Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas news story: Aquino among the Mangyans

SOMETHING GROUNDBREAKING and historic happened on December 15. But there was no mention of it in the national media. No news stories, no photos, no TV coverage.

But so what. For the community of Hanunuo, Gubatnon and Ratagnon (Hagura) Mangyans of Occidental Mindoro it was a day they will never forget. President Benigno Aquino III flew to Magsaysay town to make the day very special. The Mangyans awaited his coming with bated breath and the sight of the descending helicopter with the President on board added to the excitement.

I was not present, but I am writing about the event because the Mangyans are a special people. I have stayed in their communities and written stories about them, although not these particular Mangyan groups that the President came for.

December 15 was the day of the awarding of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) which the Mangyans and their supporters, particularly the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), have been waiting for the last 15 years. The long and arduous struggle began in 1995 and many living Mangyans elders did not think they would live to see this day. In fact many of the elders who had presented proof of their ancestral domain claim have either died or are weak and sickly.

When the Mangyans learned that the CADT would at last be awarded to them, they made a request that would be rebuffed again and again: that the President come to hand over to them the CADT and for him to behold the joy on their faces. The Mangyans were told that this was not going to happen. They were simply not on the radar screen.

But as the cosmists might say, when you desire something good so intensely the universe will conspire to make it happen.

An FMM, Sr. Cho Borromeo, had saved the phone number of then presidential candidate Noynoy in her cell phone’s contacts folder during the campaign period. Sr. Cho does not work with the Mangyans but gives spiritual retreats all over the world. (We became close friends while spending months together and experiencing Asian spirituality in India many years ago.) But her heart and soul belong to the forlorn and forgotten.

Upon learning from her fellow nuns that the Mangyans had been rebuffed, she called the number that she had saved. It was suntok sa buwan. Maybe an aide would answer, she thought. No answer. Again and again she dialed. Then someone answered the phone. “Is this the President?” she asked. “Yes,” the President answered. Sr. Cho shook in her shoes.

Let’s cut to the chase. The President said, yes, he will come, but could the awarding be moved a day later?

And so it was that Aquino was among the Mangyans on that auspicious December day written in the stars. He flew by helicopter to Magsaysay town and was met by Mangyan elders wearing G-strings and head gear.

Said Aquino:

“Sa paggawad natin ng CADT sa grupong Hagura ngayong araw, hindi lamang lupang ninuno ang ibinabalik natin sa kanila. Higit sa lahat, patunay ito sa pagkilala natin sa lahat ng Mangyan bilang mahalagang pangkat ng ating lipunan; makabuluhang bahagi ng ating kultura at kasaysayan.

“Tulad ninyo, naniniwala rin akong hindi lamang ito isang paggawad. Isa itong pagpupugay sa inyong tapang upang maibalik sa inyo ang lupang ipinagkait sa inyo nang mahabang panahon. Ngayong hawak na muli ninyo ang lupang ipinamana ng inyong mga ninuno, umaasa akong patuloy kayong magiging katuwang ng pamahalaan upang pangalagaan ang kinabukasan ng mga susunod na Mangyan; ng mga sumusunod ring mga Pilipino.

“Nawa’y maging hudyat ang araw na ito sa mas matibay na ugnayan nating lahat sa pagtataguyod ng mas maliwanag na bukas para sa marami pang henerasyon.”

Hagura is the organization to which three Mangyan tribes belong. It covers 14 sitios in Magsaysay and three in San Jose. It was set up in 1995 to consolidate efforts to acquire legal right and develop the ancestral domain of the three tribes.

According to the FMMs, Mangyans’ ancestral domain is delineated not by municipal boundaries but by the location of the tribes. In the past the three tribes in Hagura were one tribe until they were given different names by the settlers.

Credit must go to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples who processed the claims and the FMMs who assisted in the surveys and explained the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) to the Mangyans in order to make them aware of their rights. The nuns climbed mountains, crossed rivers, slept in the open, ate what the Mangyans ate and, most of all, listened to the people’s sentiments. And as Aquino himself admitted in his speech, it was a nun’s persistence that brought him into the midst of the men and women of the great forests.

A battle has been won, but the Mangyans will not rest easy because of threats to their domain such as illegal logging, commercial mining, creeping pasturelands, and fighting between the military and the communist rebels. The Mangyans must not lose what they fought for and won.

Indeed, Christmas came early for the Hanunuo, Gubatnon and Ratagnon Mangyans. I have posted a photo of the President with the Mangyans in my blogsite.

And so as I partake of forest ferns and wild honey (my yuletide fare), as I quietly bask in the afterglow of Christmas night, I remember the time I spent among the Alangan Mangyans many years ago, in their hallowed grounds where the stars shone brightly and the wind whispered songs to the trees while I listened to ancient tales narrated by the fireside.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

'The Masses are Messiah'

LAUNCHED LAST week was Karl M. Gaspar’s latest book, “The Masses are Messiah: Contemplating the Filipino Soul.”

I was asked to write a blurb for the book’s back cover. After looking at the title I was discombobulated. But I thought I’d try. How does one distill into five sentences the essence of a book that was several years in the making and took the author over mountains and valleys, across rivers and seas and into the heart and soul of the people of our islands?

Anyway, let me quote myself: “Profoundly Pinoy! A must-read for both the actives and contemplatives of this planet. Somewhere on these pages you might recognize your own journey into your own soul, and beyond—from masa to misa to mystic to messiah. Karl has explored the amazing wilderness that is the Filipino soul and discovered gems so raw and so priceless. We are a spirituality gifted people and we should know it.”

Karl introduces us to his scholarly opus by dissecting the book’s title in Chapter 1. The title is from a poem written by poet-revolutionary Emmanuel Lacaba (1949-1976) who was killed in the prime of his youth.
The road less travelled by we’ve taken—/And that has made all the difference:/ The barefoot army of the wilderness/ We all should be on time./ Awakened, the masses are Messiah./ Here among the workers and peasants our lost/ Generation has found its true, its only home.
It was not lost on Karl that the poet’s name was Emmanuel which means God with us, Jesus the awaited Messiah that we sing about during this Advent season.

After hurdling the first chapter you can hurtle through the succeeding ones. From the chapter “Stories of Spiritual Journeys” Karl draws many tantalizing elements for his thesis. The stories gave him a window to what he calls the IBS (indigenous belief system) that would be in the core of his research.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Where advent means waiting with joy

THEY come from different walks of life and circumstances—each with a special life story to tell. Somewhere, sometime, at a certain point in their lives, they had reached what looked like the end of the road. For most of them, there was no one and nothing left except a last painful stretch of a life that had yet to be spent.

To whom will they go while they wait?

The residents of Anawim, Home of God’s Poor, have indeed found a place at last. Here, in the sunset of their lives, they wait for the final call to the great beyond. For these elderly and poor—materially and otherwise—everyday is Advent, a beginning.

Anawim is Hebrew for “the poor of the Lord,” often mentioned in the Bible.
Advent, the opening season in the Catholic liturgical calendar, means a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ, or Christmas. But not many people, the elderly poor especially, have the privilege of waiting with joy and peace in their hearts. And in a special place at that.
Nestled on a sprawling five-hectare property in Barangay (village) San Isidro in the outskirts of Montalban (Rodriguez), Rizal, the Anawim home is run by the Anawim Lay Missions (ALMS) Foundation Inc., the “mercy mission” of the Light of Jesus (LOJ) Community. LOJ is a Catholic charismatic group founded by lay Catholic preacher and author Bo Sanchez.

Marisa Chikiamco, LOJ missionary and former center directress, recalls how in 1993 the LOJ community acquired this property on hilly terrain. Sanchez simply stated the home’s vision: “Anawim will open its doors to whoever God will send.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blood under the bridge

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
THE SUPREME Court’s verdict is out, and it is final. Webb et al., accused and convicted for the crimes of rape and murder now known as the Vizconde massacre, have been acquitted and are walking free after spending 15 years in prison.

One of the things that bothered me about this case (and I have not heard it being stressed enough) is that the suspects, who became the accused in this case, were identified in 1995 or thereabouts, some four years after the crime happened in 1991. Four years is a long time, enough time for the real rapists and murderers to cover their tracks and produce believable alibis in case someone squealed on them and they became the suspects. It is also enough time for the evidence to get cold and for potential prosecution witnesses to conveniently lose their memory or vanish from the face of the earth.

Although the seven former convicts were acquitted, questions remain in people’s minds. But in the judgment of the seven justices who voted for acquittal (as against the dissenting four and the inhibiting four), the seven convicts could not be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Well, only God and the people around each of them at the exact time and immediately after the crime was committed could say if the acquitted did or did not commit the crime of the decade. Two decades later many of us ask: What should we believe?

If there is one person who is “morally certain” of the guilt of the acquitted—then and until now—it is Mariano Mison who was head of the National Bureau of Investigation in 1995 when Task Force Jecares was formed. I had a long interview with him at that time and found his “If only I could talk” statement most puzzling. When the accused were convicted in 2000, I tracked down Mison (then already retired) and sprang his 1995 statement on him. He remained steadfast in his belief (bolstered by fearful “silent witnesses”) and did not entertain doubts that innocent young men may have been sent to prison. And, yes, he talked. No more “if only.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

'The only way is up'

CONGRATULATIONS TO the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc. (AIDFI) and the villages in Negros Occidental where the ram pump was introduced and changed the lives of so many people in need of clean and continuous water supply.
AIDFI won first prize in this year’s BBC World Challenge, a global competition aimed at finding projects or small businesses from around the world that have shown enterprise and innovation at a grassroots level. Now on its sixth year, World Challenge, its sponsors say, is about championing and rewarding projects and businesses which really make a difference. The sponsors are BBC World News and Newsweek, in association with Shell.
Last year Filipino kariton “street teacher” Efren Penaflorida was honored as a CNN hero, and now a Philippine entry won in the BBC challenge. These two giant global media networks now have the Philippines in their rosters of grassroots greats.

AIDFI’s ram pump was among 800 nominees from all over the world. From the 800 nominees 12 finalists and three winners were picked. The two runners-up were Peru and Guatemala. The Philippine entry received a $20,000 grant and the two other winners got $10,000 each.

The sponsors are pleased to say that this year’s 12 finalists again “raised the bar for sustainable enterprises that are putting something back into their communities. They are all boosting livelihoods and improving living standards without wrecking the environment.” The competition showcased finalists from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas and provided inspiration. Viewers were urged to choose one from the 12 finalists as their favorite.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Taal: A Marian heritage site like no other

NO OTHER town in Batangas is like Taal. Walking down its streets is like walking down through history.

Declared a heritage town by the National Historical Commission, Taal offers many come-ons.
There is the basilica of Saint Martin of Tours, known to be the biggest in Southeast Asia; the Spanish-era structures and homes of great Filipinos; the lake and its active volcano; the exquisite calado embroidery on piña and jusi that has become world-famous.

Choose from an array of heritage museum-homes, among them the homes of Marcella Agoncillo (she sewed the first Philippine flag), Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio (the forgotten heroine of the revolution), the Apacible and Goco homes and the grand mansion of Leon Agoncillo.

Huge basilica

The imposing Basilica of St. Martin of Tours is Taal’s centerpiece. Declared a national shrine in 1974, its façade bears a resemblance to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Its tabernacle is made of silver and is said to be the only one of its kind in the Philippines.

The original structure was built in 1575, in the place now known as San Nicolas. In 1754 the basilica was destroyed by the Taal volcano eruption.

Rebuilding of the current structure took nine years (1856-1865) under parish priest Fray Marcos Anton and Spanish architect Luciano Oliver.

Intricate designs, many in chiaroscuro style, adorn the church ceilings and walls. Painted images of the four evangelists (Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) occupy the lower portion of the dome. Sts. Peter and Paul have special places on the ground level. The basilica has been undergoing a vigorous clean-up and restoration in preparation for this month’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

10 things that make PH ugly: readers react

I GOT interesting e-mail from readers, both Filipinos and non-Filipinos from here and abroad, all of them male, who reacted to last week’s column piece, “10 things that make PH ugly.” One thing I’ve known all along: when you make a list, you are likely going to be swamped with items to add to it.

I GOT interesting e-mail from readers, both Filipinos and non-Filipinos from here and abroad, all of them male, who reacted to last week’s column piece, “10 things that make PH ugly.” One thing I’ve known all along: when you make a list, you are likely going to be swamped with items to add to it.

Last week’s column was a reaction to the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) much-heckled campaign come-on, “Pilipinas, kay ganda” (Philippines, how beautiful) and unoriginal logo that looked similar to Poland’s. I also listed 10 things that I thought made beautiful Philippines not so “kay ganda.”
Well, see what I got. First I must say that the editor in chief pirated one of the letters—a touching one, really—for publication. It came from Ben Fairbank, an Australian who has been working and living here for the last two years. So I am not sharing his letter here. But thank you, Mr. Fairbank, for seeing so much goodness and beauty in this country. You love us, you really love us!
From Jojo dela Cruz in Beijing: “… [A]t the time I read your article I had just finished listing almost the same things: top 10 Boos (ugly) in the PH, as well as my top 10 Wows. In less than five minutes I was able to come up with my top-of-the-mind list. I am an expatriate working for a multinational FMCG company, previously based in Switzerland and now posted in Beijing. Often I would chat with my non-Pinoy friends and it is inevitable that they ask about PH. I often advise them, ‘Don’t stay long in Manila and head immediately to the beaches/islands.’ In the end most would go to Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia if they want to have a Southeast Asian experience. Only after they have covered these countries do they start considering PH. And they say it’s not only because of the spate of bad news, but also because they hear very little positive ‘touristy’ information and advertisements about us. Sad.”