Thursday, March 31, 2011


MY TENSES are getting mixed up. Present or past? Are the convicts still waiting to die, are they dying, or are they already dead?

By now we should already know the fate of the three overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) who had been condemned and scheduled to die by lethal injection in China on Wednesday. Dying or being killed by lethal injection seems less brutal than OFW Flor Contemplacion’s execution in 1995 in Singapore, which was by the rope. But death as a punishment by any method is brutal, merciless and inhuman. Many democratic nations, the Philippines included, have done away with it. But not China.
I watched someone die by lethal injection in 1999 when the death penalty (which had been outlawed during the administration of President Cory Aquino) was re-imposed and enforced for a few years during the Estrada presidency. I have written about the experience and don’t want to recall the details and write about it again. Let me just say that it looked like it was straight out of a movie, except that it was real and I was seated a few feet from the sobbing family of the convict and a few meters from the gurney on which the convict was strapped. Good thing there was a glass panel that separated the death chamber and us in the mini gallery.
It is a few minutes to the execution of the three OFWS while I am writing this piece and that scenario at the national penitentiary 12 years ago is beginning to play in my mind. I feel uneasy. I woke up at 4 a.m. and I was hoping to learn from the early morning TV news that the executions were not going to push through or have been deferred. I was disappointed. I prayed—for whatever purpose it may serve.

As a country that continues to send OFWs in the millions, we are never done with our collective mourning for our compatriots who toil in distant places—in deserts and oceans, homes and hospitals, factories and farms, theaters and hotels —and who lose their lives to disasters, disease, accidents, pirates, crime, wars and to their host countries’ lethal laws.

And so it has been this way these past months: earthquake in New Zealand, a package of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, war and strife in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Jordan, etc., pirates in Somalia, death penalty in China. The list goes on. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Department of Foreign Affairs, NGOs and church groups serving OFWs can hardly catch their breath, and the embassy personnel in beleaguered countries are under siege for help, protection and intervention.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More than just a library of her own

Sunday Inquirer Magazine/FEATURE/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Filed Under: Lifestyle & Leisure, Books, Travel & Commuting, Women

“A ROOM of her own” is what it used to be. But why stop there? Why indeed, when she could have an entire home to herself. A library, gallery and archive all hers.
The Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (Aliww) is proudly the first of its kind in the Philippines and in this part of the world. It is not merely a place to marvel at and feel good in, simply because it is there. It is, in fact, a treasure trove that functions and serves this universe of diverse, sentient beings, half of whom are women.
Aliww has not been wanting in attention during the last 16 years of its existence. A lot has been written about it, about the women who presided at its birthing and the women whose works have found room in it. Much has been said about its conception and reason for being. When at last Aliww came to be, there was no turning back. Like any work in progress, Aliww continues to grow and evolve into something worthy of celebration.
The latest? Aliww recently moved to a much bigger “room of her own,” the ground floor of the Rizal Library where the university art gallery used to be. It is inside the Loyola Heights campus of the Ateneo de Manila University. For Women’s Month this March, the women behind Aliww, executive director Rica Bolipata-Santos among them, made sure something extra special would be going on – the must-see exhibit of paintings (“Foretelling”) by noted artist Brenda Fajardo.

The metaphorical “room of her own” may have sounded like wishful thinking then, but in the case of Aliww, it is a wish come true. As Dr. Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz, board member, who co-founded Aliww with Dr. Soledad Reyes, does not tire repeating: “Without documents, no history exists.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Power books by, for, and about women

Filed Under: Literature, Women

MARCH, WOMEN’S Month, has a lot to offer to women and women lovers. Many activities are lined up in March and one can’t seem to find time for all of them. But a launching of many books by, for and about women is something different. It is not every day that one gets to see so many such books of different genres, intents and purposes and so many women authors in one room.
Last week Anvil Publishing and Powerbooks celebrated Women’s Month by presenting the latest delectable books by, for and about women. These books should be available in most National Bookstores nationwide.
In the literary category are “Gun Dealer’s Daughter” by prolific writer Gina Apostol, and “Angelica’s Daughters,” a “dugtungan” novel written by accomplished writers, Cecilia Brainard, Nadine Sarreal, Susan Evangelista, Erma Cuizon and Beronica Montes. Dugtungan, says the blurb by Brian Ascalon Roley, “is a genre of the Tagalog novel popular early in the 20th century, in which each writer creates a chapter and hands it off to the next, who writes another chapter without direction. The result, in this case, is an ensemble performance that contains something of the exhilaration of theatrical improv.”

Three books belong to the creative non-fiction category. “Rich Life” by journalist Joy Posadas contains essays that focus on women’s major concerns such as life-work balance, passion and fulfillment in one’s career and financial security and independence, among others. Posadas shares insights gained over the years and from what she gathered from successful individuals from varied backgrounds.

“E.D.G.E. (Every Day Great Examples)” features Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP) of past years, among them Cecile Guidote Alvarez, Soledad Aquino-Hernando, Pamela Gracia Concepcion C. Asis, Patricia Licuanan, Lourie Victor, Sonia Roco, Victoria Garchitorena, Edna Manlapaz and Noralin Mangondato Sharief-Ador.

“Peace Warriors: On the Trail of Filpino Soldiers” by journalist Criselda Yabes is an eloquent exposition on how different sectors of society, particularly the military, attempt to forge peace between different warring groups in Mindanao. Twenty years after her “The Boys From the Barracks” which chronicled the coup attempts in the 1980s, Yabes returns to the military in Muslim Mindanao, where the struggle to find peace is taking place. She weaves a richly layered story that fuses her personal history as a Mindanaoan and as a journalist covering peace and war in the area.

In the social science category are two books that present an alternative view of history by Christine Diaz. Written in engaging prose, “World History: New Perspectives” highlights history’s great moments, unforgettable episodes and how they relate to current realities. A great teacher, Diaz does her (hi)storytelling with a touch of humor and suspense. The book cover gives a hint of that. Diaz also wrote the critically acclaimed “The Other Philippine History Textbook.”

Three how-to books provide practical tips on how women (and men) can turn their cooking talents into profitable enterprises: “Restaurant Management 101” by Les Roches-trained Rosanna Gonzalez and Edna Reynoso-Anton, “Food, Business Ideas and Edible Gifts” by Vicky Veloso Barrera, and “Pinoy Vegetarian Cookbook” by food writers Dolly T. Dy-Zulueta and Susanna T. Dy

And in the children’s book category are “Spinning/Paikot-ikot” by Irene A. Sarmiento and illustrated by Christian Oliver Cruz and “Bituin and the Big Flood/Si Bituin at ang Malaking Baha” by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo (me) and illustrated by Inquirer cartoonist Jess Abrera.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Remembering Tañada vs Bataan nuke plant

Filed Under: Disasters (general), Government

FROM MY active files I just pulled out the booklet “The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant: A monument to man’s folly” subtitled “Pride and refusal to admit mistakes” by distinguished statesman, nationalist and former Sen. Lorenzo M. Tañada. The foreword was written by Jose W. Diokno, also a great nationalist and former senator.
The reason I pulled out the booklet: the magnitude 9 earthquake that rocked Japan on March 11 and the killer tsunami that roared through its coasts and killed thousands while the world watched it unfold in almost real time on TV. Following these unprecedented disasters of apocalyptic scale is a series of nuclear breakdowns which those of us living in the Pacific rim hope would not surpass in magnitude the nuclear disasters in Three-Mile Island in the US (1979) and Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union (1986).
The Tañada booklet I have kept these last 28 years moved to my active files last year during the election campaign when presidential candidates were asked about their stand on reviving the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). There was this Green Electoral Initiatives survey of the presidential candidates’ position on environmental issues initiated by Greenpeace and to which I was invited to be one of the jurors. The booklet served as a reference. It contains annexes, such as some proceedings of the investigation conducted by the Puno Commission (from which Tañada and human rights lawyer, now Senator, Joker Arroyo would walk out). It also has the transcript of Tañada’s grilling of a representative of Westinghouse, the builder of BNPP.

“A monument to man’s folly” was a speech Tañada delivered in 1983 before an audience of human rights advocates and later published by anti-nuke groups. This was one of the references I used when I wrote a rather long magazine article on the BNPP (“The Nuclear Plant is Almost Complete, But Questions Still Beg for Answers,” Panorama, April 28, 1985). I went over it a while ago and I thought what I wrote then could still apply today. The magazine, a collector’s item I must say, is 64 pages thick and is almost entirely dedicated to the pros and cons of the nuke issue. On the cover is Peta’s rock musical “Nukleyar.”

I had gone to the BNPP and had seen for myself the innards of the plant which was supposed to be 99 percent finished at that time (1985) and which had cost some $2 billion, with interest piling. The issue then was not just about safety, it was also about the economics of it and the questionable money trail. I vividly remember interviewing one of BNPP’s opponents Alberto Romulo (the foreign secretary until recently) on a sweltering Holy Wednesday. He explained to me the staggering cost operating BNPP would entail. The project was tied up with an onerous financial deal which involved a Marcos crony.

Tañada’s anti-nuke speech was not all rhetoric. It was well researched, based on facts and cited the Puno Commission’s findings: that the plant was not safe, that is was on old design plagued with unresolved safety issues, that safety was not assured, and that the crucial problem of nuclear waste disposal had not been resolved. Despite these, the suspension of construction was lifted in 1980.

Now I shudder to think of the BNPP’s revival as pushed by some lawmakers, given the massive plunder and corruption in government that were recently brought to light. (After the Japan tragedy, the main proponent in Congress of the BNPP revival shelved her measure.)

Tañada had tried to obtain the revised contract with Westinghouse from then Ministers Cesar Virata and Geronimo Velasco but was told that “the contract is confidential.” Raged Tañada: “I was astonished why a contract regarding an obviously vital and public matter and involving billions of the people’s money should be shrouded in secrecy, but that was the answer.” See now the importance of passing the Freedom of Information Act?

Recalled Tañada: “The only possible explanation could be found in the last paragraph of the Puno Commission’s Report, where (it) said that ‘it is to the best interest of our country and people that the project may continue only if Westinghouse agrees to renegotiate its contract with the National Power Corporation… to remedy the iniquitous and onerous stipulations of the contract, provide reasonable assurance of the safety…, assure supply of uranium fuels and allay the fears of the people about its possible hazards.’”

It was a long battle Tañada thought he was losing, but the people power revolt in 1986 that toppled the Marcos dictatorship would cause the BNPP to be mothballed but the people’s money that continued to go down the drain because of it was another story.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

From Nuremberg to The Hague

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo 
Filed Under: history, War, Armed conflict, Justice & Rights

I HAVE always been fascinated by war documentaries, like those on the Nazi era filmed by a woman, Leni Riefenstahl (“Triumph of the Will”), and by soldiers and “embedded” journalists. The ugliness of raw power, the cruelty and suffering as recorded, are enough to make anyone say, “Never again.”

On many of these images many war movies have been based. If you have watched the film “Judgment at Nuremberg” or the latter-day mini-series version, you must have a rough idea what an international trial court is about and must have been shocked by the atrocities committed by human beings against human beings.

The Asia-Pacific Times, a German publication I receive regularly from the German Embassy, recently featured the Nuremberg Trials Memorial. The article (“Justice and a bench”) began with a description of a piece of furniture, the bench on which accused war criminals of the Hitler era sat while they were being tried.

Wrote Klaus Grimberg: “This simple piece of furniture carries a tremendous symbolic power, as if justice and atonement have materialized in the hastily assembled wooden planks.” Among the accused who sat on it were Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess.

The permanent exhibit, the article said, is housed in the Palace of Justice and organized around the legendary Courtroom 600 where the trials conducted by the International Tribunal took place from Nov. 20, 1945 to Oct. 1, 1946.
“The Nuremberg Trials marked the beginning of international criminal law,” Grimberg wrote. “The Nuremberg Principles, established in 1950 by the United Nations, continue to be the foundations of modern international law. There is a straight line leading from Court Room 600 to the International Tribunal in The Hague.”
At The Hague in the Netherlands is the headquarters of the International Criminal Court (ICC) where modern-day “Nuremberg” trials are held. The Philippines will soon officially step into its portals.

The long awaited day has come for human rights advocates in the Philippines who have worked very hard to see the Rome Statute of the ICC signed by the President and for him to promptly endorse it for ratification by the Senate.
President Aquino officially signed the Rome Statute last Feb. 28 and did a symbolic signing last Monday, March 7, before the transmission of the instruments of ratification to the Senate. The President also received ICC president and judge Sang-Hyun Song who met with some members of the Senate.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Symbolic first $1,000 for each martial law victim

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
TWO DAYS ago, Tuesday, March 1, 2011, at a little past 10 a.m., I received my check for P43,200 (the equivalent of $1,000). I was the 28th martial law victim/claimant to receive a check on the first day of distribution (for those with surnames beginning with A to E) in Metro Manila. The checks were given out at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) compound in Quezon City.

Under the shade of a star apple tree heavily laden with fruits was a tent where claimants were processed and their proof of claim and IDs inspected. After this process, a claimant was given a number and told to proceed to the CHR mini-auditorium where the check distribution was being done.

Flashback: Last January, Honolulu Judge Manuel Real approved the distribution of $7.5 million to settle a class action suit filed in 1986 by rights abuse victims of the Marcos regime.

In 1995, a landmark decision by a US federal grand jury in Honolulu found the Marcos estate liable for torture, summary executions and disappearances of about 10,000 people and awarded the victims $2 billion in damages.
Only now do we taste the first trickle, 25 years after the Marcoses were toppled by people power, and almost to the day.
Robert A. Swift, the US attorney who led the legal battle in the US courts on behalf of almost 10,000 claimants, was there himself to give out the checks to every qualified claimant. Filipino counsel Rod C. Domingo Jr. was also there to welcome the steady stream of claimants.

Seated behind a desk, Swift went over the notice letter and IDs while an assistant pulled out the claimant’s check from a pile. The claimant signed, and Swift extended his hand for a handshake. The claimant was then photographed while holding his/her check.

Some claimants (victims themselves, aging parents of deceased victims and the disappeared) were in wheelchairs, others came hobbling through the pathways. Younger and able-bodied people like myself marched in with smiles on our faces, but I felt my tears welling up when an elderly woman sobbed before me while speaking about her younger brother, an activist, who went missing and was later found dead during the reign of terror.