Thursday, November 24, 2011

Filep Karma, prisoner of conscience

Again, to explain: The columnists’ mug shots show closed eyes this entire week, our way of proclaiming solidarity with victims of crimes and their families who have doubly suffered because of the culture of impunity which has allowed those guilty to remain unpunished or to be above the law. This week also marks the second anniversary of the massacre of 58 innocents, 32 of them media practitioners, which happened in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Although some masterminds and other suspects are now behind bars, the judicial process proceeds at a slow pace and the families of the victims have yet to get the justice they are crying for.
We close our eyes to pray, reflect and remember.

And while we continue to keep vigil for our suffering fellow Filipinos, it is also fitting that we take up the plight of our immediate neighbors. An Indonesian journalist, who now works for Human Rights Watch and specializes in human rights abuses in West Papua, asked me if I could spare some space for a Papuan political prisoner. (We met in East Timor in 1995.Our Filipino group and several foreign Human Rights Watch workers were, at that time, among those hastily kicked out of the island after our presence was discovered by Indonesian intelligence.)
The man of the hour is Filep Karma, proudly Papuan (but with Indonesian citizenship), who has been languishing in jail for some six years because he expressed his desire to see his fellow Papuans and his homeland free from Indonesian rule.
Last week, Karma won his legal case in the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Karma, sometimes called “the Nelson Mandela of West Papua,” is probably the most well-known political prisoner in Indonesia. It used to be Xanana Gusmao, whose case I had followed and whom I had written about during Timor Leste’s protracted bloody struggle to gain independence from Indonesia. Heavily tortured while in prison, Gusmao would later become the first president of his new country. I wept upon seeing their flag raised for the first time.

It is now West Papua’s turn to be heard. Karma is the voice of a people’s hope for freedom. Karma is detained at the Abepura prison in Jayapura. He wishes his Filipino friends and alma mater to know about his plight and take up his cause. Karma lived in the Philippines from 1997 to 1998 while studying at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati.

Karma was thrown into prison on Dec. 1, 2004, after he raised high the Papuan Morning Star flag at a political rally that commemorated the Papuans’ independence from Dutch rule.

Karma, who has explicitly denounced the use of violence, was convicted for crimes of hostility against the state and sedition. He is now serving a 15-year sentence despite calls for his release from NGOs and government officials. He is suffering from a prostate problem.

Karma recently won his case before the UN Working Group with the help of his pro bono lawyers from Freedom Now, a Washington-based NGO which also represents Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo of China. The same group represented Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Smokey Mountain's rainwater eco-laundromat

Smokey Mountain, the internationally known garbage dump that the media, social scientists, activists, environmental advocates, politicians and religious groups had so often visited, is no more, but the name, the symbol, the actual spot remains. For a long time, many visitors who experienced the shocking poverty and amazing endurance of those who earned their living through scavenging there had hoped that Smokey Mountain, this shameful symbol of Philippine misery, would vanish, if not transmogrify into something else.
Well, it did, thanks to the efforts of many concerned groups, individuals and the government. Tondo’s Smokey Mountain, the garage dump, is no more. The story of its transformation, the stories about the lives of the people who once lived on garbage could fill books. (There is a coffee-table book.) Where once there was a dump whose toxic fumes quietly killed many, there are now some two dozen five-story tenement buildings that house more than 2,000 families.
But the place is far from pleasant because poverty is still the lot of those who live there. Many of the residents still thrive on garbage, but now in a more organized, ecologically friendly way. Now in place is a materials recovery facility (MRF) where useful garbage (collected from institutions, homes, streets) are deposited, classified and segregated.

Last week I was in what used to be the Smokey Mountain dump. The last time I was on Smokey Mountain was when it was still a garbage mountain. Many “alternative” activities had been done there in the past, like exposure trips for visiting NGOs and the like. I remember joining a Holy Week Stations of the Cross there, organized by a militant church group immersed among the urban poor. At the end of the para-liturgy, Jesus Christ’s cross was fittingly planted on top of the dump. That gave us a feel of Calvary cum deadly fumes.

Today there is still a small portion of the mound that remains unleveled, but it is covered with grass, shrubs and some trees. The sad thing is that poor families are starting to set up homes there. There’s still a lot that can be scavenged and excavated, I was told, like pieces of wood that can be turned into charcoal. In fact, many are now into charcoal-making, a very unhealthy and environmentally damaging endeavor that needs to be checked. Young children who help out emerge from their smoke-filled lean-tos looking like troll dolls covered with soot. I hope to go back there to check things out.

So what bright spot am I talking about?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Crime, showbiz, politics and 'other families'

Also guns, money, power and treachery. They make for a long-running telenovela.

The only telenovela I ever followed closely was “Falcon Crest,” which ended in the 1990s. The plot got so corny and convoluted toward the end that I lost my interest in the final episodes. That’s why I don’t remember how it ended. I only remember the earthquake that rocked the wine valley.

That was before Mexican telenovelas became so popular and addictive here. After the success of “Mari Mar,” Philippine TV networks imported more of them and the rest is history. Locally produced Filipino teleseryes are now here to stay and competing with Korean soaps almost all hours of the day and night. This phenomenon is a great subject for social researchers.

And now a true-to-life teleserye unfolds in the media, with the Revilla/Bautista clan in the limelight. For about two weeks now, the hourly news and the daily newspapers have been “serializing” the progress in the investigation of the crime that rocked a known political and showbiz clan of Cavite.

The plot and subplots are getting more and more interesting as characters past and present, dead and living, are woven into the story. There should be more to come in the form of flashbacks and fast-forwards. One thing about this real-life teleserye is that it serves up surprise after surprise every step of the way. Those who have been following the developments from Day One can’t seem to have enough of the twists and turns in the plot. A scriptwriter of fiction would be amazed at how this true story is unfolding.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

He sees dead people & they confess to him

At three o’clock in the morning, while the world sleeps, troubled souls rouse this priest to relay important messages or confess their sins so they can move on gently and finally to eternity. The otherworldly messengers include Navy officer Phillip PestaƱo who came back to tell the world that his death was not a suicide as some officials would have us believe. Another group of souls gathered by the priest’s bedside and told him they were victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

The apparitions initially puzzled Fr. Efren Borromeo of the Society of Our Lady of the Trinity (SOLT). Affectionately called Fr. Momoy by Bicol folk, he thought it was just one of those things. “I was reluctant to recognize it,” he says. “I know saints have soul visitations, but I am not a saint!”

Ghostbuster, spirit questor or saint, the label doesn’t matter. People whose lives he has touched agree that Fr. Momoy has the gift of healing the sick and seeing souls. He also has the ability to see through human bodies and reveal with uncanny accuracy what ails those who consult him, just like the radiology method called MRI or magnetic resonance imaging.

Though not a medical doctor, Fr. Momoy has basic knowledge of the human anatomy and is in fact, on his way to becoming another kind of doctor. He is finishing his dissertation for a doctorate degree in cosmic anthropology at the Asian Social Institute in Manila.
His cosmic encounters do not scare him, Fr. Momoy confides. In fact, he considers them a nuisance. “I would ask, why do you have to come for confession? Why don’t you go direct to heaven? Nakakaistorbo kayo (You guys are a bother).” But the souls continue to turn up at all hours of day and night. “That’s why I can’t drive,” he says. “I see dead people.”
One group he couldn’t just ignore because of their sheer number showed up in the dead of night. “Who are you, why are you so many?” he had asked. They were, the apparitions answered, the victims of the Maguindanao massacre. (In that November 2009 tragedy, 58 people, most of them media practitioners were brutally killed and buried in shallow graves. The main suspects, the members of the Ampatuan political clan, are now in jail and on trial.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

7 billion stories

After the official announcement by international population experts that the number of human beings living on Planet Earth reached the seven billion mark on Oct. 31, 2011, after events have been staged and symbolic 7 billionth babies have been presented, photographed and assured of a good future, after the number crunching has been done and pop population puzzles have been created and solved (e.g., it will take 200 years for one person to count aloud from 1 to 7 billion, that is, if he or she lives that long)… what now?

There are many sites on the Internet that tackle the “7 billion” watchamacallit. Is it a phenomenon, a problem, a feat, a failure? National Geographic (NG) has come out with a series on the “7 billion” during the past months. If you are a subscriber you would have a billion interesting stuff to read.

NG and Apple’s iTunes have even come up with the free “7 billion app,” an application that would allow you to browse, read, listen to and watch so many things related to the “7 billion” so-called. But this could only be done on an iPad. iTunes alone on your PC or laptop would not work. And since I do not have an iPad, I could not tap into the breathtaking stories, photos and graphics. I clicked what were clickable and got a good idea of what it was all about.

But there are other interactive sites on the “7 billion,” like the one offering syllabi for school teachers and two-minute video contests for the young. (The majority of winners showed their worry about water supply.)
One site, called “7 Billion Actions” was put up by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). One of its features is “7 Billion Stories” that invites everyone to share their stories (and a photograph, of course) and what they could do to make this world of 7 billion a better place.
The stories (600 characters maximum) are heartwarming, inspiring and spontaneous. I found several from the Philippines. You could add yours. Don’t be shy to shout from the rooftops and tell the world about what you do. The crooks of this world strut about with impunity and even brag about their stealing rights, so why hide the good that you do under a bushel? Your story is your digital pledge on cyberspace.