Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Japanese RM awardee dreams of peace fest in Hiroshima

MANILA, Philippines—Why not a global festival of peace in a Japanese city demolished by the atomic bomb?

This is one of the dreams of Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, one of the seven 2010 Ramon Magsaysay awardees to be honored Tuesday, the birth anniversary of the late Philippine president after whom the award is named.
Akiba, 67, was two years old when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The bombs instantly killed between 150,000 and 200,000 people in the two cities, according to a US-funded study. Many who survived still suffer from ailments caused by the A-bomb.
Akiba’s family did not suffer a direct hit but some things have remained in his memory.

“One of my earliest memories was the firebombing of my hometown Chiba City near Tokyo. I was only two and a half years old but I remember scenes,” Akiba said.

The war and its aftermath haunted the precocious boy. Now he is campaigning for a world free of nuclear weapons.

That world is possible, Akiba said.

“I am so confident that we are now studying in Hiroshima the feasibility of entering a bid for the 2020 Olympics. What could be better than to celebrate our entry into (a) new nuclear weapons-free world with a global festival of peace in Hiroshima?”

Award ceremonies Tuesday

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation cited Akiba for “his principled and determined leadership in a sustained global campaign to mobilize citizens, pressure governments, and build the political will to create a world free from the perils of nuclear war.”

He is the 24th Japanese and one of the 267 individual Ramon Magsaysay awardees since 1958.

Five of this year’s seven awardees—a Filipino couple, a Bangladeshi, a Chinese and a Japanese—will personally receive their awards in ceremonies Tuesday at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Two other Chinese awardees are not coming, one for being ill and the other for unclear reasons.

“When I was a child, I watched a movie that showed children who suffered from the A-bomb. Scenes in the movie merged with my childhood experiences,” Akiba told the Inquirer.

Akiba spent his high school years in the United States as a scholar. After finishing his BS and MS in Math at Tokyo University, he went back to the United States to pursue his doctorate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Meeting the ‘hibakusha’

His US stay brought disturbing thoughts.

For example, Akiba said, many in the United States thought that Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 was the absolute evil and that the American decision to drop the A-bomb on Japan in 1945 was right.

Akiba taught in US universities for several years but returned to Japan in 1987 and became a professor at Hiroshima Shudo University. He became acquainted with the hibakusha (survivors of the A-bomb), one of whom, Akira Ishida, became his mentor in the advocacy against nuclear weapons.

“The hibakusha are not in Japan only,” Akiba said. “There are hibakusha now living abroad.”

‘No more Hiroshima’

With prodding from the hibakusha, Akiba joined politics and became a member of the Diet (Japan’s parliament) from 1990 to 1999. Then he became Hiroshima mayor, a post he still holds.

Now on his third term, he continues to take up the cause of the hibakusha.

The horror that visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not entirely lost on world leaders. In 1970 the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into force.

But despite cries of “No more Hiroshima, no more Nagasaki,” the NPT was ignored by nuclear-armed states and those that have since acquired nuclear-weapons capability.

By 1980, there were close to 50,000 nuclear weapons in the world with destructive power equal to a million Hiroshima-type A-bombs, according to one report.

Tales of horror

Before he entered politics, Akiba was already involved in the nuclear disarmament campaign. In 1979, he launched the Hibakusha Travel Grants Program that invited Americans and journalists to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to listen to the hibakusha’s tales of horror.

The aim was to draw attention to the horrors of war and world annihilation.

Akiba felt that Hiroshima, being history’s first A-bomb victim, had the moral obligation to warn the world of the dangers from such weapons. He put his city at the forefront of an international campaign against nuclear weapons, continuing his predecessors’ efforts.

In 1982, Akiba spearheaded the Mayors for Peace movement. Mayors, he thought, were best positioned to mobilize citizens to be advocates for peace.

Mayors for Peace now has 4,069 member-cities from 144 countries and regions worldwide. In the Philippines, 16 cities are members.

People rarely suffer alone

Why cities and city mayors?

“Tragedies usually come to the cities,” Akiba said, adding that there was a lot that could be done at the city level.

“Mayors generally arise from the collective consciousness of their cities. We are close to our citizens. We suffer when they suffer. City mayors can influence their national governments more effectively.

“People rarely suffer alone. The suffering of any individual is actually the suffering of at least a family, if not a neighborhood. And a city is a vital, true and personally relevant level of collective identity.”

That is why we speak of Guernica, Ypres, Auschwitz, My Lai, Dresden, Akiba said. “This is why cities that suffer massive destruction become cities that work for peace.”

Past examples must be followed, Akiba urged. “The Ottawa Process that led to the treaty to ban antipersonnel landmines is one. The Oslo Process that led to the treaty to ban cluster munitions is another.”

In 2003, Mayors for Peace forged ahead with a “2020 Vision” campaign to pressure governments to abolish nuclear weapons by 2020, the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings.

In 2020, Akiba said, the average age of the hibakusha would be 86.

In 2008 the movement issued the Hiroshima-Nagasaki protocol, a road map to guide governments toward total abolition of nuclear weapons.

Akiba considers the 65th commemoration at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial early this month very special because of the presence of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“He was the first UN secretary general to attend the ceremony,” Akiba said, “and he met with the hibakusha.”

For the first time, the US government sent a representative to the ceremony.

By working together, Akiba mused, people could create a world free of war, violence, starvation, widespread environmental destruction and institutional slavery.

And nuclear weapons would have no place in such a world. With a report from Inquirer Research

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bangladesh's RM awardee: Disabled also have dreams

MANILA, Philippines—Inclusive, barrier-free and mainstreaming. These are key words that A.H.M. Noman Khan has turned into reality for countless disabled persons of Bangladesh and beyond.
Khan is one of the seven 2010 Ramon Magsaysay awardees who will be honored on Tuesday, birth anniversary of the late President after whom the award is named.
Khan, 59, is being recognized for “his pioneering leadership in mainstreaming persons with disabilities in the development process of Bangladesh, and in working vigorously with all sectors to build a society that is truly inclusive and barrier-free.”
Khan is a big and able-bodied Asian who had no direct experience with disabled persons in his early life, but after being exposed to them and their plight in the early 1990s, he became totally devoted to this special sector. And there was no turning back.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award has caused quite a stir in his country, Khan happily tells the Inquirer. He is certain the award will significantly increase people’s awareness of the issues affecting the disabled in Asia.

Khan is the 10th Bangladeshi to win the award since it was started in 1958. One well-known Bangladeshi awardee is Muhammad Yunus, who received the award in 1984 and, later, the Nobel Peace Prize. The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation has honored 267 individuals and 17 institutions in the past 52 years.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

2 RM awardees cancel trip

THE ANNUAL Ramon Magsaysay Awards rites have become another unfortunate casualty of the botched hostage-rescue fiasco.
Two of the three Chinese recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards for 2010, both government bureaucrats, will not be coming to receive the honors on Aug. 31.
But the third Chinese awardee, photojournalist Huo Daishan, is already in the country and is participating in the series of lectures and meetings that have been arranged by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.

The Inquirer was scheduled to interview yesterday the two awardees—Fu Qiping, a farmer and village chief in China’s Zhejiang province, and Pan Yue, a vice minister in the Ministry of Environmental Protection—but was told by an RMAF official that the two would not be coming.

The RMAF source said one of the Chinese awardees “might have taken ill,” and did not give a reason for the second one’s nonappearance.

There are speculations that their absence may have something to do with the diplomatic tension between Beijing and Hong Kong on one hand and the Philippines on the other caused by the Aug. 23 hostage crisis in Manila that ended in the killing of eight Hong Kong tourists.

Chinese photographer wins RM for helping save a river

ONE DAY, Chinese photojournalist Huo Daishan was shocked to see that the Huai no longer looked like the river of his childhood.

It was highly polluted, emitted toxic fumes, yielded dead fish, and killed people. It had become a river of death.
“I lived there,” Huo, 56, told the Inquirer. “I played there when I was a child. The water was clear and we could see fish. We could even drink the water.”

Huo is one of the seven 2010 Ramon Magsaysay (RM) Awardees who will receive honors on Aug. 31, the birth anniversary of the late President after whom the award is named.
He is being recognized for “his selfless and unrelenting efforts, despite formidable odds, to save China’s river Huai and the numerous communities who draw life from it.”
Huo is one of three Chinese RM awardees this year, and the 16th from the People’s Republic of China since the RM Awards began in 1958. The two others, both government bureaucrats, will not attend the awarding ceremony. (See banner story.)

The RM Awards Foundation honors individuals and institutions that have shown “greatness of spirit in selfless service to the peoples of Asia.”

The award is given to “persons—regardless of race, nationality, creed or gender—who address issues of human development in Asia with courage and creativity, and in doing so have made contributions which have transformed their societies for the better.”

The great Huai River is known to have cradled ancient Chinese civilization.

By its banks lived great figures in Chinese history, among them Confucius, Mencius and Laozi. Legendary figures Fuxi, ancestor of all Chinese people, and Dayu, water control hero, were associated with it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

PTS at 100: Continuing the fight against TB

EVEN BEFORE Magellan set foot on these islands in 1521 and long before scientists pinned down the bacillus that caused tuberculosis (TB), Filipinos already had various names for the disease. The Kapampangans called it malalangi while the Ilocanos called it sarot. The Tagalogs called it sigan while the Visayans called it anos. The tubercular patient in the Visayas was called anoson.

In present-day 21st century Philippines everybody just says TB.
There seems to be no record of the natives’ attempts to fight the disease before and during the Spanish era. It was only after the Spanish-American War or the beginning of the 1900s that TB began to interest health authorities. And it had to compete with deadly pestilences of that time, such as the bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera and dysentery, that exacted a dramatic toll on populations all over the world.
TB was (and is) more of a silent killer. Many historic figures, consumptive saints among them, died of the lung disease. The Philippines’ own president, Manuel L. Quezon, succumbed to the disease in 1944 while the country was fighting a war and lay in ruins. But the name Quezon not only lent a real face to the ailment, it also opened the door to TB patients who would otherwise have languished in penury and pain.

The imposing landmark, the Quezon Institute (QI), that stands on a sprawling prime lot in Quezon City (donated by the Ortigas family) is testament to this. But before QI, there was its founding organization, the Philippine Tuberculosis Society (PTS) that operates QI and PTS clinics in the country.

This year is the society’s 100th in operation. The non-stock, non-profit PTS is the pioneering institution in TB prevention, control and treatment in the Philippines. Its corporate predecessor, the Philippine Islands Anti-Tuberculosis Society, was founded in 1910, antedating both the Philippine Commonwealth (1935) and the republic (1946).

QI’s beginnings date back to 1918 when 14 nipa huts for TB patients were built in the area where it stands now. The place was called Santol Sanatorium and it operated on the belief at that time that isolation, bed rest, fresh air and nutritious food were the effective cure for TB.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oca on community organizing and ballroom dancing

A GREAT pillar in community organizing (CO) and the Church’s programs of social action, justice and peace has passed on.
Oscar Francisco, “Oca” to the countless many, passed away on Aug. 15 at the age of 64. He was many things to many people. He was an activist, organizer, builder, trainor, legislator, writer, dancer. He was also a great raconteur and romantic. He left behind his wife Edna (also a seasoned NGO worker), their three children and countless communities and groups that he had touched.
It was the heart attack, not the diabetes and failing kidneys, that claimed him.

Oca’s name is synonymous with CO. Despite his twice-weekly dialysis in the past two years, he remained active in the field of CO, having co-founded the Institute for Democratic Participation in Governance. Why, he even had a network he named with tongue in cheek, Dialogue (Dancing Instructors Action for Local Governance and Empowerment).

Oca recently served a year in Congress as representative of the Alliance for Rural Concerns. His ailment did not prevent him from shuttling between Manila and Leyte-Samar.

Last March he invited a bunch of us to Tacloban City and Balangiga, Eastern Samar, to show us people’s participation in local governance and community development. He invited fellow “alumni” from the National Union of Students of the Philippines, Student Catholic Action and the Church-based National Secretariat of Social Action (where Oca spent many years in justice, peace and development work and where I got to know him)—and brought us down to the grassroots to see for ourselves changes in people’s lives. I did write about that trip (“Balangiga in the cusp of development,” March 18, 2010).

Oca also wanted to stress to us the significance of getting back the bells of Balangiga that were carted away by US soldiers during the Philippine-American war. Oca wanted the bells returned to Balangiga by September (next month) and had again scheduled a trip for us there. He hoped newly elected President Aquino would strongly push for the return of the bells after 100 years. Two are in Wyoming, USA, and one is in South Korea.

One of the stuff Oca gave us to read was a serious discourse he had written, “Reflections on Community Organizing and Ballroom Dancing.” Oca presents CO as an act of creation and celebration and smashes the totalitarian view that there is only one correct reading of the world and history.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sr. Menggay of the Aetas

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
“MAY YOUR spirit fly to the bosom of Apo Namalyari,” a sobbing Aeta leader wearing only a G-string said at the funeral Mass for Sr. Carmen “Menggay” Balazo last week, on Aug. 5. We were gathered at the convent chapel of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) in Carmona, Cavite. Present were Sr. Menggay’s fellow FMM nuns, her immediate family, friends and representatives of the Aeta community who came all the way from Zambales.

After the Mass we all proceeded to the FMM convent in Tagaytay City. Sr. Menggay was laid to rest directly in the ground in the FMMs’ beautiful burial place on the ridge which has a breathtaking view of Taal lake and volcano. The sun broke through the dark clouds as we bade Sr. Menggay goodbye, sang and threw flowers at her moist grave. Everything around was suddenly bright and green and the lake beyond turned misty blue.
And I thought of another volcano, Mount Pinatubo in Zambales, at the foot of which Sr. Menggay and her fellow FMMs spent years living and working among the Aetas. I knew their work. I had gone there in the 1980s when they began, and followed them after the 1991 world-class volcanic eruption that set them off on a historic exodus. But I am going ahead of the story.
Born 71 years ago in Misamis Occidental, Sr. Menggay passed away on Aug. 3 after a year-long battle with a lung ailment. She was ready to go. As the story went, the day before she died, she raised her arms and exclaimed several times, “Now, Lord!” And then conceded, “Tomorrow na lang.” (How we laughed over that.) Tomorrow did come and she was taken into the bosom of her God whom the Aetas reverently call Apo Namalyari.

I came to know Sr. Menggay during the martial law years. A bunch of us greenhorn activists (religious and lay) frequented the FMM convent in Pandacan where she was based and later became superior. Now I can say that the place was a hub for praying, reflecting, eating and, uh, plotting.

While fixing my files of photos and negatives last weekend, I found photos of Sr. Menggay. Sharp black-and-white and graphic colored ones that I took show her standing beside a naked corpse of an activist who was killed at a rally in September 1985. We were present at the autopsy.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bitter drinks and a sweet harvest

IF people clean and unclog their kitchen and bathroom plumbing every so often, why can’t they do the same for their own digestive system?

I did just that a couple of weekends ago upon the invitation of wellness advocate Jean Margaret Lim-Goulbourn of Global Vital Source (GVS), a group spreading the gospel of healthy lifestyle and good nutrition.

Goulbourn, a former fashion model, is known in the fashion industry for her innovative use of locally woven natural silk and for promoting them abroad. She is behind the successful Silk Cocoon line.

But even more important to her now is wellness, having herself faced a life-changing tragedy, the loss of a daughter.

It is a story that Goulbourn does not fail to touch on when she speaks about the need to take stock of one’s health and to eschew the loads of drugs and medication some people take to feel well. Changing the way we live can help us feel better, she suggests.

GVS has held dozens of Cleanse and Nourish weekends all over the country for different kinds of people, including priests in Albay, Goulbourn’s native province. “Mga Nonoy,” (Dear young men), she told the priests, “you have lots of health issues.” GVS drained them clean, a first step on a new road to wellness.
The weekend session I joined was called digestive clean-up or DCU, part of the Clean and Nourish regimen that GVS offers. DCU is an all-natural method of cleansing the body by giving it the time and circumstances it needs to rebuild and heal. It is a detoxification method of cleansing that causes the discharge of accumulated toxic matter from the digestive tract, liver and gall bladder. There were some 20 of us from all walks of life participating.
Two days before, we were instructed to refrain from coffee and fatty foods. That’s all. And then we were made to fast from food and water some 12 hours before coming to the venue, the New World Hotel in Makati, at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. A medical technologist was waiting to take blood samples for blood chemistry. We were weighed, and our waistline and blood pressure measured.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Death to car thieves

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

A WICKED SMILE forms on my lips and a nasty glint appears in my eyes whenever there’s news of car thieves and carjackers, and their ilk— lowlifes from hell—getting mowed down in a bloody gun battle with law enforcers. I feel like shouting, “And here’s a few more for your skulls, for the car you stole from me.”

And I think of a photo taken years ago that shows me wearing ear muffs while aiming a .45 and firing at a target. I did quite well but that was the first and last time I was ever in a target range. I am not gun crazy but my mind does a Dirty Harry when I think of the lowlifes that menace society.
And why not. I was a victim. That was way back in Dec. 2002, but I will never forget the day, the shock, the rage, the feeling of helplessness. Who said journalists aren’t supposed to feel helpless in that kind of situation? It’s really a nightmare for anyone and you keep wishing you’d wake up in the morning and find your car on the driveway. But no, I found myself in the police station and almost immediately doing the paper trail so that the vehicle could be tracked down, and if not, so that I could get a certificate of non-recovery and make insurance claims.
As they say, the sooner you work on the trauma the sooner you get over it. I had a new car in 30 days because I got my certificate of non-recovery a few weeks after my car was stolen and the insurance paid me right away. It could have taken longer but the head of the Traffic Management Group at that time was absolutely certain this journalist would not fake the theft of her own car.

I became such an expert on the subject of car theft that I ended up writing a long three-part series (with interviews and all) for the Motoring Section of the Inquirer. That is, the hows, the whos, the whats, the wheres. But what was not yet in practice then among car thieves was the use of sexy young women as spotters and social networking in the Internet such as Facebook or Twitter as part of the modus operandi. The latter gave the felons away and led to their capture and the death of one of them, Ivan Padilla.

And so with the latest news headline on the alleged leader of a car theft syndicate gunned down at the ripe age of 23—Padilla, that is—many car owners who lost their cars to thieves should be rejoicing. But this guy couldn’t have been one of those who stole my car because in 2002 he was only 15 years old. But he has ancestors and they must still be alive.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Coffee for a cause

“BLENDING indigenous coffee with passion for service.”

That’s what the AdvoCafé signage so unabashedly says. As in, who says coffee and advocacy can’t mix?
Peasants and princes, intellectuals and poseurs, artists and con artists, peaceniks and anarchists, techies and technocrats, sinners and saints, the bourgeois and the great unwashed – they have coffee stories and a need to have a caffeine fix in varying degrees to make it through the day or night. Or a desire to simply sit, sip, smell and enjoy the heady ancient brew while contemplating life or watching the world go by.
A new coffee place on the block is AdvoCafé, “a non-profit social enterprise in support of the indigenous people’s (IP) efforts for sustainable living.”

The neo-ethnic ambiance and the vision-mission statements on the café’s walls say it all. Indeed, it is a cool hang-out, especially for those who wear their advocacy on their sleeve or want to drink to it with their coffee or salabat (ginger brew). The place also hopes to raise people’s consciousness about indigenous people, sustainable living and fair trade.

Founded by 2004 Ramon Magsaysay (RM) Awardee for Emergent Leadership Benjamin “Benjie” Abadiano, the little café (all of 46 square meters) opened on June 28. AdvoCafé is on the ground floor of the RM building Annex, almost in front of the Diamond Hotel lobby on Quintos Street corner M.H. del Pilar in Malate, Manila.

Days before the formal opening, coffee lovers already came in droves to savor the cheap coffee and gawk at the interiors. “We could hardly cope,” exclaims Abadiano who lost many unwanted pounds during the café’s construction and while preparing for its opening. Employees of nearby offices had been eagerly waiting, often asking when AdvoCafé’s doors would open.