Thursday, October 27, 2011

Martyrdom is cinematic

When I learned of the killing of Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio on Oct. 17 in Arakan Valley in North Cotabato, my thoughts went back to the killing of Fr. Tulio Favali in 1985. I still have the human rights postcard that shows a bloodied Favali, his brain splattered on the ground.

Father Tentorio, 59, fondly called Father Pops, was the third priest belonging to the Pontifical Institute for the Foreign Missions to be gunned down in Mindanao. He was laid to rest yesterday, with some 10,000 people seeing him off, many of them lumad (indigenous people) whom he served for more than 30 years. There were many stirring images there that, I hope, might someday inspire someone to make a movie or documentary of it. So unchoreographed, but so cinematic.

And so my thoughts also went back to the 1986 movie “The Mission,” directed by Roland Joffé, which I had watched several times. I loved the movie so much that I had to get the movie’s sound track by Ennio Moriconne. A few days ago I dug up my 1986 Sunday Inquirer Magazine write-up on the movie (“The Mission: International cinema’s last dinosaur”) which had Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons in major roles as Jesuit missionaries defending the oppressed South American natives. Martyrdom was to be their crowning glory.

I also dug up my 1985 Favali-related magazine article which was about the diary of Fr. Peter Geremia, the real target of Favali’s killers. Then I went over my 2005 column on Sr. Dorothy Stang who was killed in Brazil for defending the indigenous tribes and the Amazon wilderness from exploiters.

Going over my own written stuff on bloody events of the distant past was perhaps my way of contemplating the recent bloody events. There have been so many this October—the assassination of Father Tentorio, the mass killing of soldiers in Basilan by Moro rebels despite the on-going peace talks, murders, rapes, family massacres, deaths caused by environmental disasters. And we’re just a few days away from All Saints’/All Souls’ Day when we honor our dear departed. October is Indigenous Peoples Month.
With Father Tentorio in my thoughts, I read what I had written a quarter of a century ago on a movie on martyrdom. Hmm, I thought, I could have written this just yesterday.
“The music, the song and the gaze of each native bear the mark of sadness for the plundering of the land…Our feet are calloused by the long journeys we have made, fleeing from the invader each time he has driven us into a corner.”

That was part of the message of the indigenous people of Colombia to Pope John Paul II during his visit there, I wrote. This painful and damning modern-day epistle could very well have been written by the Guarani Indians of 18th century Paraguay to the Pope of that time, when the Indians, along with Jesuit missionaries caught in a political maelstrom not of their own making, were driven out of mission territory and butchered by men who believed that might is right. This is what the film “The Mission” is all about.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Readers write

Rarely do I use readers’ letters in this space. Readers send feedback via the Inquirer online, email, snail mail, text or to my blogsite. I get surprised when a piece that I thought would not get much reader reaction—whether negative or positive—would elicit reflective feedback, sometimes laden with personal insights.

Last month I wrote about Welcome House and the Heart of Mary Villa, both run by the Good Shepherd Sisters, and their services for “the last, the least and the lost” (“For PCSO to know,” Sept. 29). Both were in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s list of “endangered” service-oriented institutions.

Joan Orendain, a known PR practitioner, wrote me a letter: “How Welcome House welcomed my two little boys and me in 1974! Yes, we were in crisis.

“Lucky, 4, became Sr. Catalina Santos’ shadow, following her around all day, helping her water the plants (the floor got it more than the plant). But Sister Catá (the daughter of the Armed Forces Judge Advocate General) never complained…

“TJ, 6, helped the cook in the kitchen. My bosses, commissioned by the World Bank to do feasibility studies on Philippine highways to be reconstructed, brought my typewriter to Welcome House. There, I put the reports together, and in my spare time, was comforted by Sr. Emma Alday, a guidance counselor and the gentlest of souls.

“All the other women at the crisis center were pregnant and unwed, except one who was married to an activist who had gone into hiding and left the pregnant lady and her two-year-old son homeless. We were one another’s support group, bolstered by the Good Shepherd Sisters who fed and kept us whole.

“My sons were in such a loving atmosphere that they never complained about missing friends or not seeing the outside world during our over a month’s stay at Welcome House. They must have thought we were on an extended holiday in that nurturing atmosphere.
“It’s such a wrench to think that the PCSO has withdrawn funding for such an important institution as Welcome House. We have to pray PCSO will have a change of heart.”
From Charlie Falquerabao: “I have read your column “One woman, 15 pregnancies, 12 children”. You know what? My family has the same story as the family of Yoling. My mother had 13 pregnancies and 10 children. I was raised in the very remote province of Mindoro Oriental where life is so simple. My father is a farmer and my mother is a plain housewife. There is no electricity, no vehicles, no cell phones, no gadgets, no apples, no burgers, etc…

“The weird thing was that while I was in the middle of your story I found myself crying. I didn’t know the reason why but my tears kept on pouring. Just want to share, “pinaiyak mo ako eh (because you made me cry).”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

One woman, 15 pregnancies, 12 children

She is 42 years old, has had 15 pregnancies, two of them miscarriages and one induced abortion. She has 12 children who are alive, the eldest of them aged 26 and the youngest about four or five. She has three grandchildren, two of them children of single mothers.

I met Yoling (not her real name) last week. A friend brought Yoling with her from a town in Rizal where both their families reside. Yoling stayed overnight in Quezon City while waiting for someone to pick her up. She was going to a home somewhere outside Metro Manila where she will be working as a maid for a monthly pay of P2,500.
When I learned that Yoling has 12 children I asked her if I we could talk. She said yes right away. I told her I was a journalist writing for the Inquirer. I also said that she must have a very interesting life and a good story to tell. Could I write about her? Could I take a photo of her? Could she tell me her name and her children’s? She said yes to all without shyness or hesitation, but I also told her that it was best that I withheld her identity.
I asked my questions with utmost respect. Yoling was serious but not guarded, she was not the very talkative type but she answered questions straightforwardly.

Yoling is a real person. She is not a fictitious character or a composite of so many women.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mattress peddlers, NPA hostages

A heart-rending sight for me is that of a lone man carrying a whole bed or aparador on his back and walking the streets of the city, hoping to sell the homemade furniture, be relieved of the load on his back and go home with some money. A Philippine version of the Carrying of the Cross, indeed. I see this every now and then, and I wonder if bad elements would even think of divesting such peddlers of their wares and money like they do to taxi drivers, pedestrians and students.
This thought played on my mind as I went over the case of the Initao 6, homemade mattress peddlers from Initao, Misamis Oriental, who were abducted by the communist New People’s Army (NPA). The men left home on Aug. 10 and were said to be headed for the Bukidnon uplands and even stopped by a fiesta in the hope of maximizing their sales. They are James Mabaylan, 60, driver; Nelson Bagares, 46; Segundino Dailo Jr., 46; Ernesto Callo Jr., 34; Julieto Sarsaba, 30; and Ronal Boiles, 28. Four are married, Sarsaba and Boiles are single.
The abduction became publicly known when a press conference was held at the residence of Bukidnon Archbishop Antonio Ledesma sometime in early September. On September 13 the NPA under Commander Parago in Paquibato district (bordering Bukidnon and Davao) owned up to the abduction and stated the reason: the mattress peddlers were allegedly spying for the military.

The families of the hostages had sought the help of Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte but he reportedly declined to intercede on the hostages’ behalf. His reason: he was a resource person of the National Democratic Front (of which the NPA is part). But there are those who have speculated that Duterte, known to be a persuasive politician, did not want to see a repeat of the failed release of jail guards whose freedom was reportedly promised to him by NDF chair Luis Jalandoni.

So the Initao 6 are still out there, in forests primeval perhaps, without their mattresses to sleep on. Or did the NPA abductors seize the mattresses, too? Might these have contained deadly weapons in them?

I got an update on the Initao 6 from Jurgette Honculada, a gender and labor rights advocate from Zamboanga who serves as a member of the Government of the Philippines Peace Panel (presently headed by human rights lawyer Alexander Padilla) in talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF. So-called peace talks have been on-and-off for the last 24 years. And though dwindling in number, the CPP/NPA/NDF can still wreak havoc in a dramatic way, like the recent attacks on mining operations in Surigao del Norte.

Should these talks just continue for as long as it takes? Or do we want to see a denouement of some sort? (In plain language, maghalo ang balat sa tinalupan.)

On the subject of mattresses. Some 15 years ago, a group of enterprising young men from Davao, Bukidnon and Davao City tried their hand at making homemade coco coir mattresses . These men later married and settled in Barangay Tubigan, Initao, which became a center of mattress production.

Mattress making is the main source of livelihood of more than one-third of families in the barangay. Children help convert coconut husk into fiber through the pagkuskos method. Each mattress contains around 10 kilos of coir. The women make mattress covers from out of sacks. The men do the carpentry and assembly, as well as look for customers.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

'Ina': What price family, faith, love

Love, commitment. The self, comfort, material possessions. Family. Occasionally, these are put to the test. Which will endure? At what price?

Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s latest film, “Ina: Ikaw ang Pag-ibig,” does not beg for obvious answers as it follows what looks like separate journeys of individuals whose lives are inexorably linked with one another. Although familial, emotional and spiritual ties exist among them, each has a road to follow, a different drummer to heed.

Then there is “Ina,” the venerated image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia who is known for her miraculous intercessions, and who is at the heart of the movie.

Vangie (Ina Feleo) is a single mom to Gabby (Yogo Singh), her young son with boyfriend Joey (Jomari Yllana), an OB-Gyne who keeps pressing her to finally marry him so they could have a family. Dr. Joey is caring, committed and affectionate but Vangie who works in advertising is afraid to commit.

Vangie lives with mom (Shamaine Centerera), who looks after Gabby, because her absentee dad (Noni Buencamino) has been working abroad for years and is ostensibly not coming home soon.

Vangie has a pro bono sideline radically different from her commercial productions. She’s working on-and-off on a documentary on the Virgin of Peñafrancia.

Fr. Johnny (Marvin Agustin) is Vangie’s only brother, who takes his priestly vocation to heart, braving sun and rain and driving his motorcycle through dirt roads to reach his flock in remote places. Work and stress take their toll and he comes down with leukemia.

At this point, the Cruz family must either hang together or pull apart. Family problems, medical procedures, financial woes and spiritual questions surge on them like a tsunami.

Son in tow, Vangie travels to Bicol to visit the Virgin of Peñafrancia, whom she only knows through her video footage. They quietly slip into the small chapel where the image is usually kept after the feast. Vangie seeks out an aunt who turns out to be the keeper of the virgin’s miraculous cape, and returns to Manila with it.

Fr. Johnny is close to dying. A risky bone marrow transplant could spell the difference. Vangie is the only matching source for bone marrow. Will she or won’t she?

An intense moment: Vangie confesses to her ailing brother in the hope that the sacrament would result in healing for him, for herself and her family. She spills all.

By this time, the “Ina” that Vangie used to know only as the image on her video screen has come alive in her family who is drawn closer together. But there are loads of material and interior baggage they’d have to give up. Will there be healing for Fr. Johnny and the rest of them? Where is the miracle? You will have to watch the movie.

Weaving footage of a true-to-life event (the Peñafrancia feast) into a fictional feature film takes a lot of creativity. Diaz-Abaya and her crew braved the surging crowds to film this once-in-a-century event.

The budget-challenged indie film is a celebration of the 300th year of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, whose week-long September feast draws hundreds of thousands of devotees, spiritual seekers and tourists to Naga City where she is enshrined. It was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Nueva Caceres under Archbishop Leonardo Z. Legazpi.

“Ina,” says its director, was no ordinary project. Even while battling cancer, she forged on to do what she now considers the film closest to her heart. The multi-awarded director has done many groundbreaking and socially-relevant movies (“Rizal,” “Muro-ami,” and “Bagong Buwan” among many), but “Ina” has a special place in her heart.

“It could be my swan song,” she quips. “I had no idea if I could see it through. If I didn’t, there was [director] Laurice Guillen or Olive Lamasan, both Marian devotees, to finish it.”

But Marilou Diaz-Abaya and her “Ina” came through with flair and flourish. A miracle. Viva la Virgen!