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?”