Thursday, December 27, 2007

Back-to-Christmas movement

If I were from another religion or another planet and I knew the Christmas story and how Christianity began I would be very shocked to see Christmas being celebrated with excessiveness, mindlessness, stressfulness. I would ask: how has Christmas come to this? This was not how it all began.

Simplicity has been supplanted by excess. It seems the Christ in Christmas has been x-ed. Xmas. X for excess. Xmall, Xmess. Oh, we say, but we know Christmas is alive, one just has to wade through the X-cess to find the true essence. But why must this be so?

Toxic toys, double-dead meat, smuggled goods, horrendous traffic, Christmas blues, piles of garbage, overcrowded shopping malls, desperate gift-givers, overeating, excess cholesterol and sugar, clogged airports and bus terminals, the culture of gift and cash solicitation (messengers, garbage collectors, strangers, barangay personnel leaving you envelopes into which you must put in money), and so forth and so on.

These are some of the negatives of the Christmas season that needn’t be there. How is it that Christmas is the time when the gap between the rich and the poor becomes wider than wide, with the latter feeling the pain of being on the other side of the railroad tracks? The lonely get lonelier, the hungry feel hungrier, the outcast feel like castaways indeed.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

If the land could weep and sing

Well, what can I say. Weeping has turned into rejoicing. Day is breaking all over the land. Joy comes in the morning. If there should be weeping, the weeping should let flow tears of joy.

For the farmers of Sumilao who marched 1,700 km. for two months from Bukidnon to Manila under scorching heat and driving rain are finally seeing a glimmer of hope. That the disputed 144 hectares would be theirs once again, wrenched at last from corporate hands after years of weeping and gnashing of teeth on the part of the farmer-awardees.

But there were will be some waiting to do even after President Arroyo authorized that the land that had been reclassified as agro-industrial, be reverted back to agricultural land covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

With the backing of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and civil society groups but minus the disruptive flag-waving of hard-core ideological elements, the farmers should be on their way back to their promised land.

Nine years ago, I wrote the column piece below. I fished it out from my files some days ago when I thought the Sumilao case would again turn awry, because for a while it looked that way. Anyway, here it is as a remembrance of things past and I hope I never have to rub it in again.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The light of their life

This book convinces me that no mother—if it could be helped—should ever leave her family to work abroad for a long, long stretch of time. That is not the book’s expressed objective and neither is it trying to find economic solutions to stop the endless stream of mothers leaving for jobs far away from their homes. But solutions to the collateral damage are in the offing.

“Nawala ang Ilaw ng Tahanan: Case Studies of Families Left Behind by OFW Mothers” tells us what happens when the mother is away for long. The title alludes to mothers as light and translates as “the light of the home has gone”. That description of the state of affairs in the domestic front came from the left-behind families themselves. They know what it is like, they remember the day the light went out.

The little book is a compilation of case studies by psychotherapist and prolific book author Ma. Lourdes Arellano-Carandang, and psychologists Beatrix Aileen Sison and Christopher Carandang. Ten OFW families are featured, each of them with the individual profiles of fathers and children (and mothers in some cases), their feelings, world views, hopes and problems, as well as how they cope and find solutions.
Plus more solutions, but this is getting ahead of the review.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Leaders for Health Program

“Stories of town mayors giving out medicines, from paracetamol to penicillin, are not unusual because these can get votes. On the other hand, municipal doctors complain about not having enough funds to buy common drugs and gasoline for the ambulance in emergencies. Community members largely stay on the sidelines, rarely participating in the arenas of local governance.”

This is the scenario that is common especially in far-flung places. This is the situation that the Leaders for Health Program (LHP) wants to address and change “by making health part of the governance process wherein there is transparency, efficiency and civic participation.”

Situations like the one that broke into the news recently, the one about the outbreak of parasite infection or capillariasis in Zamboanga del Norte. Reports said at least 70 had already died in the village of Moyo in Zamboanga del Norte leaving families orphaned. More than 300 villagers had been infected and suffered chronic diarrhea and dehydration.

The poor villagers had been eating river fish and shrimps that had the capillariasis worm because there was little else. And when struck by the disease, they could not afford the medicines. Worse, there was not enough medicine. No tests had been done so the mortality was simply attributed to chronic diarrhea. But what caused the diarrhea?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

An apology to Dr. Alfredo Bengzon

A supposed-to-be feel-good Sunday feature that I wrote (p. 1, Inquirer, Nov. 25) turned out to be feel-bad thing, not just for the persons and institutions concerned but also for me, the writer, as well.

I made a mistake—not deliberate, of course—and I am sorry.

The front page story was on the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health’s (ASMPH) bold move in medical education (“Ateneo graduates in 5 years MDs and MBAs”) which is something unprecedented. The story went well until the last portion where I wrote: “Bengzon, an Atenean who finished medicine at the University of the Philippines, recalls speaking at his alma mater and saying that UP had become a staging area for doctors ‘tailor-made to be exported abroad.’”

Dr. Bengzon, ASMPH dean, denies having said that that “UP had become a staging area for doctors ‘tailor-made to be exported abroad.’”

I must state here that it caused him pain and embarrassment especially. UP is, in fact, helping ASMPH by providing the needed faculty. The Ateneo, UP and La Salle University systems have, among themselves, a memorandum of agreement on sharing of faculty.

UP itself has, in fact, created a medical curriculum that exposes their graduates to health problems in poor communities and the systemic and structural problems in society that affect people’s health.

After Dr. Bengzon and I had gone over what transpired at the three-hour-or-so conversation/interview some months ago where he talked about ASMPH, I agree that I had misquoted him and taken his statements out of context.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tempest in Tanon

“The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature. -Article II, Sec. 16 of the Philippine Constitution

I imagine the Lord of the Sea wading to shore wearing raiment of corals and sea grass and--flotsam surrendered by the sea. Thundering, roaring like the wind in a lost empty city, he seeks the despoilers of his ocean home and the home of gentle sea creatures that inhabit the earth and provide food for its inhabitants.

Where are they. He roars. Who are they, they who laid waste the ocean garden.

This scenario plays like a movie in my mind, it surges in my consciousness like the thoughts and images I had long ago while beholding, somewhere, the sea in its threatening beauty. And I imagine now the threatened Tanon Strait in the Visayan Sea as it waits to be visited by turbulence in the form of exploratory drilling for gas.

The sea is a-boil. A slow, symphonic movement takes a sudden turn and climaxes with a roll of drums and a clash of cymbals. The sea quakes to a crescendo, then hurls itself against the wind. Here before you is a concerto at its most tempestuous peak. Water breaking into a million crystalline pieces. It is pure music and fury. Salt melts in your eyes. Suddenly you are no longer afraid.

A battle royale is set to unfold if Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. (Japex) starts exploring for oil on Tanon Strait without having hearkened to protesting communities, scientists and environmental advocates who are asking that exploration be put on hold while the sea itself is to be explored to find out how much of it will live and how much will die.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Suicide has no heroes

The media frenzy, the blame game, the breast-beating, the outpouring of sympathy and the if-onlys that followed turned out to be more surreal than the suicide itself.

Everybody and everybody had something to say about 12-year-old Marianette Amper of Davao City, about her diary, her family’s poverty, her dreams and dashed hopes. And how she ended it all with a rope. So young and so despairing.

Someone’s got to take the blame--was the undying refrain, the knee-jerk reaction of many. And why not. Manette’s lot in life was indeed something for the yagit telenovelas and bleeding-heart movies that truly resonate with many Filipinos, both poor and not so poor.

But suicide, as psychotherapists would tell us, is not as simple as cause and effect or this equals that. Not everyone who goes through what Manette had gone through, not everyone whose life is more difficult that hers would want to end his or her life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Suicide and the blame game

The media frenzy, the blame game, the breast-beating, the outpouring of sympathy and the if-onlys that followed turned out to be more surreal than the suicide itself.

Everybody and everybody had something to say about 12-year-old Marianette Amper of Davao City, about her diary, her family’s poverty, her dreams and dashed hopes. And how she ended it all with a rope. So young and so despairing.

Someone’s got to take the blame--was the undying refrain, the knee-jerk reaction of many. And why not. Manette’s lot in life was indeed something for the yagit telenovelas and bleeding-heart movies that truly resonate with many Filipinos, both poor and not so poor.

But suicide, as psychotherapists would tell us, is not as simple as cause and effect or this equals that. Not everyone who goes through what Manette had gone through, not everyone whose life is more difficult that hers would want to end his or her life.

But why--is the question most people ask of the most unlikely suicides. While in the case of Manette, the most likely remark most people would say was, but why not. Or, but of course. She was poor, though not the poorest. But it is not as simple as that.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Rock and refuge: NPC then

It was our rock and refuge. It was our sanctuary during the dying days of martial rule. That was the National Press Club for us in the early 1980s. Many of us were greenhorns in journalism then, upstart freelancers from the so-called mosquito press (okay, alternative, and sometimes underground--and underwater if you were the “Ichthys” type) who made bold forays into the mainstream media and were continually at odds with the Marcos military. Hunted, surveilled, “invited”, manacled and thrown into jail.

Standing tall by the banks of the Pasig River was the NPC which was founded and built by the generation of journalists before ours, a good number of whom bore the brunt of military fury when the reign of terror began in 1972. The founders did not build the NPC in the 1950s for the purpose that served us in the 1980s. It was supposed to be a club, a watering hole for the old boys who wanted to unwind after a day’s work at the editorial office or on the beat. Not long after, the culturati and the literati also made it their haunt.

Vicente Manasala’s mural on lawanit in the dining hall gave it ambience. The mural (gone and sold I don’t know where) withstood the smoke, grime and slime from overbearing journalists who thought the masterpiece was their birthright.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

‘Dies irae, dies illa’

I remember our Benedictine school days when Nov. 1 and 2 were marked as special liturgical days. As college boarders (synonymous with brats), we would listen to the nuns singing the Latin “Dies irae, dies illa” at Mass on All Souls’ Day even when English was already the liturgical language of the day.

It was very neo-monastic and I would picture the square-ish Gregorian notes swimming in space while I tried to keep my thoughts from wandering. The organ roared and the voices soared, shaking the rafters of the neo-Romanesque, Germanic chapel which, I must say, is the only one of its kind in this country.

Yes, Gregorian was part of our music appreciation class (part of our expansive Liberal Arts education!) and we were taught how to read those funny notes on four lines and sing them right with the mouth correctly shaped. There was no beat or time, just rhyme and round-ish strokes in the air from the conductor. One was supposed to go with the swelling and the receding of the waves, the ebb and the flow of the sound of the spirit.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sumilao redux

On a clear day in Sumilao, Bukidnon, one could see Mount Kitanglad standing tall in the distance. Nestled between Mount Sayawan and Mount Palaopao, Sumilao is a valley and home to the Higaonon, an indigenous cultural community that lived there before the 1930s when settlers from distant places began to look upon Mindanao and the new frontier.

The Higaonon believed that Magbabaya the Almighty, gave this balaang yuta (sacred land) to their forefathers and foremothers. Because of the cool weather and the abundance of pine trees, the people described the place as “pine-tree-hon”.

The Higaonon’s ancestral land measured 243.8 hectares and served as their seat of government. Here, the Higaonon’s tribal council led by Apo Manuagay and Apo Mangganiahon ruled and led through the traditional paghusay and pamuhat.

In the 1930s, the Higaonons were forcibly evicted from the land which went from one landed non-Higaonon family to another. In the 1970s the ancestral land was divided between two landowners, the Carloses (99.8 ha.) and the Quisumbings (144 ha.). (If I remember right the dying Carlos patriarch had let go of his share in favor of the farmers.) The Quisumbings eventually leased the land to Del Monte Philippines for 10 years. The Higaonons became farm workers in the land they once owned.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

World Poverty Day is our day

We who are not on the extreme side of the economic divide, we who are fortunate to have a little more than the have-nots, but who have so much less than those who talk six to eight zeros in board rooms and golf courses, have no reason to feel that there is nothing important or impactful for us to do.

We are many, in fact, we are the majority, and we have the power. And I do not mean only on election day. If only we could bring forth that power. If only we knew how.

Yesterday was the United Nation’s official World Poverty Day. It was not a day to be celebrated, but rather, to be observed. It was a day to remind the world that a third of the human citizens of this planet—the “have-nots”—could be dying because of hunger, disease and disasters at this very moment because of the neglect, greed and ignorance of the few “haves” who have too much in their hands and those who have the power, might and numbers to change the order of things but don’t.

For the two billion people who live on less than $2 (or about P90) a day, every day is poverty day. Half of them live on less than $1 a day. The UN’s official day—they’ve never heard of it, for them it doesn’t matter when it is.

Seven years ago, in 2000, 189 nations committed themselves to cut that grim figure in half. Four years later in 2004, the figures still looked grim, swinging from hope to despair to hope.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

‘Go repair my house’

“Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which bear the imprint of the Most High, and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation, to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.” – from the Rule of Saint Francis

This column piece should have come out last week, when the feast of St. Francis, patron of the environment, was celebrated. But he could be everybody’s every-day saint and his teachings remain as relevant as when he walked this earth some 12 centuries ago.

St. Francis is often associated with sweet images of flowers, birds, trees and animals. Last week, pets in their furriest and scaliest glory were again paraded on the streets by their Filipino humans to proclaim the saint’s love for God’s creatures.

Many sang paeans to Brother Sun and Sister Moon, to peace and kinship, to earth’s beauty and everything that dwells therein. As if all these come naturally these days.

No, they no longer do. There is now a price to pay to enjoy a smog-free landscape, the good smell of moist earth, the clean wind on one’s face, safe water to drink, natural unadulterated food, the virgin wilderness, hillsides that don’t threaten to cascade on one’s home.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Apo Reef now a ‘no-take zone’

Today is the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment and there is great news for Apo Reef, the world’s second largest and known as the jewel and pride of Mindoro. The reef is second in size to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Oct. 2 marked the total ban on fishing in Apo Reef. This is to ensure that the reef and the residents who live in the area could recover from the effects of overfishing and exploitation for nearly 30 years. No less than the World Wildlife Fund made this announcement.

This decision was not reached overnight. Negotiations went on for years. And now Apo Reef will be open only for tourism. Well, the question now is, where will the fishermen who depend on Apo Reef for their livelihood go next?

According to WWF, one in 10 fishermen is opposed to the park’s closure but the local government is installing alternative ways. WWF says that giant fish aggregation devices, locally called payaw, have been installed a few kilometres from the coast. Eight have been installed and 10 more will be in place later.

The payaw is a crude but effective device. It is composed of a buoy, a counterweight and 10 to 15 coconut fronts. The algae growth on the decomposing fronds attracts herbivores such as surgeon and rabbitfish that can draw in larger predators. A single payaw can yield at least 15 kilos of good fish per boat. Tambakol, tulingan, galunggong and even yellowfin tuna can be part of the catch.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hospices for the poor, piglets for women

How exciting and challenging it is to work among the young, the promising, the poor who are strong and who could claim a future. How wonderful it is to count the successes.

But how noble it is to work among the forgotten and the least, among those who do not matter even to their own next of kin. They have no wealth to give back, except a smile and a thank you, and a lesson or two on how to love.

I have just read about an Asia-Pacific Conference on hospice care that is starting today here in Manila. The Philippines must now be on the map of hospice care.

The Philippines is now known as a training ground for caregiving and a source of health workers for the world—in both the domestic setting and institutions such as hospitals, hospices and nursing homes.

Professional caregiving in the domestic setting is commonly associated with overseas work or with the rich who could afford to hire caregivers. This chore used to be part of the household chore of yayas and houseboys, but now, one could hire trained ones who want to earn while waiting for overseas employment.

In the past, the word hospice conjured up images of old, sick, poor, unwanted and abandoned people with nowhere to go and left in homes such as the ones founded by Mother Teresa. Or of rich elderly folk entrusted by their next of kin in the hands of church-run institutions where they could be cared for and live comfortably until they die.

Until recently, the word hospice was not commonly mentioned in the Philippines and the one most people knew was the Hospicio de San Jose run by nuns near the Malacanang area and which, if I am not mistaken, dates back to the Spanish era.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

SOS call from a seaman

If I were to put together the feature stories I had written about overseas Filipino workers (OFW) they could probably fill one small volume. Come to think of it, I probably should put them between covers. They’re part of our history as a people in search of the land of milk and honey.

One story was about a domestic helper who stabbed dead the Saudi princess she worked for and who maltreated her for so long. The stabbing happened while the DH and her mistress were on a holiday in Cairo. The maid’s tearful letters to home (the last from the Cairo Hilton were they were staying) intimated that something was bound to happen. I was able to get hold of a photocopy of the bloodstained letter to her family which a Filipino consul found on the crime scene.

Another story was about someone who worked for Saudi royalty and who regaled me with her version of a “Thousand and One Nights” and photos of her wards, the desert picnics, the opulence that surrounded her.

And more. Stories told by OFWs (with photos to show, too) of their 1990 exodus across the desert when the Gulf War began. “Tomboy love” among lonely maids in Hong Kong. Husbands left behind to care for the children while their wives toiled abroad, kids left in the care of relatives and how they coped. Non-government organizations helping families of OFWs through savings and livelihood.

And how could one forget the Filipinos working in a Mediterranean luxury cruise ship as chefs, cooks, top-notch engineers, musicians, food and drink servers, spa attendants. They were proudly Pinoy and the best of the lot on the ocean blue, and so obliging to serve up sinigang and adobo even on formal dinner nights. Ah, but ever pining for the day they would be home.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sing, ‘fiat justitia ruat coelum’

Indeed, one can say, “nessun dorma”. No one sleeps as this benighted country awaits the rising of the sun and the day of judgment of former president Joseph Estrada.

In Puccini’s last opera “Turandot”, no one sleeps as Calaf, the “Unknown Prince”, waits for Princess Turandot’s life-and-death answer to a riddle. Calaf’s fate hangs in the balance.

I am starting to write this piece on the eve of the Sandiganbayan’s judgment on Estrada, accused of plunder and several other crimes. I continue writing tomorrow (yesterday, that is) after either his conviction or acquittal.(Now, as I continue writing, he is being judged guilty of plunder, but not of perjury, and is being sentenced to reclusion perpetua or 40 years. It takes less than 30 minutes to read it all to him.)

Out of the window goes the piece I had intended to write. That is, my two cents on the great tenor of our time Luciano Pavarotti whose death last week was mourned by music lovers worldwide. I soaked the world’s grief and mine in his music in the past days, deriving comfort from the sacred arias, to the flirtatious and “brindisi” ones, to even the Hollywoodish “Yes, Giorgio”; from his vintage 1965 recording to his recent crossovers from opera to pop.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

In the dying light in a pauper’s eyes

MANILA, Philippines -- The absent one. This was how Mother Teresa referred to that absence that she felt in her life during her 50-year dark night of the soul.

Where was the beloved, the one for whom she poured out the substance of her life, the one supposed to give meaning and purpose to her selfless daring to love the world’s most abandoned?

Mother Teresa’s own revelations, kept and hidden even after her death 10 years ago, and made public just recently in a book (“Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” edited by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk), are now the subject of scrutiny and speculation, even of awe. It is Time magazine’s cover story this week.

But this happens to those who tread that mystical twilight zone reserved for the highly spiritually evolved among us. It is a price they have to pay. They have been privileged to experience the divine so intensely and intimately. And when the peak experiences that have led these chosen ones to do daring acts of love, when the ecstasy and consolation are withdrawn, when from lush orchards they are led to deserts, barren and desolate, there is no balm for the pain. Worse, there can be neither feeling nor non-feeling. Just a yawning absence.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Heroes on my mind

Like the Tina Turner screamed, “We don’t need another heee-ro.” Not another dead one anyway.

But this month is for heroes, both the dead and the undead. And so we, the undead, had another round of the so-called “holiday economics” weekend. The newly dead are having their day, they are coming at us, hogging the headlines. Their message—“It is the soldier…” Their flag-draped coffins are continuously being marched before our eyes in very cinematic ways.

I play “Taps” on my mind and salute you all.

Strangely photogenic indeed are scenes of the heroic dead being brought to their resting places. Mourning becomes electric, as they say. The movies have unforgettable images of these. But even more awesome are the real-life scenes—choreographed procession, funeral dirge, riderless horse and all. But in the past millennium only one was Ghandi-an and only one was Ninoy-esque in scale and grandeur.

Terrifying are the funeral marches that cry to the heavens for vengeance, with protestors flailing the corpses of their heroes in a sea of grieving, raging humanity.

And heart-breaking are the ones held almost in secrecy or attended only by a few. Like Jesus’. Like the one of our lively guide in the wilderness where we spoke and broke bread with rebels and slept with armed women in a hut bristling with hand grenades and other deadly weapons. (That was many years ago, okay?) Soldiers caught up with his band, one day, and he took in the bullets so his comrades could slip away. A little candle in a darkened room was all he had, and a sister weeping, pointing to the rope marks on her brother’s neck.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

MDG mid-term review: Missing the target

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

The Philippines is “off the track”, it’s too soon to celebrate and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

2007 is midway the 15-year-long process of achieving the so-called MDGs targeted by the United Nations but the Philippines is still way off the expected results.

Social Watch Philippines gathered civil society groups last Aug. 15 and 16 to do a mid-term review of the MDGs and came up with conclusions and suggestions.

Among them: Government is “missing and messing up the MDG targets” and citizens should therefore help monitor government performance and push for an alternative budget for the MDGs.

The Philippines is one of 189 countries that signed in 2000 the Millennium Declaration and covenant to attain the MDGs by 2015. The MDGs refer to the eight goals and 18 targets that the international community committed to attain in 15 years.

The eight goals are 1)eradicate extreme poverty and hunger 2)achieve universal primary education, 3) promote gender equality, 4) reduce child mortality, 5) improve maternal health, 6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, 7) ensure environmental sustainability, and 8) develop a global partnership for development.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

‘Getting Home’ and going the extra mile

As a gesture of support for the film industry of this world, I told myself I will watch at least one film shown at the 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival (still going on, by the way) which has the presence of no less than US director Quentin Tarantino. The guy’s name is splashed on big banners at the Gateway Mall in Araneta Center, the festival’s venue.

I watched the Chinese film “Getting Home”, a “gently philosophical road comedy”, directed by Zhang Yang because the synopsis promised something so out of the ordinary. Also because I had watched a couple of really good Chinese ones in the past, among them, the award-winning “Not One Less” (starring rural school children as themselves) and the heart-breaking “Xiu-Xiu, The Sent-Down Girl”. These are minimalist films, if I may call them that, and do not belong to the “Crouching Tiger” genre that has elaborate sets, movements and plots.

I was not disappointed. When it was over I walked out of the theater with a smile on my face and a little tear in my eye. And “Getting Home” was supposed to be a comedy. You know, like “Ang Tatay Kong Nanay” (Dolphy and Nino Muhlach) is comedy but brings on the tears in the end. Because it is about human relationships.

Who’d ever think of making a film about a wandering corpse? Hold your horror, “Getting Home” isn’t a horror movie. It is about friendship and loyalty beyond death. Like, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways”. Countless indeed are the ways a friend would think of to prove his loyalty to a friend who died far away from home and in not so honorable a manner.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Rainy day thoughts

The falling of rain was front page news two days ago. For too long the parched metropolis and the rain-starved countryside had waited for the sky to open and wash clean the grime and slime of the oppressive (election) summer and renew life in faraway towns and farms.

While some parts of Asia were swirling in mud and excess rain water that caused thousands to perish, we in the Philippines had to resort to cloud-seeding, oratio imperata and threats of water rationing in order to avert a water crisis.

And then the rain poured.

Though farmers had to suffer losses because of the rain’s delay, there is still a lot to be thankful for, among them, lessons, lessons, lessons. And plans to address similar crises in the future.

But weren’t such plans made years ago when the El Nino-La Nina crises were playing out in our lives? What happened to those pond-like rain reservoirs and other water preservation methods for farmers to put in place?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Chinese RM awardees unlike China’s me-generation

One of this year’s seven Ramon Magsaysay awardees, China’s Chen Guangcheng who is blind, will not be able to come. He is in prison. Three of the seven RM awardees are from China.

This week’s Time magazine’s cover story is about China’s burgeoning young adults (under age 30) numbering about 300 million. Unflatteringly called the “me-generation”, they are post-Mao, post-cultural revolution babies born in the era of Deng and his successors. They woke up to the hum of a rapidly growing economy, made their first steps inside a bubble that radiated a sheen their parents never knew when they were that age.

Now these 20-sometings are taking over and living it up. Although their lives are still within the confines of a communist state, this so-called me-generation couldn’t care less. They have what they want, they enjoy the myriad pleasures and satisfaction the economy they work for could offer, so why rock the boat?

The hunger for democracy, the lack of it in China—that the world frowns on—is not going to hamper their lifestyle. The rural countryside and the poverty that still stalk millions who toil under deplorable conditions—these are not in their list of priorities.

That’s what the Time cover story tried to portray. As a 27-year-old advertising company owner said: “We are more self-centered. We live for ourselves, and that’s good. We contribute to the economy. That’s our power.”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A clean, well-lighted place

On June 30, 1992—that was 15 years ago—just before the new president, Fidel Ramos, was going to be sworn in, I was somewhere in Santa Cruz, waiting for our photographer. I was in a rush to finish an assignment so I could be home to watch the swearing in on TV.

I was doing a magazine story and I forget now what it was. But what turned out to be unforgettable was my encounter with a family of soon-to-be-seven that lived in two pushcarts. The mother’s name was Evangelina Gamutan. She was 34 but looked 54. She was ngo-ngo (with a cleft palate) and was heavy with her fifth child. Her children were aged 3 to 13. The eldest looked like she was six and had only been to Grade One. Her husband scavenged for used bottles and sometimes begged for alms.

If Angelina is still alive now she should be 49 by now and with, maybe, 10 children. When I asked her then where she was going to give birth she answered, “Ung a-an abu-in.” Kung saan abutin or wherever.

Soon they were going to be seven in all. The two wooden carts would have become too small for the growing brood. I was struck by the things Evangelina had in her mobile home. She had a dish rack, a rusty thermos bottle, a dirty teddy bear, a broom…Just like what you’d find in any home. You bet she didn’t know there was a new guy up there and newly sworn-in lawmakers and government officials as well.

This scene was swimming in my head while watching Pres. Arroyo deliver her seventh State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday. I noted down a pair of words she emphasized—dunong at kalusugan. Knowledge and health as keys to a person’s becoming and one of the basic driving forces of a community’s progress. For how to move forward if one was not equipped with the mental know-how and did not have the physical strength to do what needs to be done?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

World Day of Justice

Last Tuesday, July 17, was World Day of Justice. The day marked a milestone in the history of international law and international justice. Nine years ago in 1998, 120 states attending the Plenipotentiary Conference in Rome adopted the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As of today, 139 states have signed and 105 have ratified.

It should be noted that while celebrations were taking place all over the world, here in the Philippines a summit on extrajudicial killings attended by stakeholders from civil society, the government and the church, as well as legal experts and individuals in search for justice, was taking place.

Here are some pertinent facts about the ICC. The ICC is the first permanent international judicial body capable of trying individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so.

The ICC represents one of the significant opportunities for the world to prevent or significantly reduce the deaths and devastation that result from conflicts. The Rome Statute of the ICC came into force on July 1, 2002 and since then, much has been achieved in the establishment of the court. Located at the Hague in the Netherlands, the court is now a fully-functional institution. The senior court officials are now seated in place and are proceeding with formal investigations.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Remembering Lean

The youth of this generation ought to have and ought to know someone like him, someone so passionate and dedicated to a vision and a cause. And yet so endearingly likeable. Ask his friends and comrades.

He was the quintessential student or youth activist. Leandro “Lean” Alejandro was all of 27 when he was killed in a hail of bullets 20 years ago. He was emerging from his organization’s office when the forces of evil swooped down on him and gunned him down. The predators had caught up with their prey and would turn him into mincemeat. What they did not know was that the spirit of this young man would live on and beyond, while the rot in his attackers’ murderous souls would continue to fester as long as they lived.

To quote writer Jo-Anne Q. Maglipon who made a moving testimony at Lean’s 47th birthday: “Someone else like Lean had to take more.” Lean is now beyond it all, and yet his example remains within reach. Will someone like him again emerge on the horizon?

Two nights ago, Lean’s friends from a wide spectrum, mainly political activists of all shapes, sizes, stripes, colors, ages and advocacies gathered to celebrate his life and also their own. “Gabi ni Lean: Isang Pag-alaala” was a night of remembering. Words, music, food and drinks flowed at the PETA theater in Quezon City. There was much laughter, and sometimes tears, as people recalled the life and times of Lean through live and video testimonies. This was to again connect to this young man who lived intensely, bravely and romantically.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

57 blood-red years

Showbiz celebrity brats like Paris Hilton and other wannabes out there have a lot to learn from this great woman.

Long before she became a movie icon and had her name on the firmament of genuine stars Rosal Rosal (Florence Danon) had already begun to have a life outside of the glitzy world of showbiz.

“I was in this world but not of this world,” she likes to say. It’s a biblical phrase she often quotes to stress that the movie persona she was known for was not what she was in real life. Of course, people know that by now.

This year, Rosal Rosal marks 57 years of service to the Philippine National Red Cross’ (PNRC) Blood Program. It’s been close to six blood-red decades since she started to lend her time, talent and treasure to an endeavor few celebrities like her have embraced. Indeed, blood is thicker than the sweat and tears she had shed to get the work done.

At 16 going on 17 Rosal found herself in the world of movies. Her Eurasian looks landed her strong character roles, vixen roles among them, when she was younger. That was also about the time that she got drawn to charity work and to the work of the Red Cross.

It all started with a little boy who lay sick and unconscious in the Philippine General Hospital. Rosal chanced upon him and his distraught mother during one of her hospital visits. She did all she could to help, she looked for blood and medicines for him. Her efforts paid off. “When he opened his eyes,” Rosal remembers with tears, “his first word was, ‘Nanay.’”

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The way of ‘he’ in Nanjing

Nanjing, China—“O God, with a thousand names…” I could have invoked.

What is striking about this picture? Close to 200 eminent persons belonging to and professing different religious faiths, as well as eminent persons not professing any faith, gathered together at the 3rd Asia-Europe Interfaith Dialogue in Nanjing, China. (Two previous ones had been held in Bali and Larnaca.)

They came from 39 Asian and European countries. Diplomats and government officials outnumbered the religious leaders and civil society representatives. The majority (124 of 158 official delegates, or 78.5 percent) were men.

During the three days that they were gathered, no prayers were said, no chants were heard, no outward display of religiosity was seen. There were no common rituals (usually musts in multi-religious, multi-cultural gatherings I have attended in the past).

I must note that, in contrast, Filipinos (the women especially) are big on rituals when it comes to ecumenical faith gatherings no matter how tense and serious these are. In the Philippines we usually start off with priests, imams, pastors, nuns and lay leaders leading the opening prayers. Especially in so-called interfaith dialogues.

There was none of the above in this in Nanjing. That’s what struck me. Those are externals (internal?), you might say. Well, I thought prayer—communal and personal—was basic to all faiths, a wellspring from which understanding, peace and goodwill could flow forth. For prayer is the language of the heart. In Nanjing the language was diplomatese.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

‘Trauma, interrupted’: Naming the pain

What can art do in the face of global suffering? Can artists interrupt the trauma or do they intensify the pain when they step into it and try to do something to ease it?

These are some of the questions posed by women artists in the art exhibit “Trauma, interrupted” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (June 14–July 29).

The art works in different media are the 18 artists’ expression of their deep emotions (rage, shame, hope, peace) and resolve that have arisen from pain and trauma they’ve had to deal with—their very own or the collective pain and trauma of the women they have encountered.

The exhibit explores the links between trauma, art and healing. The art works, curator Dr. May Datuin said, challenge us to come to terms with a range of traumas, including those resulting from conflict situations, natural disasters, human rights violations, mental and physical afflictions.

The exhibit is dedicated to the memory of Tomasa Salinog or Lola Masing of Antique whom Japanese soldiers turned into a “comfort woman” during World War II. She died last April 6 at the age of 78. The exhibit also honors the more than 50 Filipino comfort women (the Malaya Lolas) and many Asian women who had come forward to speak about their ordeal and demand recognition and apologies from the Japanese government. (So far, no apologies. Most former comfort women have refused to accept funds from Japanese donors.)

It is also dedicated to women from all walks of life, women who have been wounded emotionally, spiritually, physically, and who seek to become whole again.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The power of “The Ninth”

Pacifists, fascists, religious, communists, Nazis, romantics, tyrants, humanists, revolutionaries, despots, freedom fighters. What do they have in common? They have felt inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, particularly its fourth and last movement known as “Ode to Joy.”

What is it about “Ode to Joy” that movements and leaders who hold divergent beliefs and ideologies have claimed it to be the anthem that embodies their quest?

Last week the German Cultural Center held another screening of “Tne Ninth”, the award-winning documentary by Pierre-Henry Salfati. This was part of the long-running celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome which created the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the present 27-member European Union. “Ode to Joy” is the EU’s anthem, by the way. It was re-arranged for the EU by Herbert von Karajan.

It’s a familiar tune, only many don’t know that it is from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor’s last movement, which ends with a rousing orchestral and choral climax that could set you aflame. Beethoven’s inspiration for the finale was Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode on die Freude”.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The grace of remembering

Last week’s column (“Disappeared”) which was about remembering those who vanished in the night, and where I used excerpts from an article (“The Missing and Dead and those who Survive to Tell the Story.”) that I wrote in the 1980s elicited some heart-tugging feedback. One of them was from poet Grace Monte de Ramos who had been moved many years ago by that feature story that came out in the Mr.& Ms. Special edition (the “subversive” edition edited by the present Inquirer editor in chief) and was “provoked” to write a poem.

For Grace, last week’s column piece again released a stream of memories.

I seldom use readers’ letters and the ensuing exchange of thoughts (via e-mail) in this column but maybe this one with Grace would resonate with those who believe that we should not totally leave the past behind.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Today, in observance of the International Week of the Disappeared, a gathering of human rights advocates, relatives and friends of desaparecidos (Spanish for disappeared) will take place at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. Commemoration rites will be held at 5 p.m. at the new Salonga Building’s Yuchengco Auditorium.

If you have not been to that hallowed place, then go some time. It is at the corner of EDSA and Quezon Ave. You can’t miss the Castrillo bronze landmark, a soaring monument of a mother lifting up her fallen son from the ground. Quietly explore the place, light candles and run your fingers on the names of contemporary heroes and martyrs etched on black granite. (The desaparecidos as a group have their own Bantayog in the Baclaran Church grounds.)

Today is also the 30th anniversary of the disappearance of lawyer and activist Hermon C. Lagman. He is one of the many activists who disappeared and believed to have been summarily executed during the dark years of martial rule. The Lagman family and the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) are the organizers of today’s affair.

The search never ends even as new names are added to the list today, an era supposed to be far removed from those terrifying Marcos-dominated years. But dark forces continue to stalk the land, defying laws and values that are meant to put in place justice and humanity in this country.

We have not really put the past behind. The mourning continues. Sadly, politically and ideologically motivated abduction and disappearances have become part of our culture. And no one side has the monopoly of victimhood or of glaring impunity.

Numbers are cold. Behind the numbers are names. Behind the names on the list are real persons. They had lives, they have families, friends and communities that grieve for them and have become diminished because of their disappearance.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Where have the piano makers gone?

Where have all the piano makers gone? Gone with globalization every one.

That’s my take on the vanished piano-making industry in the Philippines. Almost gone too are the craftsmen and artisans who built these great musical instruments that had brought music and liveliness to Philippine homes and concert halls.

But not entirely. Australia-based Filipino visual artist Alwin Reamillo, who comes from a family of piano makers, is back, trying to prove that the music from Philippine-made pianos need not die. Not if the few remaining piano builders could be brought back to old abandoned workshops, and with their hands (some gnarled because of tricycle driving), pick up the scattered pieces, strings, ivory keys, metal scraps and all, and put them together.

This is what Reamillo’s art exhibit “Mang Emo+Mag-himo Grand Piano Project” is doing. This exhibit is not Reamillo’s alone. Collaborating with him are piano craftsmen Jaime Pastorfide, Sabas Rabino Jr. and Tranquilino Tosio Jr., all from the Reamillo family’s closed-down piano factory that produced the Wittemberg pianos.

The exhibit’s catchy name comes from the nickname of Reamillo’s father Decimo, who was fondly called Mang Emo. “Mag-himo” is Visayan for “to make”. Mang Emo, Reamillo says, learned the rudiments of piano making by working for a piano company. Later, with his trained craftsmen, and with his brother and nephew as partners, he built a company that began with piano repair and restoration. They later went into fine pianos, some of which are in the Philamlife Auditorium, Miriam College and the Benedictine Sisters in Leyte.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A teacher, a sheltering tree

It was hard keeping track of the body count or the exact number of casualties during the campaign period and the election day itself. The Inquirer put at 147 the death toll since the election campaign began on Jan. 14, the Philippine National Police total is 143.

I know the number stands for individual lives with faces and names, and with a network of families, friends and colleagues grieving for them. But sometimes the tally and the list of names just seem to numb feelings because they are just numbers to those of us who do not know the victims personally. This is not to say they do not matter.

One case suddenly stood out of the rest though. It was the death of a teacher. She died with a poll watcher, their bodies found in a toilet where they had taken refuge after gunmen wearing bonnets set the school house ablaze.

Why should a teacher die this way?

The name of the high school teacher is Nellie Banaag and the local poll watcher is Leticia Ramos. Their names happen to be familiar Filipino names. They are Everyteacher, Everypollwatcher. Banaag is a common family name in Batangas and there must be thousands of Leticia Ramoses in the Philippines, two former diplomats among them.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lola Masing, comfort woman

Tomasa Dioso Salinog of San Jose, Antique, one of the many World War II so-called comfort women in Asia who suffered sexual abuse under the Japanese Imperial Army, died of multiple organ failure last April 6. She was 78.

I met Lola Masing at the International Military War Crimes Tribunal held in Tokyo in 2000. Lola Masing led a dozen former comfort women from Philippines and joined dozens from several Asian countries (China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, South Korea, among them) who bravely testified. A Dutch woman victim and a contrite former Japanese soldier also told their stories.

I remember that gathering to be a heart-rending occasion. Aging women went up the stage to testify, sometimes weeping, fainting, while old footage, photos and documents on the atrocities were being flashed to serve as backdrop. Some women from China who managed to attend were victims of the infamous “Rape of Nanking”, a well documented historical tragedy.

Lola Masing was only 13 in 1942 when Japanese soldiers broke into their house and took her away. The soldiers beheaded her father when he tried to save his only daughter.

“For two years,” Lola Masing narrated in her March 2007 letter to Japanese Prime Minister ABe, “I was kept as a slave to be raped and abused by Japanese soldiers. They took away the only member of my family. Alone, in abject poverty and with no one to take care of me, I could not go back to school and had to work in order to survive. The war and sexual slavery had destroyed my life and my future…

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Under siege on World Press Freedom Day

It’s World Press Freedom Day today and the son of one of the country’s media icons is missing. Abduction is the most likely reason for the disappearance of Jonas “Jay Jay” Burgos who was reportedly seen being taken away by unidentified men at a mall. Who were they? Where have they taken him? Why?

I hope this column becomes stupid reading because Jason was found alive while I am writing this (yesterday). But this is not the case right now while I am emailing this to the Inquirer close to deadline time.

I’ve never used the press releases of those running for office but re-electionist Sen. Ralph Recto sent something well said, he could very well have said it for us, the members of the media (this is not a plug and I have not yet decided whether I will vote for him):

“The country owes the Burgos family a great deal of gratitude for the freedom it enjoys today (and) it should repay their valor by finding a missing kin. We cannot let the son of a great man who helped give us back our democracy be a victim of undemocratic methods his father strongly raged against. During dangerous times his father did not disappear for teaching us about freedom so why should his son go missing for simply teaching some folks about farming in these supposedly normal times?”

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Quach and the power of music

Most everyone has an extreme fantasy. I have mine. By extreme I mean something that is beyond my present circumstances to fulfill or work at. It is not a dark frustration, but rather a thing to happily indulge in once in a while. Something magical brings it on. It is music.

My sweet indulgence is imagining myself conducting a symphony orchestra or playing as a concert pianist. I never imagine myself a car racer or ramp model. The concert or movie in my mind rolls when I hear great symphonic music swell and every inch of space around me is awash in it.

I raise my hand and do a Stokowski, pretend to stoke the music and make it come to life, make it rise and swell and ebb and flow. No, I don’t do this in public. Grand finales could make for good arm exercise and the sound of a lonely oboe rising above the whispers of violins could get me to the ceiling.

It is not the fame or the fortune attached to this occupation that makes my imagination and juices go wild. It is imagining the power, yes, the power, to have awesome music flowing from one’s hand or finger tips. Like, oh, my, God.

I can read and play music. And having been exposed to the classics during my Benedictine-German-style schooling at St. Scholastica’s College, I am not alien to Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. And I also know great music does not simply flow from the hand. It entails practice, practice, practice. And undeserved God-given musical talent.

A rich imagination is what I have. So what brought on my wild imaginings?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

“Whether through wounds, capture or shipwreck”

My feature story on the Philippine National Red Cross’ 60th year that came out last Monday did not have its accompanying sidebar because of space constraints. It was Manny Pacquiao day, you see, and with his new triumph, the boxing champ made good “blaze of glory” promise that would momentarily dazzle the nation.

Not that we are wanting in inspirational blazes and sparks nowadays. There are many out there, emanating from the lives of unknown, unsung and unseen heroes. Many of these are Red Cross volunteers who have put their lives on the line in order to help and save others.

I have many interesting reading materials on the Red Cross’ work in the Philippines and around the world but I have yet to see or read one that is exclusively on the human drama many Red Cross volunteers have been part of. I wish stories on this would be compiled and published to inspire the young. Something like the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation’s “Great Men and Women of Asia” books that feature the lives and times of special individuals who made an impact on communities. The light they had created had turned into a blaze that stunned the darkness.

I have the thick history of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) as well as a beautiful coffee-table that tells the Red Cross story through vintage images and essays, from its beginnings before the American occupation up to the recent years. I also have the must-read “Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949” which every journalist who goes into a war zone should first read. I’ve had my old copy for many years. I got a new one recently.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fish be with you

Happy Easter!

Are they poor because they are fishers? Or are they fishers because they are poor? These questions of causality sum up the concerns of international fish experts—scientists, academics, government and NGO workers—who were in conference two days ago.

Easter week opened with fish and the poor on top of the agenda of the International Conference on Fisheries and Poverty. The discussions on the theme “Poverty Reduction Through Sustainable Fisheries” zeroed in on emerging policy and governance issues in Southeast Asia.

With the glow of Eastertide still washing over the land, I couldn’t help thinking that the first Pope was a fisherman. Fish—ichthys—was a sign used by the early Christians. May I digress by saying that I remember “Ichthys”, the weekly militant (okay, subversive) underground church publication that I was involved in during the martial law years. The Marcos military never found the catacomb where “Ichthys” was coming from.
Fish has been a staple since the dawn of time. Fish signs and symbols are very much a part of civilizations, and fishing a way of life for many people all over the world. So important is this human activity that it is even romanticized in literary works.

Today, the planet’s bodies of water cannot simply be left on their own to naturally grow all the fish we need the way they did in the days of yore. Feeding the planet and its present inhabitants means finding ways to increase food yield.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Stunned by God’s fierce, passionate love

Philippine Daily Inquirer/FEATURE/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
MANILA, Philippines -- “GOD IS A FIERCE LOVER who will never let go,” says popular Catholic lay preacher Bo Sanchez of his experience.

“Being in love with God is capturing and being seized by God’s eros—God is in love with us,” says Fr. Percy Bacani of the Missionaries of Jesus.

During the seasons of Lent and Easter “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son…” will be an oft-quoted line from the Bible. If the Holy Book has not driven this home strongly enough for today’s distracted, multi-tasking faithful, Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” at least tried to do the job.
But faith and intimacy with God are not nurtured in the movies. God offers His love to individual persons in a more real way. Real not reel. Stronger than the human heart could feel or the mind could intuit. For, as the Bible reminds, God loved us first. And continues to do so in season and out of season.
This holy season, a special few, the called and the chosen, spoke to the Inquirer about God’s eros at work, “God loving with eros” or with a passion that consumes and makes the beloved “like the deer that panteth for flowing streams.”

Carmelite contemplative nun Sr. Teresa Joseph Patrick of Jesus and Mary (aka Josefina Constantino, writer and former professor) describes it thus: “It is an unquenchable thirst. Yet too, in the stillness, in the repose of the abyss where He dwells, finding rest in His embrace…” Sister Teresa, 87, has been a nun for 33 years. She joined Carmel in Gilmore, Quezon City, in 1974 when she was 54.

It is real, it is personal; it is felt in the body, in the soul. The touched, the called, the chosen—many are able to articulate the real-ness of God’s love and presence and, as in all relationships, even God’s sometimes seeming absence in the divine romance.

A love affair with God, falling in love with God and staying in love, seeking out the divine and being consumed by the longing is a love plot that has played itself out in the lives of special individuals in different contexts throughout history and in this present time.

Words fail in describing this divine love play and often gets stuck in human comparisons. A 10th-century Hindu mystic pleads to her Lord, “Make of my body the beam of a lute … Clutch me close and play your thirty-two songs, O lord of the meeting rivers.” The psalmist waxes, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your torrents.”

For some, it was a slow but steady wooing, for others, it was a swift and sudden leap to God’s overpowering call and pull and then responding with a love so human, so clumsy. The experience could be initially draining as the uninitiated soul gets inexorably drawn toward an incomprehensible force.

Eros and agapé

Sister Marie (who wishes to remain anonymous) of Carmel in Lipa City gives a glimpse of her love affair with God: “Many a time, God made me experience His love in a very human way since I am a creature of flesh and blood. As Richard Hardy, a doctor of theology, said in a conference on St. John of the Cross, God loves us with an erotic love, with passion. In God, eros and agapé become one. How true! So I experience God’s love not only in the mind, not only in the spirit, but as passion.”

Sister Mary has had her “dark nights” when God seemed to be lost. “God hiding so that I might search for Him with greater longing, then God manifesting Himself as pure delight. No wonder the saints speak of marriage in the mystical life.”

As an Indian mystic had written, “You hide, lest I seek and find. Give me a clue, O lord, white as jasmine, to your hiding places.”

Grace upon grace
Sr. Victricia Pascasio, a Holy Spirit sister felt God’s generous love and faithfulness when she was in college. She was a student leader at that time. “That day was crystal clear to me. God had been so faithful, so generous. The whole of me for a lifetime was the only fitting gift I could offer.” Looking back Sister Victricia says that was God’s way and “initiative” to draw her to Himself. “Many years later,” she reflects, “I could only say, how foolish of me to feel so generous toward God when it had been God who was most generous and faithful. Since then, it has been grace upon grace upon grace.”

A religious missionary for 47 years now, Sister Victricia, is involved in her congregation’s socio-pastoral apostolates in the Philippines and is immersed in the issues affecting indigenous communities. She sees her work “as Christ’s, not mine.”

Into an inner clearing
“How can I really thank you?” Sr. Edith Olaguer, a Good Shepherd contemplative sister, recalls asking God in prayer. She was in college then. “Hundreds of images flit through my mind. They left in their wake a clearing so empty, so still, I was jerked clean of all thoughts. Then I do not know how to explain it because I heard no voice, saw nothing, was not thinking but I simply understood.” God was drawing, wooing her. She would be brought to that “inner clearing” again and again and there would say her “Yes.”

The 2004 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for emergent leadership, Ben Abadiano, was about to get married when the religious call made itself heard. He had reached a crossroad.

“How could I offer my life,” Ben asked God. He had, at that time, already worked among indigenous peoples (IP) for almost a decade. He wanted to give more. “While thinking of that I was shedding tears of joy. I felt as if grace was raining down on me.” It was a watershed moment.

He joined the Jesuit novitiate and stayed on for four years, did studies in philosophy at the Ateneo, even pronounced his vows as a Jesuit. Ordination to the priesthood was still far down the road.

But God beckoned yet again and lured him back to his first love—the IP. Ben left the Jesuits in 1997 for a new path. He had nothing with him except dreams and a song in his heart. And the memory of that watershed God experience long ago.

As a wise French nun once told an enamored young seeker: “You must hold on to the memory of that moment. Many, many years from now, no matter where you will be, you will need that to give you strength to go on, to convince yourself that God’s love call was real.”

Stunned, embraced, gripped
Bo Sanchez says: “I believe that the first step of the Christian life is not to work, to do, to strive or even to love—but to first be loved. I have to first be stunned, moved, embraced, gripped by God’s passionate love. And when my soul is overwhelmed, yes, overpowered by God’s generosity, I cannot help but love the Lover with my all. Many times I left God, but God kept waiting for my return. God is a fierce lover that will never let go.”

God chases, like Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven,” and the object of this fierce love flees. “I fled him, down the nights and down the days, I fled him … Down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind…”

Sister Marie remembers how she fled. “I just plugged my ears, hoping that God would call someone else. At about that time, I fell in love with a man of great simplicity and integrity, and I thought then that I was destined for married life. At a certain point though, I realized the immensity of God’s love for me, and it was so overwhelming that I felt that love could only be repaid by love. Only a total surrender of myself could match the greatness of that love. I heard a clear voice within me, a voice so clear there was no use denying it.” To Carmel she went.

There are peaks and valleys, moments of consolation as well as desolation, bright mornings and dark nights of the soul. Great saints had their share of triumphs and turbulence, agonies and ecstasies.

Their written works about their love affair with God leave ordinary mortals in awe. It could be so saccharine like Therese of Lisieux’s, or earthy and forest-green like Francis of Assisi’s. Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain” is a classic. Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali” (song offerings to God) endures, rivaling in passion and depth the Bible’s “Song of Songs” that drips divine eros.

“Passion for God is not fear-based and is not sacrifice-driven,” Father Percy speaks from experience. “It is being filled with the superabundance of God’s love and the only response is gratitude. I become mindful of the ordinariness and the giftedness of everything. This is my mid-life discovery in my God-quest. Being in love with God is capturing and being seized by God’s eros-God is in love with us. St. Augustine says it better: God is closer to our hearts than we to our own.”

God’s face in every star
Sr. Mary Edith has glimpsed that too. “I had been given a glimpse of how good God is. This hollowed in me a cavernous thirst that has never been quenched. And so I hold fast to the dream that one day, I will be allowed, even while on this earth, to see God’s face in every star, in every human face and in every quivering tear. I want to know in my heart that I belong to everyone and everything, and that everything and everyone is part of me. When others suffer, when one is disgraced, it is to my shame. I want to live out in everyday life the fact that all I want to be, I already am.”

The search, chase
The search, the chase, continues. There could be bewilderment. A modern-day seeker asks: “Are you the symphony, are you the silent river that runs through my thoughts, that floods the cave of my heart, that breaks open the soul to an unknown wilderness?”

Most likely, the answer is “Yes.”

The late Sr. Christine Tan, RGS, told the Inquirer seven years ago, “Encountering God is a passionate experience. Violent but also tender. In prayer, when you go deep into the silence, you could actually feel God. You and God are merged as one. In that utter stillness you could feel the light, and the fire and the tight embrace, and the tenderness enfolding you. Then you become strong like a bull. You go straight like an arrow.”

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Interactive Via Dolorosa

Here’s wishing you a passionate Holy Week.

The Internet has revolutionized ways for people to prayerfully contemplate the world. (Contemplation could be defined as taking a long, loving look at reality.) If one cannot be physically present in places where the Via Dolorosa is being played out daily in people’s lives, one can at least participate virtually through the web and then live out Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection in the context of one’s own life.

Visit the interactive Way of the Cross in the Internet of the Operation Rice Bowl (ORB) of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). ORB’s 14 Stations of the Cross give the googler a virtual experience of a modern-day Via Dolorosa contextualized in ORB’s project sites in different parts of the world.

I can’t show you the images and maps but here are edited reflections on several Stations. You could also check them out in the Internet.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nuns, bishop in the casino

What were they doing there? How did they get there? Who brought them there? Why were they there? What did they think their presence there would mean? Are they a new breed?

These were some of the questions asked by those who saw, on television, nuns trying out what looked like slot machines in the casino at the “Las Vegas”-to-be strip along Manila Bay.

Also present was Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias who gave the occasion an ecclesiastical feel.

Even the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) didn’t quite know how to react, but did react anyway by saying, through its spokesman Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, that the CBCP was not going to do anything, by way of censure perhaps, in relation to the presence of one its members in a gambling setting. Quitorio however did say that it was something the CBCP did not approve of.

Individual bishops are heads of their own ecclesiastical territories and are independent of the CBCP. They are accountable only to the Pope and their own constituencies. The most a bishop might get from his fellow bishops would be fraternal reminders. Individual bishops do not take orders from the CBCP, except perhaps when, as members, they must take heed and act as a collegial body.

And what about the nuns? Although most, if not all, heads of religious congregations in the country are members of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (for women and men), these congregations are independent of the AMRSP and don’t need the AMRSP’s yes or no.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Heart in two places

MANILA, Philippines -- “When we were asked to stand up, raise our right hand, and pledge to ‘renounce’ our loyalties to our old country, I felt a giant lump in my throat and I had to struggle not to cry. By the time they sang the national anthem, they had already lost me.”

That paragraph, though emotionally charged, sounds prosaic when compared with the rest of the essays in Gemma Nemenzo’s gem of a book, “Heart in Two Places: An Immigrant’s Journey” (Anvil). The moment she describes is a watershed moment for most Filipinos who have left their homeland to strike it out in the U.S. of A. But its impact and significance for a variety of Filipinos could be as varied as the Filipinos themselves and their reasons for living there.

Gemma writes about that pledging experience in her first essay aptly titled “Citizen Cain” (double entendre there), one of the 53 essays in her book.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Alphabet soup, anyone? The letters are swimming in my head like letters in a bowl of alphabet soup heaving with dollops of jargon. One moment I know what a bunch of letters means, the next moment I find myself asking what SIA is. I bet, you also do not know. SIA stands for sustainability impact assessment. Do FTA and EPA mean the same? Are we ever an MFN? What happened to the WTO?

And then there are the kilometric words. Trade liberalization, globalization, neo-liberalism, multilateral, bilateral, developmental, etc. Journalists hate long words. Why say less-fortunate when you simply mean the poor? But I will concede to the economists’ “below poverty line” although I can only picture a line, not the face of destitution, hunger or penury.

These thoughts were swirling in my head while attending two recent two seminars meant to help journalists understand what is going on in this world, this country in particular.

The first one was on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which was exclusively for journalists and sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). For this one, the only way to get journalists to stay put was to fly them to some island. And so we were happily marooned in the island of Panglao in Bohol with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and SocialWatch (an activist NGO), to help with the A to Z of the MDGs. How to critically analyze the progress reports? How/where to find MDG-related stories?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

One stroke, everything changes, beauty emerges

MANILA, Philippines -- With one stroke. As with former president of the University of the Philippines and one-time National Security Adviser Emanuel ?Noel? Soriano, or with anyone, everything could change with one stroke, a brain stroke.

Discovering meaning and purpose in the aftermath of the disabling blow is consolation enough. But translating these into beauty is indeed a graced response to God's hello. And it takes a village, a community of caring persons, to make this happen. "It took a whole nation," Noel's wife Angge said, expressing her gratitude.

In July 1996, Noel suffered a stroke that rendered him paralyzed and unable to speak. After three months in the hospital, he was brought home. His wife Angge, a jovial, brave and take-charge type, and their four sons and two daughters were all there for him. But it would take several years before they could get an idea how far their hopes could take them.

Last week, Noel, who just turned 70, held his third exhibit, "A Fisherman's Story," of watercolor paintings at the UP's Delaney Hall. This was something not quite planned, Angge told the enthused crowd, but Noel's persistence (through one-word grunts, signs and body language) paid off.

One was for sure, the prayers and support of relatives, friends and colleagues, "the whole nation," helped Noel go a long way. Perhaps not in the words and sports departments but in the realm of colors, form and beauty that has remained vivid in Noel?s mind. These elements have evolved, deepened and brightened through the years.

Former health secretary and neurologist Alfredo Bengzon, Noel's colleague in former president Corazon Aquino's cabinet, said: "We have barely scratched the surface when it comes to how the brain works." And he went on to describe how their little group of like-minded citizens that included Noel worked together in the 1980s after Ninoy Aquino's assassination and the passion that possessed them. "We were driven by one obsession and that was to contribute our bit."

Another battlefield

Noel was the "quintessential documentor," Bengzon said. They belonged to what was called "the convenor group" that drew anti-Marcos personalities from different camps and political persuasions. "If Noel could only reveal the whole story," Bengzon sighed.

More than 20 years have passed since those fevered times but, alas, this woebegone nation is still in search of another springtime. Noel has since moved on to another battlefield.

Present at Noel's exhibit were former colleagues in the Cory cabinet including former President Fidel Ramos who, in his brief speech, described the similar state of his daughter, Chula, who was a victim of a road accident. Members of the Aphasia Foundation of the Philippines were there too, to lend support.

Expressive Aphasia

Noel's condition is called expressive aphasia or the loss of the power to use words due to a brain lesion. Noel is also paralyzed in his right extremities. With help, Noel can walk short distances. He can sing some tunes, "Happy Birthday" among them, utter some words, like "One!" with his pointer raised, which could mean many things.

All his watercolor paintings bear his familiar signature, E.V. Soriano, and the date they were done. No, this UP and Harvard graduate has not been reduced to a small uncommunicative heap. Noel is saying many things in his small "silent" way. There is something so profound in all this that is hard to miss.

Noel's daughter Rinna grouped Noel's 70 watercolors (framed by noted frame maker Johnny Soriano) into themes: Soul Vision, Noel's Garden, Concrete Foundations, Landscapes and UP Chapel.

Noel attends the noontime Mass at the UP chapel every day almost without fail. Thus, his attachment to the place and his watercolor renderings of the spaceship like chapel by architect and National Artist Leandro Locsin. On Sundays he and Angge go to Fr. Ruben Villote's Mass at the Center for Migrant Youth in Quezon City. Noel has made a sizeable number of "Mass-mates" who turned up at the exhibit.

Art therapy

Rinna, an educator, recalled how her father got into the medium. "I came across the work of scientist and educator Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) that offered a whole new world of innovative, holistic and creative approaches to health and education and the essence of being human in this world. My niece Francesca was a student at the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf School. Her teacher, Mary Joan Fajardo, said that art therapist Maria Abulencia could help out."

Abulencia has been Noel's art therapist for many years and through three exhibits. "We use wet on wet," said Abulencia who admitted that she got into this type of therapy through daring. She and Rinna have been surpervising Noel's therapy.

"We hesitate to call ourselves art therapists," Rinna explained, "because we do not have the training that others have undergone. But we take courage in the thought that the simple presence of another human being for another to facilitate a creative experience with colors brings forth tremendous healing not only for the patient but also for the circle of family and friends who care for that person."

Not in control

Rinna said that watercolor could be an intimidating medium but not for her father. "He knows he is not in full control of everything. He is not afraid to make mistakes because one cannot make a mistake when one truly paints."

Rinna wrote about healing through the arts in UP's "Arts Quarterly." "The kind of artistic activity that my father is doing now is different from what I think he had in mind before he had his stroke. Steiner differentiated painting from drawing. In drawing, you have an image in mind and you just transfer that on paper or canvass. In painting, you allow the colors or light and darkness to create images and the painter only helps the images come out more clearly as they gradually emerge from the mixing of colors."

Noel and Angge live peacefully in a rented apartment on Times St. in Quezon City, a few houses away from former President Aquino's. UP is close enough for Noel's daily pilgrimage to his old haunt.

He reports to the administration his encounters with unsightly garbage or a roof that needs to be changed. He loves UP. That is where he and Angge met during their UP Student Catholic Action (UPSCA) days and where he rose to become the youngest UP president.

Fisherman's story

Why is Noel's story "A Fisherman?s Story"? The parable-like notes by Rinna on her father's art works explain that Noel responded to Christ's call, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men."

It was not like him to stay close to the shore, Rinna said, but to go deeper and deeper into the sea of humanity, get involved in people's lives, care for fellow human beings. He had his fishing net, he had his fishing line. He reached out, he cared.

After his government stint as National Security Adviser (that was when he also went full steam into digging and finding for the government the so-called hidden treasures buried in many sites all over the country), Noel went full-time into management education and NGO work.

"One evening," Rinna narrated, "Noel cast his net to the other side of his boat. It was the biggest catch ever for him. In awe, he could not move a limb, he could not speak a word. But he could laugh and he could sing! He shed tears. He was caught in the net of God's unconditional love."

If Noel could only tell the whole story, Bengzon said. The story of daring fishers in a turbulent sea. It is a story for the present time.

(Dr. Emanuel "Noel" Soriano's paintings are also available at www.estore-exchange.com.)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hildegard, woman power

“Hail, O greenest branch…(O viridissima virga…)/ When the time came/ that you blossomed in your branches/ hail, hail was (the word) to you! For the warmth of the sun distilled in you/ a fragrance like balsam./ For in you blossomed the beautiful/ flower that gave fragrance/ to all the spices/ which had been dry/ And they all appeared in all verdure…”

Today is Women’s Day and this month is Women’s Month. Greetings, dear sisters!

It behooves us to learn from great women who lived many centuries removed from our era, women who made a dent in their milieu through their daring and groundbreaking work. Voices crying in the wilderness, prophets in their time, women of uncommon courage and wisdom.

Hildegard of Bingen was one such woman. And those opening lines are hers.

On March 5, St. Scholastica’s College gave out the first Hildegard Awards for Women in Media and Communication. The awardees were QTV Channel 11 for women-centered programming; Feny de los Angeles Bautista, producer of “Batibot”, for her advocacy of child-friendly television; Nora C. Quebral, “mother of development communication in the world”, for communication education; and Genoveva “Lola Bebang” Edroza-Matute, for her pioneering work as a feminist scriptwriter during radio’s golden age.

These trailblazers in the field of communication each received an Inay-aruga trophy sculptured by Inday Cadapan.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

American nun’s EDSA 1 letters (2)

Maryknoll missionary Sr. Helen Graham has been working in the Philippines since 1967. As a theologian who teaches Sacred Scriptures in two religious institutions, Sr. Helen has put her theology into practice and has been very involved in justice and peace issues.

During the volatile season that preceded and culminated in the February 1986 EDSA 1 people power uprising, Sr. Helen chronicled daily events (from Feb. 10 to Feb. 26) in her letters to friends abroad. Excerpts:

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Gawad Kalinga goes worldwide

Philippine Daily Inquirer/News/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo and Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Bishop says GK new kind of People Power

MANILA, Philippines -- Hope and a better life are the latest Filipino exports. Poor as it is, the Philippines would not be left behind in the sharing department.
Gawad Kalinga (GK), the highly successful housing and development project for the poor, is going global to improve the lives of the countless poor in other countries. This major step means familiar GK key people will have to be moved and new faces will emerge. That is all there is to it.
“Walang iwanan.” (Nobody leaves, nobody gets left behind.) This was what Gawad Kalinga’s charismatic, outgoing executive director Antonio Meloto said to counter a nasty newspaper rumor that he was leaving GK, the flagship housing and development project of Couples for Christ (CFC), along with GK chair Frank Padilla.

Meloto said the spin on his and Padilla’s change of status “had been given malice, whatever the reason.”

Thursday, February 22, 2007

American nun’s EDSA 1 letters (1)

Maryknoll missionary Sister Helen Graham has been working in the Philippines since 1967. As a theologian who teaches Sacred Scriptures in two religious institutions, Sr. Helen has put her theology into practice and has been very involved in justice and peace issues.

During the volatile season that preceded and culminated in the February 1986 EDSA 1 people power uprising, Sr. Helen chronicled daily events (from Feb. 10 to Feb. 26) in her letters to friends abroad. Here are excerpts:

Feb. 23, 1986

Dear everybody,

Greetings from Quezon City!! As you know Sec. Philip Habib was sent here by Reagan on a “fact finding” mission. He spoke with a number of influential figures and two times each with Ferdinand Marcos and Cory. Cory said that she told him not to bother seeing her if he was going to ask her to join Marcos’ government. Habib left around noon yesterday. At around 3:00 p.m. (or so) the drama began…

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ken Saro Wiwa on my mind

When CNN reporter Jeff Koinanga got near the place where he was supposed to meet with his interviewee Jomo Gbomo, spokesman of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), his boat was surrounded by boatloads of armed men. Men in black, wearing bonnets, brandishing big firearms and shooting into the air, prancing, dancing. This was enough to sow terror in the heart of even the most hardened of journalists.

I couldn’t help recalling my own foray into the wilderness of Samar with a bunch of journalists. Using a motorized banca, we went through a heavily canopied river from the banks of which emerged heavily armed rebels who would lead us further into the wilderness and into the heart of a guerrilla movement. Into Tarzan territory, I called it. But we weren’t supposed to be frightened. Our hosts made sure of that.

When I saw the CNN footage I thought I had been there before. Except that this was the Niger Delta.

Were these armed men the ones supposed to meet with the journalist? Where was Jomo Gbomo? He was the one who supposedly did the inviting. Will he show his face? Would he emerge? Was this the right group? Jomo never got to present himself but the armed men had a surprise for the journalist: 24 Filipino hostages, all looking forlorn, frightened and forsaken.

(Jomo would later call the journalist to say MEND was not the one holding the hostages.)

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Vista and toxic e-waste

I wanted to be one of the countless gawkers in green or blue attire at last weekend’s Microsoft Vista launch at the seaside mall but when I imagined the number of people there who spoke computerese I changed my mind. Besides, I was not buying the new program. Not yet. I mean, we’d soon have to have it if there is no other one to choose.

Although I’m no techie, I’ve been reading up on Vista and what it can do for me. Microsoft’s Bill Gates himself said Vista took some five years to perfect so it must be awesome. But some computer experts say it still would need some fine-tuning once it gets out there and people start using it.

So what does this mean for all of us? Vista ruling our world vista, our cultural and information landscape, the way we do things, think, create and communicate? But what about our “hard copy” vista, that is, our terra firma, the hard ground on which we walk?

Greepeace has issued a warning on the e-waste, the e-junk, the e-garbage that Vista will generate. Greenpeace doesn’t mean the digital junk in your computer files and e-mail, it is referring to the material electronic junk that will pile up on the ground. Because every trying-hard Who’s Who in the computer world would want to shuck the old PC for a new computer bundle that comes with Vista plus plus.

Upgrading the old PC is too jurassic for some. Like, why go through the cumbersome upgrade when, for just a few bucks more, you get a whole new bundle?

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Ateneo’s 11

That is what we are about…It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning…We are prophets of a future that is not our own. –Martyred El Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980)

In reverse alphabetical order: Manny Yap (1951-1976), Nick Solana, Jr. (1949-75), Lazzie Silva (1952-75), Ditto Sarmiento (1950-77), Dante Perez (1951-72), Eman Lacaba (1948-78), Edgar Jopson (1948-82), Sonny Hizon (1952-74), Jun Celestial (1950-74), Billy Begg (1959-75), Ferdie Arceo (1952-73).

All so young and so committed. Will there be another generation like theirs? (Yes, like ours, if I may interrupt and interject.) Will there be another call such as they had heard, will there be a another harvest such as this special crop?

The book “Living and Dying: In Memory of 11 Ateneo de Manila Martial Law Activists” by Cristina Jayme Montiel tells the story of these young men’s individual lives and deaths. It is about the process of their becoming, their journey into the wilderness and the final shedding and pouring out of their substance—so that others may live abundantly. Their dying was not only a physical one, it was, and more importantly, a dying to self even while they were alive.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Abbé Pierre

France is mourning the passing of one of it’s most well loved, if not sometimes controversial, figures. L’Abbé Pierre est mort… Abbé Pierre, a Catholic priest who devoted much of his life to the care of the homeless poor, died on Monday, Jan. 22. He was 94.

France is probably neck and neck with Italy in the saints department. Despite France’s secularized society it has continued to produce saintly icon to this day. The much-loved Brother Roger of Taize, also in his 90s, died last year in the hands of a knife-wielding deranged devotee. These modern-day saintly Frenchmen died really old while some of France’s popular saintly women died very young, like Therese of Lisieux and Joan of Arc.

French President Jacques Chirac himself announced Abbé Pierre’s death and called him “an immense figure, a conscience, a man who personified goodness.” What a tribute. Abbé Pierre, Chirac said, “represented the spirit of rebellion against misery, suffering, injustice and the strength of solidarity.” Abbé Pierre raged against the dying of the light in the hearts of men and women.

In popular polls over the years, Abbé Pierre topped the list more than 17 times as France’s favorite personality. At one time, he even edged out football superstar Zinedine Zidane. Would such “an immense figure” make it to the bottom of a list in perpetually star-struck Philippines? France, producer of great classic films and movie and fashion icons, just had to give way to a non-star. Sure, Abbé Pierre was an icon in his own right, a star in a way, but in a different firmament.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

An inconvenient truth

All the Asean heads of state and their ministers who came for the recent Asean summit in Cebu were all gathered in one dark room for 100 minutes, listening to former US Vice President Al Gore in the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. Each one had a bucket of popcorn. And when it was over they all stood up, their faces flushed because they all felt a sudden energy surge. They all went out the door, walking briskly, ready to take on the world with great resolve.

Wishful thinking. That was a what-if scenario that was running like a sidebar frame in my mind while I was watching the movie-docu the other day. (They did sign something on promoting non-polluting sources of energy.)

Documentaries are going mainstream—“The March of the Penguins” among the latest—and are relatively well received. Is this a shift? There have been too many big-budget fantasies in the last few years and their success could mean more are coming. They portray the good-versus-evil themes of real life but because they’re fantasy, we know for sure that good will triumph over evil after we’ve sat it out for three sensurround hours or after three years of waiting for a trilogy to run its course. And then we say that everything will be all right.

Not if you watch “An Inconvenient Truth” (directed by Davis Guggenheim). Everything will not be all right if we do not do something to reverse global warming. The movie is a global warning. It’s not doomsday reel fiction like “Soylent Green”, it’s real life on Planet Earth right now. And we, its inhabitants, are to blame for what’s happening.

But do enjoy your popcorn.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Oprah’s $40-million school for girls

I made a mistake last week. Instead of writing $40 million, I wrote $40,000. That’s minus three zeroes or a staggering difference of $39,960,000. I wanted to show how big $40 million was so I wrote the numbers—zeroes and all—(instead of the word million) but was short of three zeroes.

So how does $40,000,000 look now? That was how much US TV giant Oprah Winfrey spent to build a school for poor girls in South Africa. The Opra Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls opened last Jan. 2 with the first 75 students whom Opra herself had handpicked.

I promised Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, one of those who pointed out the error and who sent me the Jan. 2007 issue of the Oprah magazine, that I would write a longer piece on the “academy”. The latest issue has the story about now the school came to be, what it is like and the process of choosing the first students. The story, “Building a Dream” is by Pamela Gien and the photographs by Graham Abbott.

Five years and $40 million were not all that it took to build, for the building of this dream had begun much earlier. That is, in the heart of a woman who had known what it was to be poor, black and sexually abused—and who rose to become one of the world’s richest, most popular and loved media giant.

Friday, January 5, 2007

‘Babaylan’ crossings

You have tampered with the women/ You have struck a rock/ You have dislodged a boulder/ You will be crushed. – from an Afrikaan freedom song

That is a line from an Afrikaan freedom song sung at the historic women’s freedom march in 1956 in South Africa. The minister of education recalled those lines during the 2002 ground breaking of the Opra Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Soweto. The academy opened as 2007 was being ushered in and was ready to take in its first batch of girls.

That school was Oprah’s promise to the revered former South African Pres. Nelson Mandela when she visited in 2002. Her initial promise of $10,000 became $40,000. Oprah’s choice of place was Soweto. Her choice of students were girls from underprivileged background whom she herself had interviewed and handpicked.

Now the academy has opened. Many girl children who will go there will be trained to be future leaders and achievers in their chosen fields, compassionate, strong, giving. And beautiful, of course, inside and out.

In an article, a girl who was interviewed recounted the “phenomenal few minutes” with Oprah: “(She) asked me three questions. What I want to become. Why? And what good advice I’ve given anyone.”

Oprah has shown a great example to the rich, famous and influential. This bright and influential woman of US television and one of the world’s richest came from a difficult childhood (she was black, poor and abused) has moved on to great heights and expanded her embrace.