Thursday, July 29, 2010

‘Miracle in Rwanda’

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

HER NAME IS Immaculée. This is what she remembers of the place she called home.

“I was born in paradise. At least that’s how I felt about my homeland while I was growing up.
“Rwanda is a tiny country set like a jewel in Central Africa. She is so breathtakingly beautiful that it’s impossible not to see the hand of God in her lush rolling hills; mist-shrouded mountains; green valleys; and sparkling lakes.”

Her name is Immaculée. This is what she remembers of those terrifying days in her blood-drenched paradise that lay in ruins.

“I heard the killers call my name. They were on the other side of the wall, and less than an inch of plaster and wood separated us. Their voices were cold, hard, and determined.

“’She’s here…we know she’s here somewhere….Find her—find Immaculée.’”

Those are excerpts from the book “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” by Immaculée Ilibagiza (with Steve Erwin). The book was on the New York Times bestseller list. (“The Diary of Immaculée ” is on DVD. )

This July, Immaculée came alive at The Insular Life Theater in the heart-stopping “Miracle in Rwanda”, a one-woman play based on her true story. Created and performed by Leslie Lewis-Sword, the play has been staged more than 100 times in more than a dozen cities and countries. Lewis-Sword is half Filipino, half African-American.

Lewis-Sword did not base “Miracle” on the book alone. She went out of her way to know Immaculée personally and traveled a number of times to Rwanda in order to deepen her grasp of what Immaculée and her paradise had gone through.

As a one-woman play (one hour and five minutes), “Miracle” is a miracle in itself, what with Lewis-Sword playing Immaculée and a host of other characters. How it was staged here, is also a miracle, according to executive producer Roger Saldo Chua, a theater veteran.

The only props in the play are the pictures of the dead members of Immaculée’s family hanging prominently on stage and the masking tape on the floor that signifies the rectangular area (a few feet square of bathroom space) where Immaculée and seven other women hide for 91 days from the murderous machete-wielding Hutus.
Everything else is light, sound and pure acting. And on the part of the audience, imagination and emotion.
 The play begins with the plane of Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana shot down in April 1994. His fellow Hutu tribesmen take this as a cue to exterminate their enemy tribe, the Tutsis. The Hutus and the Tutsis have been engaged in a civil war for some time. And so as the world watches, the most brutal genocide in recent history begins.

In just three months, almost a million people are killed. It is in this setting that the “miraculous” story of Immaculée unfolds. Coming from a devoted Catholic and educated Tutsi family, Immaculée, along with seven other women, hides in a cramped bathroom in the home of a Protestant pastor who happens to be a Hutu.
Lewis-Sword steps out of the rectangular space only when she plays the other characters. When she becomes the murderous Hutus hunting down Immaculée, she howls, yelps, prances and goes into a dervish. She also acts as her father, the compassionate pastor, the person responsible for the death of the members of her family and several other characters. What a feat for one actor. And she speaks with a Rwandan accent.

“Miracle” focuses on this harrowing episode in Immaculée’s life. Her experience may look small in the context of the big bloodbath in Rwanda but it tells a lot. Through Lewis-Sword’s deft storytelling and acting in a few square feet of bathroom space, with an imaginary toilet bowl and all, the bigger Rwandan landscape is revealed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Three Eves

I WAS at the 6th Cinemalaya 2010 film showing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines last Sunday morning to watch the closing three-in-one film (it was the opening, too) “Ganap na Babae.” I went home thinking about a sequel, full-blown, for each of the three.
If I am writing about a Cinemalaya’s entry this year, it is not as a film critic because I am not. I write about films occasionally simply as one who likes to watch films on the big screen when time permits. So don’t sue me.

Cinemalaya, no doubt, deserves to become part of the movie-going public’s consciousness. And my writing about one of the films I watched is my way of saying we should support Cinemalaya all the way.
Hubo Production’s “Ganap na Babae” was directed by three young women: Rica Arevalo, Ellen Ramos and Sarah Roxas. “Ganap” wasn’t among the winners this year, but it certainly drove home strong points, some of which may not be to my liking because they were too stereotypical and overused, but that’s okay. That’s why I kept thinking of how the sequels would unravel and reach denouement and catharsis.
 Described as “a film for women made by women directors,” “Ganap” is three separate but interwoven stories about women. Ramos’ “Kapatid” is a story about two very poor sisters, Milagros (Sue Prado) and Elena (Jam Perez), who grow food in a dry and unforgiving land. Arevalo’s “Kaibigan” is about a widow named Eos (Boots Anson-Roa) who falls in love with a man young enough to be her youngest son (Rome Mallari as Rodrigo). Roxas’ “Ina” is about a prostitute/mother (Mercedes Cabral) who bares her soul on-cam to a TV journalist. The whore (she calls herself that) will state her name later.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Robredo's Naga:ants in a happy place

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

IT WAS WAS WITH BATED BREATH that we waited for Jesse Robredo of Naga City, one of the ablest mayors this country ever had, to finally be sworn in as Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). His name had been one of the first to be mentioned for a cabinet post. And then everybody was sworn in except him.

The post had been unabashedly coveted by former Makati City mayor and now Vice President Jejomar Binay who did not hide his desire and the moist in his eyes. But Pres. Noynoy Aquino was not about to hand it to him. It was Robredo’s, or so we thought, and then, the wait.
Robredo was handed the DILG post last week and he accepted. What a relief.
Robredo, as many of us know, was the Ramon Magsaysay (RM) Awardee for Government Service in 2000. He was 42 years old then and had been mayor for three terms. I had the privilege of being assigned to write about him at that time.
 Robredo shared ``the story of a small, faceless but inspired community which got better by continuously trying to better itself.’’ When he took over in 1988, Naga was ``in bad shape’’ economically, service delivery was bad and political patronage was the order of the day.
Mere words wouldn’t have worked for a cynical citizenry. But leadership in action proved irresistible and couldn’t be ignored. Still a little creative gimmickry went a long way to make people ``hit the ground running.’’ Symbols and slogans were among the secret ingredients.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Finding ‘Care for Rare’ Orphan Diseases

HAVE you heard of Pompe’s disease? What about MPS Hunter syndrome, maple syrup urine disorder (MSUD), Gaucher disease and adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD)?

Even if you shed tears while watching the movie “Lorenzo’s Oil,” you probably would not be able to recall or pronounce the name of the disease – it was ALD or adrenoleukodystrophy –around which the plot revolved.
The recent movie “Extraordinary Measures” (starring Harrison Ford as the eccentric doctor-scientist and Brendan Fraser as the father of two ailing children) may not have been as riveting as “Lorenzo’s Oil,” but it also turned out great performances and gave hope that a cure – this time for Pompe’s disease – could be found. In fact, they came close with enzyme replacement therapy.
Both based on true-to-life stories, the movies showed that with the combined efforts, persistence and the support of parents, doctors, scientists, research financiers and society at large, there is hope for those with rare or so-called “orphan” diseases.

Here, the Philippine Society for Orphan Disorders Inc. (PSOD) is at the forefront of the “care for rare” advocacy and coordinates efforts to sustain the quality of life of individuals with rare disorders.

There have been many breakthroughs since its founding in 2006. PSOD has become a support group for patients with rare disorders and their families. It has established a network of patients, families, doctors and support groups in different parts of the world. It was able to push for a bill on rare diseases in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. And more importantly, many patients have found access to treatment and are now enjoying a better quality of life.

This is not to say PSOD has it all. There is much that needs to be done.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pass bicameral version of FOI bill ASAP!

TODAY THIS SPACE gives way to the urgent statement of the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition on the Freedom of Information Act that we, those in the media especially, want raised from the dead. (Because of space limitation some lines had to be omitted in the print and online versions. This blog version is complete.) Dear readers, please be with us in this crusade.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

This brilliant prose of Charles Dickens, in the beginning of his epic "A Tale of Two Cities", could have been written also about the recent death, nay murder, of the proposed Freedom of Information Act in the 14th Congress. What could have been a legislation of wisdom, light and hope for good governance and people empowerment was overcome by the foolishness, dark motives and desperate designs of those who seek to thwart good governance and to keep people at the margins of power.
Indeed, the Freedom of Information Bill was nearly almost enacted, after over 14 years of unflinching advocacy work by all social sectors for its passage. The bill failed to advance significantly in the 11th, 12th and 13th Congress but finally moved in the 14th. The penultimate step, before transmission to the President for signing, would have been the ratification by the House of Representatives and by the Senate of the bicameral conference committee report.
The Senate promptly fulfilled its legislative duty on February 1; the House did not. With session days fast running out, the leadership of the House professed support for the measure when in truth it did all it could to prevent the ratification of the bill. On four session days – February 2 and 3, and May 24 and 31 – the House leadership either refused to put the bill on agenda, or worse, stomped all motions by the bill’s authors to ratify the bicameral conference committee report.

But the lowest point was reserved for June 4, the last day of the third and last regular session of the 14th Congress. On roll call after a quorum question, the House Secretary General reported that 128 members were present, short of the 135 members needed for a quorum. A motion was made for the present members to compel the attendance of absent members, as provided by Section 74 of the House Rules. This measure is supported by no less than the Constitution (Article VI, Section 16, par. 2), precisely to prevent absent members from holding hostage the conduct of legislative work. Speaker Prospero Nograles ignored the rule and even scoffed at the motion.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Corruption in the peace department (3)

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