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…”