Thursday, January 27, 2011

The good news that is Erica

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
WHILE WE continue to reel from the series of bad news—disasters, heinous crimes, bombing of innocents, accidents, price increases, etc.—that have sprung on us as 2011 began to unfold, we have not been bereft of good news.

The case of Catherine Erica Buenaventura was a big ray of sunshine that came during these crazy weather days. And it was not just about her, it was about so many people that were part of the miracle that slowly unfolded. Women and men of science and medicine, people and institutions in the service of the sick and needy, individuals who quietly gave of themselves financially, bodily, unselfishly without thought of rewards, and parents and next of kin who, armed only with faith that God would deliver the near impossible, never gave up.
Here was a frail little girl, all of three years, who could just have been slowly decimated by a deadly ailment—end-stage liver disease—and could have been given up as near dead. Erica was also suffering from portal hypertension or an increase in blood pressure in a system of veins within the stomach intestine, spleen and pancreas. She had malnutrition and bleeding in the veins and around the esophagus, both complications related to portal hypertension.
When I received notice from The Medical City (TMC) about Erica’s case, I didn’t think twice and went to the press briefing. The venue was full of medical personnel in their white jackets. So many of them, I thought, just as many as the media people present. Dr. Alfredo Bengzon, chair and CEO of TMC, gave the opening statement.

Here was a first. The first pediatric liver transplant on a Filipino child to be performed in the Philippines. The first to be performed by an all-Filipino team of doctors.

Two simultaneous operations took place on Jan. 7. Erica’s diseased liver was removed entirely. A part of her 18-year-old uncle Jefferson Llantino’s liver was also removed, after which it was grafted to where Erica’s liver used to be. The entire procedure took almost 24 hours, from 7 a.m. of Jan. 7 to the early morning hours of Jan. 8.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wanted: website for ML victims-claimants

INQUIRER JAN. 15 banner headline: “$1,000 for Marcos victims.”

In the story: “A federal judge in Honolulu approved on Thursday the distribution of $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by thousands of victims of torture, execution and abduction under the Marcos regime. The distribution provides the victims their first opportunity to collect something since they sued in 1986. Each eligible member of the class-action lawsuit will receive $1,000 under the plan approved by US District Judge Manuel Real.”

And so two nights ago I pulled out from my steel drawer the thick folder on which I had written in big, thick letters in 1993: “PROOF OF CLAIM of MA. CERES P. DOYO, Journalist. Re Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos, Human Rights Litigation, MDL 840, CLASS ACTION.” Below it I had scrawled, “Mailed, July 19, 1993” and “9539 claimants.”

The folder was inside a clear plastic envelope with a missing zip lock. I couldn’t help thinking that had my house gone under the 2009 “Ondoy” flood, as many Metro Manila homes had, these documents would have become flotsam. I found them dry and intact but yellowed.

Inside were supporting documents (news clippings, publications) and my personal account on what I had gone through during the martial law years. Letters/notices from the law offices of Robert A. Swift and Rodrigo C. Domingo were also inside. I received the latest one last month.

My experiences were nothing compared to what thousands had suffered. Many of them, I was told, did not, could not, file a claim because to recall the torment and torture they had suffered was like reliving their suffering all over again. Nothing could compensate their loss and pain.

But why did I file? (So did the editor in chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.) It was to bolster the claims of 10,000 or 9,539 victims to be exact. The compensation I will receive, my journalist’s mite, will not go to my pocket.

And so as of today, it’s supposed to be just a breath away, the $1,000 or P44,000 for each of the 9,539 claimants (now reportedly reduced to 7,526) seeking compensation for the human rights abuses they suffered during the martial law years under Ferdinand E. Marcos.

The amount looks like a miserable pittance or “loose change” compared to the claimants’ claim against the Marcos estate that is in the billions of ill-gotten/hidden wealth. But no one is protesting, because: One, there should be more where it’s coming from and this amount is just the first tranche, so to speak. Two—and this is even more important—this is not about the money but a historic victory that would vindicate the human victims of an evil reign. But yes, the money is also important especially for those who are poor and infirm who have long waited for justice to come their way.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An adventure with God in Mynmar

CAREER-WISE, everything was going roses for her: a series of job promotions, a hefty salary and a responsible position in a bank, great challenges to prove herself. There was no stopping her rise in the corporate world.

And then she made a sudden, radical shift to NGO work with all its challenges, lived a simpler lifestyle and made do with less money. Yet, she experienced much more joy. Going from corporate chic to a back-pack life, as she called it, the possibilities also seemed endless.
Carol Daria is a Catholic lay missionary who has been working among the youth in Myanmar for almost five years and with Fondacio-Asia, the spiritual community to which she belongs, for some 20 years. An accounting and industrial relations graduate, Carol continues to be amazed at the mysterious ways she had been led to where she is now.
Fondacio is an international Christian community, “a school of the Gospel, at the service of the world.” It has a status of “private association of the faithful” and is listed in the Vatican directory under new communities and movements.

Present in 20 countries, Fondacio gathers and animates people from different sectors of society – youth, students, professionals, poor, elderly, married couples and families. It is involved in works of evangelization, formation and development. (Visit www.fondacio-asia.org.)

This is how Carol describes her missionary work in Myanmar: “The mission that was entrusted to me is to help the Church form young people to become leaders at the service of the Church and society. Today, I am responsible for the formation program for the youth.”

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Black Nazarene, the morning after

O, POONG Hesus Nazareno…

It is now also a tourist attraction, this recent annual orgiastic, mesmerizing ritual that saw millions of devotees, males mostly, taking to the streets on their bare feet with only their salty towels to protect them from the sun and intermittent January rain. If you’re a tourist in search of exotica and a faith experience, this one was good enough if you can’t be at the true-to-life crucifixions in Pampanga during the Holy Week.

Christmas Day was just two weeks ago and New Year’s Day a week ago, and already the harbinger of dolorous but colorful Holy Week-bloody Jesus carrying his cross was out on the street. A great way to jolt many from their post-holiday stupor.

Until yesterday, several days after the Jan. 9 feast of the Black Nazarene, people continued to flock to Quiapo Church in Manila, the home of the venerated statue that, according to police reports, had some 7 million devotees showing up for the procession from the Quirino Grandstand (where the statue had been taken the day before) and back to the church of St. John the Baptist, also known as the minor basilica of the Black Nazarene. The procession lasted 17 hours. Not four or five, for that short distance. Indeed, the number of people and the procession hours have more than doubled over the years. And this was no longer a one-day but a three-day event culminating at midnight of Jan. 9.

The streets of Manila were once again filled with the odor of sweat and clogged with steaming bodies clad in crimson. Many fainted on the wayside, not a few clambered and walked on the sea of heads and hurled themselves on the carroza carrying the statue and found themselves tossed in the air like pizza dough. But all that waving, rubbing and throwing back and forth of white towels, all that fainting and moaning were part of the tableau, so to speak, as was the main attraction, the Black Nazarene, and its many doll-like clones borne in procession in the urban haze.

No deaths this year, only 700-plus injured and fallen ill. And mounds of garbage. But, most of all, renewed faith for millions.

Unlike in the past years, this time I did not see (on TV) streamers of the feast’s earthly patrons—department stores, hopia bakers, fast food joints, restaurants, drug stores, etc. But as usual, in the crowd were self-styled bearded messiahs crying in the urban wilderness, Jesus look-alikes wearing scarlet robes, faux long tresses and crowns of thorns. You cannot not have them.

I had watched this Quiapo spectacle up close only once, many years ago when I went with some photojournalists to shoot. The crowd then was not as frightening as what we’ve been seeing in the recent years. Quirino Grandstand was not in the itinerary then. For safety, we decided to perch on the high concrete island near Plaza Miranda. You either joined or ran away from the force of bodies cascading in your direction. You had to decide whether to flee or faint and be engulfed, slow-mo, by the surging tide.
One could be carried away by all the heaving, pushing, fainting and humming of bodies. There is something surreal about the ocean of faces gazing up with that look of hope alloyed with silent desperation. It is awesome. There is an unseen force that propels, there is a spirit that pushes the crowd to move like a river desperately seeking a direction, like lava exploding to break free.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

ULAP's silver lining

THE ANSWER is in the clouds. That is, if one is to go by the name of this organization run primarily by women and say the word with tongue in cheek.
“Ulap” literally means cloud, but for the women who want to start over, go on their own and bravely forge ahead, Ulap means Ugnayang Lakas Patungo sa Pag-unlad. Here the meaning of Ulap translates into something like “a gathering of strength towards progress.” It sounds awesome, but for those who are decided to eke a better future for their families, it should mean precisely that.
Brigida “Virgie” Apuyan Arteta, 49, has been a member of Ulap for eight years now. It was Ulap, a people’s organization based in Legazpi City in Albay, that gave her hope, strength and courage to start over and move on after a failed marriage.

Virgie’s case is not unusual. After their five children were born, her husband, a construction worker, began to look elsewhere. “Nagbalik siya sa pagkasoltero (He went back to being a bachelor),” Virgie says in crisp Bicol and sans pain in her voice. She laughs the laughter of the liberated.

By Virgie’s own account, she had done her legwork and gathered enough evidence of her husband’s infidelity. To the police precinct she went and had her complaint blottered. She even sought help from the Public Attorney’s Office. Parties involved came face-to-face in a meeting but there was no mistaking the fact that the marriage had already smashed against the rocks.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ralph and social action in time of terror

HERE’S A great quote for New Year from Wendell Berry, conservationist, poet, philosopher, Christian writer, teacher: “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
I wrote a 2008 New Year piece on Berry’s “The peace of wild things” and received inspired reactions from readers. It was a dark and difficult time and Berry’s words just seemed to come down softly like a shawl of clean rain. 2010 has not been an easy year for many, the poor especially, and December brought with it a final dose of tragedies and other shocking matters.

There is a time to grieve and a time to celebrate. Celebrating the life of Msgr. Ralph Crisol Salazar are his co-workers in social action circa the late 1970s and early 1980s. He passed away on Christmas Eve 2010 in the United States. He was 65.
Monsignor Ralph’s ashes were brought home and a two-day wake was held here in Metro Manila, after which his ashes were brought to Legazpi City where he had served in various capacities as a priest. Burial is tomorrow after the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Gregory the Great Cathedral where he once served as pastor.

I have no hesitation in writing about someone’s passing in my first column piece for 2011. Not if it is about a person whose life and work had an impact on the so-called “PDO” (poor, deprived and oppressed, a catchphrase during the martial law years).

Monsignor Ralph’s co-workers in social action who learned about his passing immediately came together to pay their respects. This may sound commonplace but it isn’t.

Long after Ralph (let me do away with the Monsignor) had ended his term as executive secretary of the National Secretariat of Social Action (Nassa) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the staff during his watch continued to be a family in many ways. Something was forged during his watch and long after they had left Nassa to move on to various service fields and bigger involvements, the media, etc., many of them maintained their bond. They—okay, we—call ourselves X-Nassa and we meet at the drop of a hat, that is, four to five times a year, to share stories and jokes, discuss the latest issues and, most of all, eat. Regular venue is the home of Maring Feria in Bel-Air, Makati.

Ralph rarely attended the get-togethers as he was busy with pastoral work in Albay, and later, the US, but he was present at our big 2009 gathering for him. Bishop Julio Labayen, chair of Nassa during Ralph’s watch, is present most of the time.

I was not a Nassa employee and therefore not close to Ralph but I did some writing projects for Nassa under his supervision (I have kept the publications) and think of myself as part of the X-Nassa family. I am almost never absent from the regular reunions.

In Ralph’s time, I remember going to the printing press to collect hundreds of copies of “Iron Hand, Velvet Glove,” a publication on military abuses. Nassa partnered with a human rights group in the documentation and publication of “Iron Hand.” Shortly after I had loaded the stuff in my car and driven off from the press, about a dozen plainclothesmen with firearms flagged me down. Guns were trained on Nassa writer Chit Estella and me. We were being brought to Camp Crame. It was night time.

I had the presence of mind to insist on being brought back to the printing press to make calls. After all, the Arrest Search and Seizure Order (the dreaded Asso) was not for me but for Al Senturias, my boss in the human rights group. I thought, once I stepped into Crame I would never get out. It was Ralph and Sr. Christine Tan, RGS (both in the board of the human rights group) that came to the rescue and extricated us from the clutches of the military. I drove home shaken but relieved. Sophie Lizares-Bodegon, head of Nassa’s research, publication and documentation who was on top of the “Iron Hand” project had to be more conscious of her own security.