Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pope John Paul II launched my writing career

(This piece came out on page 1 of the Inquirer in 1995 when Pope John Paul II visited the Philippines for the second time. Here is a shortened version to celebrate his beatification on May 1, 2011.)

WELL, AS they say, everyone has a story to tell. I have mine. And I might as well tell it too.

The first feature story I ever wrote in my life got me and the magazine editor in big trouble with the Marcos dictatorship. Six months later, on Feb. 21, 1981, Pope John Paul II handed me a rock trophy for what I wrote.

I was not even a journalist at that time. I was working with a church-related human rights organization. My background was clinical psychology and for some time my world was psychometrics and counseling, until I became a religious novice and metamorphosed into a human rights worker. That was when the writing began.

When the Pope came in 1981, I covered his visit for a news agency, and I was able to see the Pope up close. But it was during the closed-door Catholic Mass Media Awards ceremonies (held at the Radio Veritas auditorium) that I was able to come even closer.
I was covering the affair and had to dress formally because I was also a nominee. The Pope came in a helicopter. His address to communicators in Asia was aired live. Then the Pope disappeared for a while to meet with persons with leprosy. The Pope returned to the stage and the winners’ names were called.

I was not dumbstruck when I heard my name. Not that I was so sure of my writing. I just felt a very calm soothing feeling sweeping over me. It was like everything was in slow motion.
Former UP President Salvador P. Lopez and Bishop Justino Ortiz were onstage to assist His Holiness. I went up the stage and kissed the Pope’s hand. Then he handed me the trophy. I felt his hand tighten around my head. The Vatican photographer clicked twice.
What did this mean? What was God telling me? I asked myself. What was written on the plaque gave me goose bumps all over. “In recognition of outstanding achievement in interpretive reporting that dramatized the implication of government action which impinged upon the culture and survival of an ethnic community. Written with a depth of human understanding and a passion for the truth.” I wanted to sing the Magnificat.

The feature I wrote was on Macliing Dulag, now immortalized as a Cordillera great, the chief of the Butbut tribe, the slain Kalinga brave who opposed the Chico River Dam. (Last Sunday, April 24, 2011 was the 30th anniversary of his death.) Because of that story (with great photos that I took) my editor Letty J. Magsanoc and I were grilled separately by the defense department. A photo of myself being castigated before a panel of military men led by Defense Undersecretary Carmelo Barbero landed on the front page of the biggest newspaper then. Police reporter Ramon Tulfo covered the interrogation. I have a transcript of that interrogation.

I still have copies of the newspaper (July 1980) which had on its front page four photos—those of the Pope wiping tears away while meeting with lepers in Portugal, Imelda Marcos in Japan and Miss Philippines Chat Silayan winning third in an international beauty contest and myself. What company, I thought.

Anyway, a few weeks after the 1981 CMMA and the Pope’s visit, I received two big color photos of myself with the Pope. It came from the Vatican.

And the writing went on and on.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A glimpse of Paradise Lost

Sunday Inquirer Magazine/FEATURES/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Filed Under: People, Environmental Issues, Natural Resources (general)

HE knew the wilderness and its many secrets. Each leaf, each stem, each trunk spoke to him in ways ordinary humans might not hear. He hearkened to them and gave them names. From under the huge canopy of green that was his second home, he would emerge, carrying with him evidence of rare and amazing life. He had glimpsed paradise. The world, he thought, needed to know about the treasures hidden in these endangered vastness.
But Filipino botanist Leonardo L. Co was gone before he could share this bounty. Killed by military forces in the wilds of Kananga, Southern Leyte on Nov. 15, 2010, he left a void crying out to be filled. Who will follow in his footsteps in forests primeval?
But his family, friends and colleagues are not frozen in mourning. If they cannot totally fill Leonard’s mountain shoes, they are at least attempting to take the path less-traveled that the botanist had trod for many years. They, too, are heeding the call of the wild, embracing a world that the consummate scientist and lover of plants had considered as the place to be.

That was how it was in the days that ran up to Easter and Earth Day this year. To celebrate the botanist’s life, a Leonardo Co Trail was opened somewhere in the Sierra Madre mountain range bordering Palanan, Isabela. Going to Palanan alone takes some guts, as it is on the remote “other side” of Luzon, separated by awesome mountains and the so-called Last Great Forest.
Weeks before, an advance reconnaissance team (see photo) composed of University of the Philippines (UP) Mountaineers and their Dumagat guides prepared the way for the “Palanan Co Sierra Madre Trek” that was to follow during Holy Week, starting April 15.

Here’s a recon team member’s message sent by satellite phone: “5 days of trekking, 4 soaking wet nights, 30 mins of sunshine, 15 squares of canned sardines, 2 river eels, 7 leech bites, 3 foot blisters, more than a dozen river cross, countless slips and slides, and to top it all off, 4 very awesome Dumagats and 6 funny mountaineer friends, makes for 1 great and unforgettable experience, all for 1 very special botanist. And the best part is, we’re only halfway there.”

That was where this “1 very special botanist” had wished some of his ashes would be strewn. By now, Leonard’s wishes will have been fulfilled. His resting place: his “field lab,” the 16-hectare Forest Dynamics Plot in Palanan, begun in 1994 and of which Leonard was co-investigator (with Drs. Perry Ong and Daniel Lagunzad). In this area, some 335 species of plants have been identified. A trail was opened and named after him. (The other existing trails are the Aguinaldo, Carabao and Bisag Trails.) Some 30 mountaineers, friends and family members braved the wilds to honor him. Darwin Flores was trek organizer while veteran explorer-mountaineer and artist-teacher Bobby Acosta was trek leader. ROX Outdoor Gear was the main sponsor.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An Ofw's Via Crucis

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Filed Under: Overseas Employment, Religion & Belief

THIS HOLY Week, put aside the good old devotional prayers and walk the road to Calvary via the path of the overseas Filipino workers. Carry their burden, wear their crown of thorns, drink from their empty cups, feel the stripes on their backs and the fever on their brows. Broil in the desert sand, be tossed at sea, descend to the pit of their loneliness.

Most of all, let us enter the cave of their hearts.
For many Filipinos, the way to jobs overseas has been a road to Golgotha. Into the valley of death many have been led, into lives of misery and shame not a few have been lured.
With them, we cry, de profundis, ahhh, Father, have you forsaken us? How have we come to this?
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee. Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

First Station: Jesus is condemned to death. A poor Filipino sells properties, borrows money at high interest rates so he can go abroad and be employed. Even before he leaves, his family is already deep in debt.

Second Station: Jesus carries His cross. The labor recruiter exacts a high fee, but the poor worker has no choice. The OFW-to-be leaves, carrying with him the burden of his family’s debts. How long will he slave away in loneliness in a foreign land so his family can live a better life? Will he come home to find his family intact?

Third Station: Jesus falls the first time. The poor Filipino farm girl arrives in a foreign land and is soon snatched by her strange employer, then taken to a home where she finds herself alone and with no one to share her burdens. Held a virtual prisoner, and having little contact with the outside world, she imagines the worst that can happen to her. She is despondent.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cashing in on poverty

Filed Under: Poverty, Entertainment (general), Television, child abuse, Crime

CAN WE really believe, as we are made to believe, that the live TV shows that draw in the poor and feature the poor for entertainment purposes in exchange for easy money were conceived with altruistic motives and not for huge profits?

In the wake of the recent furor over the “Willing Willie” TV show that featured what looked like a discombobulated six-year-old boy gyrating like a macho dancer and other similar display of abilities (by toothless senior citizens, for example) in exchange for monetary rewards, poverty is always invoked as the reason why.

Today, live shows featuring kids are not anything like the highly rated “Kids Say the Darndest Things” of yesteryears.

Poverty is supposed to be the reason shows like “Willing Willie” on TV5 and its predecessor “Wowowee” on ABS-CBN’s Channel 2 (before the debacle that caused host Willie Revillame to leave and move to TV5) exist. Poverty is the reason legions of poor people aspire to participate in game shows and entertain the audience with all sorts of antics that no one in his or her right mind would want their bedraggled or aging parents to do on television.

Poverty or profit?

Poverty is what Revillame invoked when he justified the format of his show. You, he lashed out at his critics, what have you done for the poor? Oh, the many things he had done for the poor, the multi-millionaire show host said, and his legion of fans that stand by him is proof of this. What indignities are his critics talking about, his supporters ask, what oppression, what human rights violations? The poor, they say, love the show. They dream to participate and go home with oodles of money—for a song, a dance, a “wrong mistake” that sends the audience laughing at their expense.

Right after the 2006 “Wowowee” anniversary stampede that killed more than 70 people, Revillame was quoted as saying, “Gusto lang naming sila mapasaya.” (All we wanted was to make them happy.) And so the poor innocents who were there for the thrill met their tragic end.

“I saw something very wrong, very, very wrong,” Chief Supt. Querol said then, his voice almost cracking, after he saw people stepping over the dead and clamoring for raffle tickets.

Watching the fact-finding investigation at that time, I couldn’t help noting that the line of questioning focused mainly on where, when and how the tragedy happened, the security lapses, the physical layout of the place, the numbers. It was all about crowd control. No one asked about the essence of the “Wowowee” show, its purpose, sponsors, audience. Did the show producers even remotely realize that the show was playing Pied Pier and might be leading innocents to a tragic end? For the investigators it seemed enough that they knew that it was some kind of daily game show that raffled off huge prizes in cash and in kind.

I had hoped then that if a Senate hearing was going to be conducted “in aid of legislation,” the parties concerned would look into the nature of TV shows. Not to curtail media freedom, but so that the interest of viewers and the participating public would be protected. Not just from physical dangers but from the non-physical too.

Were lessons learned?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Toxic sea: NIMBY

Filed Under: Disasters (general), Advice, Nuclear accident, Safety of Citizens

ALARMISTS AND doomsday soothsayers are abroad in the land in the aftermath of the disaster several weeks ago that devastated Japan, considered the most disaster-prepared country in the world. Many of us are wont to say: Think how we would all be had the triple whammy happened in our disaster-prone country where disaster preparedness is way behind other countries. Only after “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009 and the tragedy in Japan did we begin to be personally prepared, that is, right in our own homes and small communities. National is another story.
I am talking about ordinary citizens having “I am ready” bags and emergency kits in their homes and cars. I have mine. I even have a reflectorized net vest in shocking green, which I hope I will not have to use at all. I was an outstanding Girl Scout in my youth, by the way, and I still live by the GS motto, “Be prepared,” and the GS slogan, “Do a good turn daily.” I should not be shy to broadcast this.
What worries many people now is the aftereffect of the damage in the nuclear plants in Fukushima and the radioactivity that could reach distant places. Japan, a news report said the other day, is going to release toxic water into the sea. “Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) will release almost 11,500 tons of water contaminated with low levels of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, as workers struggled to contain the increasing amounts of dangerous runoff resulting from efforts to cool the plant’s damaged reactor.”

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano, the top government spokesperson, told reporters in a televised press conference, “We have no choice but to release water tainted with radioactive materials into the ocean as a safety measure.” Tepco has been pumping tons of water into the four reactors at Fukushisma in order to prevent a meltdown, and this water has become radioactive. And to free up space, this “seriously radioactive” water has to be released into the sea. An additional 1,500 tons of radioactive water will also be released from two reactors.

This radioactive water will go into the Pacific Ocean which Japan shares with the Philippines, several Asian countries and even the United States.

The first thing that comes to mind is, what happens to our food that comes from the sea? What are the health hazards? And what about tourism and tourists who are lured by our Pacific sand, sea and skies?