

The least seen

The least seen but perhaps the most important because they make the ship sail the distances are those who work in the belly of the ship or the engine room. The lives of those on board are practically in the hands of these experts in ship engineering.

The Inquirer descended to the grime-free hard hat area and met some of the Filipinos there. Jessie Hervilla, Estefanio Joel, Steve Flores, Ramon Cerio, Percival Dilag and so many more. Chief Junior Engineer Rasmus Norling of Sweden has only high praises for the men who are seldom seen on deck.

But life for the OFWs on board these cruise ships is surely not problem-free, as life anywhere is not. Are the OFWs on these so-called floating four-star, five-star hotels better off than their counterparts in cargo ships and oil tankers? What lies beyond those glittering nights and sunny days at sea? What awaits them in their homeland? What awaits Edward Pampis, Joselito Benito, Cipertino Apil, Arlene Salon, Susan Gatmaitan, Arthur Pernia, Julius, Mijares, Juanito Embolori, Edwin Miranda, Enrico Sabido, Victor Amuyang, Ronaldo Carreon, Ernita Villanueva, George Tardo, Joselito Benito?

Don't they feel resentful when they see food and drink flowing endlessly, people having so much fun and spending so much money for this kind of voyage, while they work so hard to keep these people thrilled and while the pine for home?

"Oh no," says a food server without a tinge of resentment. "Many of them have worked hard too. And because of them we have our jobs. Someday we too could enjoy something like this."

This Inquirer reporter was a regular paying guest on this cruise. The ship sailed from Barcelona and back and stopped in several key places on the Mediterranean coasts of Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

The media fights back

Because of the recent political events the government has raised its iron hand and directed it toward the media as well. Are we the enemy?

As I write this, media groups and individuals are in court making a petition for certiorari, prohibition and declaratory relief. Time constraints prevented me from signing the petition but one of the media groups I am affiliated with signed as one of the petitioners.

The decision to file a petition was made after two meetings between the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and media practitioners. The contents of the petition were fully discussed with the parties concerned and substantial changes were made to ensure that the petition addressed the concerns of both print and broadcast journalists.

Rarely do journalists go to court for reasons connected with their work. Why did the media go to court? Here is a technical summary of the objectives. This could be very instructive for those who are not in the legal profession.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

When media women fought back

The present government that is tinkering with media freedom should learn a few lessons from the 1983 case of women journalists versus military officers filed before the Supreme Court.

The military’s dreaded and intimidating moves at that time against seven women journalists, including myself, may have created a temporary chilling effect but it did not prevent us from making bold moves to make sure it was not going to be done ever again to us or to anyone.

On Feb. 1, 1983, braving martial rule, 23 of us women writers and six male colleagues filed a ``petition for prohibition with preliminary injunction’’ with the Supreme Court. This was to stop the military’s National Intelligence Board (NIB) Special Committee No. 2 from harassing media practitioners and violating our right to freedom of expression and right to remain silent.

Named respondents were retired Brig. Gen. Wilfredo Estrada, Colonels Renato Ecarma, Balbino Diego, Galileo Kintanar, Hermogenes Peralta, Vicente Tigas, Maj. Eleanor Bernardino and NBI Asst. Director Ponciano Fernando—all of NIB No. 2.

A sudden creation of the dreaded Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver, the NIB was composed of high-ranking military officials tasked to ``invite’’ and interrogate the women journalists whom they thought had written unflattering and damaging articles against the Marcos dictatorship.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Howard Dee, man for peace

``Today the flames of Edsa are flickering, peaceful reform is dying on the vine and our democracy is threatened again.’’

Thus spoke a humble and spiritual man of action whose quest for peace and progress for the poor has been unceasing.

Howard Q. Dee, peacemaker, social development worker, friend of the poor and indigenous communities, former ambassador to the Vatican and businessman, was honored last Monday in simple rites as the sole recipient of the 2006 Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Award.

Persons from both sides of the political, ideological and social divides came to fete this simple man whose name has become synonymous with peace and development especially in strife-torn and poverty-stricken communities in the country.

``My heart is filled with gratitude yet I feel no sense of triumph,’’ Dee told the small crowd. ``I feel no pride of achievement in the face of so much injustice and widespread poverty that condemns so many of our people to a life of subhuman existence.’’

But just as quickly, Dee lifted spirits by quoting a French philosopher who said: ``The important thing is not be a success. The important thing is to be in history bearing witness. This is not the time to lose heart. Rather, it is in the darkness that our lamps should be lit and our hearts set ablaze.’’

Thursday, February 16, 2006


My fertile imagination went full throttle and couldn’t help conjuring up a World War III scenario being sparked by print journalism in a small European country of a few million people. Straight out of a futuristic novel? The possibility is there if we go by the extreme rage that resulted from a few pen and ink strokes.

Much has been written about the Islamic outrage across the world that resulted from newspaper cartoons depicting Islam, one of which shows the prophet Muhammad with a turban shaped like a bomb. This was supposed to portray those who commit terrorism in the name of Islam. Another one supposedly shows the prophet surrounded by two women fully covered from head to toe, their eyes peering out of an oblong slit on their black chadors while the eyes of the prophet are covered with an oblong band. This was supposed to show Islam’s blind spot when it comes to women’s freedom.

Besieged Denmark was not wanting in supporters. Several European newspapers published the same cartoons to show defiance.

For Muslims, to depict their prophet Muhammad in any visual way--even in a benign way--is blasphemy. But Jesus Christ, whom Muslims consider also a prophet, has been visually depicted in a million and one ways and for so many purposes and it is mostly okay.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

``Wowowee’’ Pied Piper-ed the poor

Here are some of the quotes I remember well in the aftermath of the ABS-CBN ``Wowowee’’ stampede last Saturday that killed more than 70 persons and injured hundreds.

``I was not even aware that ``Wowowee’’ was having its first anniversary.’’-Gina Lopez, head of ABS-CBN’s Bantay Bata Foundation, speaking as guest at ABS-CBN’s ``Straight Talk with Cito Beltran’’

``Ayan, namatayan ako ng anak.’’ (There, now I have lost a child.) –a father, after finding out that his young only daughter whom his wife insisted on taking along, was crushed to death

``Nagkanya-kanya, basta maka-una lang.’’ (It was each man for himself, trying to get ahead.) –Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine National Red Cross

`` I saw something very wrong, very, very wrong’’ - Police superintendent Vidal Querol, his voice almost cracking, after he saw people stepping over the dead and clamoring for raffle tickets.

``Gusto lang namin sila mapasaya.’’ (We just wanted to make them happy.) -``Wowowee’’ host Willie Revillame.

``Even with all the dead around, many people were still asking for raffle tickets.’’ –a paraphrase of what TV producer Marilou Almaden told the fact-finding committee investigating the tragedy

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Like the wrath of God

Here is something that could serve as a historical footnote to the latest statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the current political situation issued a few days ago. As we prepare for the 20th anniversary of the EDSA Revolt three weeks from now, I thought I should do a rewind and see parallels between the bishops’ move now and the bishops’ move 20 years ago.

I dug up the long feature story I wrote on the CBCP statement on the fraudulent 1986 snap elections shortly before the EDSA uprising. (``Like the Wrath of God’’, Feb.21-27, 1986, Mr&Ms. Special Edition, the daring and frisky weekly published by Eggie Apostol and edited by Letty J. Magsanoc, now Inquirer editor in chief.) I remember we were camped out at the CBCP compound waiting with bated breath for what the bishops had to say. That damning CBCP statement helped create the groundswell that led to the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship a few days later.

Take a trip down memory lane. Excerpts:

Finally things snapped. Out of the silent halls of the Catholic Church the voice of the hierarchy crackled. The post-election statement of the CBCP came down like the wrath of God.

Valentine’s Day 1986 would be long remembered as the day the bishops came out to condemn a political exercise. Lifting up their hemlines, they at last waded into muddy waters to cross the moat and lay siege on an impenetrable fortress.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Pacquiao, Onyok, Ali and life

I am not a boxing fan but I did wait with bated breath for Manny Pacquiao’s Sunday confrontation with Mexican legend Eric Morales. And I did let out some expletives with some punches from either side.

The closest I have been to boxing is in our weekly taebo sessions at the Inquirer. When our trainer John Q yells ``Attack!’’ we demolish imaginary foes and when it is ``Defense!’’ we duck under our fists. You have to be fully focused and cannot allow the mind to wander otherwise you’d get lost in the footwork. It is during the post-taebo crunches and push-ups that I do my out-of-body flight that helps me make it (arrrgh!) to the last count.

The last time I wrote about boxing was 10 years ago when Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco Jr. won the silver at the Atlanta Olympics. (Onyok is Ilonggo endearment for Junior.) The Inquirer's banner photo of our champ on the podium waving a Philippine banderita and wearing that gentliest of smiles brought tears to my eyes. I remember that look that outshone his silver medal. After having been brutally battered by the judges (but not by the Bulgarian) Onyok emerged unbowed, with a countenance so serene, so beautiful, so gently Ilonggo. That photo spoke a thousand words.

That is why I wrote about it. The human side of it, not the brutal sport. But how does one separate the two? Our sports guru Recah Trinidad will tell you, you can’t. And where is Onyok now, I want to know.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Santo Ninos, rapture and tragedies

Another religion-related tragedy has claimed the lives of at least 20, the majority of them innocents who, when they set off, had no idea that their foolhardy elders were taking them to their watery graves.

Last Sunday, the feast of the Holy Infant Jesus or the Santo Nino, a boat overloaded with devotees and their children capsized in the waters off San Ricardo town on Panaon Island in Southern Leyte. The boat named ML Jun Jay was part of a fluvial procession, a festive display that often highlights religious feasts in places that are near bodies of water.

Overcrowded boats, uncaring public officials, unmindful church officials, fevered rapture and carefree abandon on the part of devotees—all these are the ingredients of impending disaster. It had happened several times before, it happened again on one of the Filipinos’ beloved of feasts. And most of the victims were children like the Santo Nino.

But if ill-managed fluvial processions are the recipe for tragedies, they also say a lot about the Filipinos’ penchant for public display of religious fervor that borders on fanaticism and recklessness. No one could say what spiritual merits or demerits could come from all these. I leave that to God to decide.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Female feticide

How would those who champion women’s rights to choose (what they want to do with their bodies and the babies in their wombs) handle this mutilation of future women? If there is an issue that makes the pro-choice advocacy in the women’s rights movement stand on its head this is it.

I am not twitting, I am saying that this issue is important for the pro-choice advocates to address.

In the Reuters news two days ago, and which the Inquirer carried, was the recent published research on fertility figures that showed that about 10 million female fetuses may have been deliberately aborted in India over the past 20 years.

This practice was not discovered just yesterday. It has been going on for some time since the technology for sex determination (amniocentesis, ultrasound, etc.) became available. But when a science research team gets down to the bottom of it, comes up with numbers and publishes the findings in the prestigious The Lancet medical journal, the world takes notice.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Justice Cecilia Munoz-Palma: Beloved ``ingrata’’

To honor Justice Cecilia Munoz-Palma (a fellow Scholastican) who passed away at 92 two days ago, I re-edited the piece I wrote in 2001 when she launched her book ``The Mirror of My Soul’’. Here it is.

Ingrata. That was how Munoz-Palma had been harshly called by a high government official. Ingrate. Ungrateful. The Spanish word reeks of contempt and condescension. You do not bite the hand that fed you.

It sounds even harsher in Filipino. Walang utang na loob. A person who receives help or is accorded honors, even if she deserves them, is presumed deeply indebted and when the time comes, is expected to stand by the favor- or honor-giver. Only the brave in our culture would dare go against this onerous unwritten contract.

But we are not wanting in brave and debt-defying civil servants, one of whom was Munoz-Palma, the first woman to sit in the Supreme Court (1973-1978). Although the appointing power in her case happened to be a dictator, a.k.a. Ferdinand E. Marcos, she showed him and the sycophants that she owed him nothing. She owed only God and the Filipino people whom she had sworn to serve. By defying expectations and pursuing the rule of law as her conscience dictated, all the more it was evident that this gentle and soft-spoken Batanguena was destined to sit above the throng.