Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who's afraid of NFP?

Philippine Daily Inqirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I HAVE issues with both the pros and antis on reproductive health, who have been in fierce debates until recently when the pros in the House of Representatives and the Senate prevailed and married their respective versions now littered with the term “non-abortifacient.” But my issues aren’t anything that cannot be addressed by whichever side prevailed, if only there will be, to borrow a Church official’s words, “attentive listening.”

Alas, there still are more incendiary remarks from some antis that are unbecoming of their statures. A Catholic prelate was reported as saying that the passing of the RH bill and the Aquino administration’s support of it could be likened to the recent massacre of 20 young children and six adults in Connecticut. Or something to that effect. What hole-y hyperbole.

And because tomorrow is Holy Innocents’ Day, it won’t be unlikely for the likes of him to liken the RH bill to Herod’s order to slaughter the innocents.

But I have heard and seen worse. Last Sunday morning, in a church in Quezon City, the new parish priest, for shock effect, complemented his homily with a video clip showing mutilated fetuses, tissues being dissected, an eyeball falling out of a socket, severed limbs, innards spilling out. If you had tocino for breakfast and retched, your vomit might have looked similar to what was on the altar screen.

I have watched some true-to-life gut-churning scenes, among them a couple of autopsies and a convict being exterminated by lethal injection—part of a journalist’s day—and I can say that my guts are steel-hard. But images of mutilated fetuses being shown near the altar at Sunday Mass?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

An RH bill (board) I'd like to see

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Billboards from hell have been this column’s objects of ire for the longest time. But as they say, if you can’t lick them, you might as well join them. Anti-billboard advocates might as well put up their own to replace some of the unsightly and distracting ads that obstruct our view of the sky.

What’s this got to do with the RH (reproductive health) bill? More on this later.

Many thoughts have been running through my mind these past months that the RH bill was being debated in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and by the pros and the antis who have vigorously, relentlessly and heroically defended their respective positions according to the dictates of their consciences and hopefully not because of the urgings of their party, religious or industry affiliations.

Kudos to both sides. In the end only one side wins, though it is not necessarily winner-takes-all. There have been and will be more give and take, as exemplified by the last-minute amendments that a principal author, Sen. Pia Cayetano, accepted magnanimously. But not Sen. Tito Sotto’s proposal to strike out the word “satisfying” in the phrase “safe and satisfying sex” (that women are entitled to). Cayetano held her ground, with RH bill coauthor Sen. Miriam Santiago declaring that any man married to her must give her safe and satisfying sex. Knowing Santiago, I thought she would add that “satisfying” was an understatement.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bottomline: Were they consulted?

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

When the 120 farmers and members of the indigenous groups Dumagat and Agta marched 340 kilometers for three weeks from Casiguran, Aurora, to Manila to amplify their opposition to the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco), they were not wearing headbands and carrying placards that said: “We are open to negotiations” or “We have open minds.”
When you oppose, you do not say, “Let’s meet halfway,” and hope for crumbs. You give it your mighty all until the other side and the leaders-that-be sit down to talk and settle—reasonably and justly.

When the marchers reached Metro Manila and met the press, supporters and, later, President Aquino and some members of his Cabinet, all they wanted was to air their fears of displacement from their ancestral domain, loss of livelihood, as well as their disappointment at the lack, if not absence, of consultation. And their total opposition to Apeco. That is from their point of view, because of where they are coming from.

Apeco is a 12,923-hectare “megaproject” touted to usher in a new era of economic progress in the province of Aurora. Apeco came into being through an Angara-father-and-son-sponsored law. Sen. Edgardo Angara, his son Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara (a senatorial wannabe), and the senator’s sister Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo were behind Apeco’s creation. But the advocacy group Task Force Anti-Apeco says Apeco has been accused of “transgressing a series of asset reform laws, such as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, the Carper law and the Fisheries Code.”

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Today's 'singing nuns'

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

The 1960s movie “The Singing Nun” starring Debbie Reynolds was inspired by a real singing nun named Sr. Janine Deckers. The Dominican nun from Belgium popularized the French song “Dominique” and many other compositions. I had a book of her songs that came with piano scores, guitar chords and ink drawings. The semibiographical movie, with Reynolds playing Sister Ann, became a hit. It’s on YouTube.

(Let me just mention here that the real singing nun’s life would later take a downward spin and end in tragedy in 1981. I read this in Wikipedia.)

The movie’s timing was ideal. Vatican II had just ended and religious orders were headed for renewal, examining their original charisms and breaking doors open to let fresh air in. Real-life nuns toting guitars, proclaiming God’s love by singing in public and even in “The Ed Sullivan Show,” were no longer taboo. Atrocious religious habits were being shucked and simpler lifestyles were becoming the ideal. Things began going farther from there. It was also the era of anti-Vietnam War protests.

A little later, in other parts of the world like the Philippines, nuns would join protest movements against repression and wade into uncharted waters. Many were frontliners in the freedom movement, if not grassroots agents of change who left the comforts of the cloisters to heed the call of the marginalized.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Greed, need, ignorance and stupidity

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Was it greed, need, ignorance or stupidity?

On the part of the schemers-scammers it was, above all, greed. But on the part of the victims, it could be all or some of the above. It is puzzling—or perhaps not—how 15,000 people or more were gypped into believing that their money, if placed in this “wonder” of an investment scheme, could be doubled in a few weeks.

Oh, but indeed, it was deliberately made to work for a few—they who were the living proofs that would entice even more people to put their lifetime’s savings and borrowed cash into this “magical” scheme that eventually crashed and crushed the greedy, needy, ignorant and stupid (GNIS). But it is shocking that those who knew better did not raise early warnings while the double-your-investment rush was going on so openly.

The clever dupers behind Aman Futures and the Rasuman group were not doing hush-hush business underground or in the back streets of Mindanao. Word of mouth was their best advertising ploy. How could anyone have missed it? The places in Mindanao that were badly hit by the scam were not wanting in financial wizards or straight-thinking people who could have stopped the GNIS from bundling their hard-earned and/or borrowed cash and taking these to the Aman/Rasuman agents who promised them instant wealth and fast and double returns on their investments.

Bulacan martyrs lead honorees

Philippine Daily Inquirer/FEATURES/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Twelve freedom fighters who opposed Ferdinand Marcos’ martial rule will be honored as martyrs and heroes in special ceremonies at Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) in Quezon City on Thursday, the eve of Bonifacio Day.

Five of the honorees are collectively known as the Bulacan Martyrs of June 21, 1982. They were arbitrarily killed. Two of the 12 were shot dead. Three died of natural causes. One remains missing. They fought the oppressive Marcos regime in different ways, but their struggle against the dictatorship made them all worthy of emulation and special honors.

The addition of their names to the roll of martial law heroes and martyrs brings to 219 the number of names inscribed on the granite Wall of Remembrance at Bantayog, which stands close to sculptor Eduardo Castrillo’s 13.5-meter bronze figure of a defiant mother raising up a fallen son. The monument, the commemorative wall and other structures at the Bantayog complex are dedicated to the memory of the men and women who gave their lives for the restoration of freedom, peace and justice, truth and democracy in the Philippines. Bulacan Martyrs

The Bantayog recognition is conferred only after a close examination of the nominees’ lives and how they died. This year’s honorees are: The Bulacan Martyrs—Danilo Aguirre, Edwin Borlongan, Teresita Llorente, Renato Manimbo and Constantino Medina—Oscar D. Francisco (1946-2010), Laurente Ilagan (1946-2001), Rogelio Morales (1922-1993), Virgil Ortigas (1952-1973), Raymundo Petalcorin (1949-1976), Bishop Miguel Purugganan (1931-2011) and Victor Reyes (1951- ).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Association of Foundations@40

The Philippines can be Southeast Asia’s civil society organizations (CSO) or nongovernment organizations (NGOs) capital, what with countless CSOs that include foundations, people’s organizations (POs) and cooperatives operating in the country.

Over several decades, many CSOs have come and gone, so much human effort and funding have been poured into them in the name of development, human rights, environmental protection, peace, health, education, food security, and so forth and so on. The Filipino people must be so lucky that many CSOs and the persons behind them have made it their almost-lifetime commitment to serve communities, families and individuals so that they can live dignified and fruitful lives.

Not all have fulfilled their commitments; a number have fallen by the wayside, if not failed their beneficiaries. But they are more the exception than the rule. Human frailties and other unavoidable factors do come in the way, among them financial, social, and even ideological. But on the whole, there are many unsung CSO heroes whose saintly, committed efforts have made a difference in people’s lives.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The murder of the FOI bill

Philippine Daily Inquirer /OPINION/ by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo  
Last Monday, in a last-ditch effort, groups marched to and rallied in Mendiola in the vain hope that the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill would become a reality after years of languishing in the desert despite the valiant efforts of its advocates. And for it to get past (to borrow the title of a Lemony Snicket blockbuster) the “series of unfortunate events” that bedeviled it, no thanks to the closet and openly harmful antis.

I joined the marchers and we shouted ourselves hoarse—“FOI, isabatas, isabatas! FOI, ipasa, ipasa!”—in the hope that our voices would get past Malacañang’s gates and reach the ears of the people there. We lighted candles that symbolized our undiminished hope.

The next day, Tuesday, the hearing of the House committee on public information on the FOI bill was conducted.

This was how the FOI advocates present at the hearing summarized what happened: BAM (as in “battery, assault and murder”)! for the Freedom of Information bill.

The bad news: The FOI bill is dead in the 15th Congress.

From the point of view of FOI supporters, this was how the hearing transpired: By ensuring that no committee report will be approved in [Tuesday’s] hearing, the House committee on public information has for all intents and purposes left no time for any FOI measure to get approved in the 15th Congress.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tricycles and crime

TRICYCLES DO not commit crime, it is their drivers and riders who have sometimes been involved in gruesome crimes with the aid of these three-wheeled vehicles.

The latest victim in a tricyle-aided crime is Cyrish Magalang, 20, a cum laude graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, the youngest in her family. The two suspects—Roel Garcia Jr., 24, a trike driver, and his brother, Rollyn, 27, a vegetable vendor—have been arrested by Bacoor police. On national TV, both promptly and tearfully admitted to robbing and killing Cyrish.

Their confession: Rollyn was seated behind Roel, the driver. Rollyn transferred into the sidecar, sat beside Cyrish and brandished a screw driver. The brothers then took Cyrish to a farm where they killed her. Rollyn said being high on drugs and alcohol was the reason they committed the heinous deed. As if this would lessen their guilt. The screw driver used to stab Cyrish, the tricycle, and Cyrish’s shoulder bag have been recovered from the brothers.

A witness said it must have been around 11 p.m. when Cyrish boarded the tricycle. She was on her way home from work at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. The news report said a farmer found Cyrish’s body the next morning inside a hut. Police said Cyrish’s body bore 49 stab wounds, her face was crushed with a hollow block, and her hands were tied. Although she was found with her underwear pulled down, rape was not immediately confirmed or ruled out.

Tricycles have become part of our daily lives. They serve as school buses, farm-to-market cargo vehicles, ambulances to carry the sick and the dying, even as family “cars.”

The tricycle is an Asian innovation. If the jeepney is to the Philippines only, the tricycle is to Asia. The latter has so many variations and names. In Thailand it is tuk-tuk, in India I heard people simply calling it a rickshaw. (Rickshaw is also the name of the ancient kalesa-like carriage pulled by a human being.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

OFW saints and eco-saints

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

TODAY, ALL Saints Day or Todos los Santos, it behooves us to remember the saintly women and men who have done much good for our country, communities, families and, directly or indirectly, our individual selves. They may not be canonized saints but they are saints nonetheless to those for whom they offered the substance of their lives.

 Who, to you, is a saint, living or dead?

 Today begins the trek to the resting places for the departed. In celebrating, Filipinos do not distinguish much between All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The 2-to-4-day holiday package is for the beloved—saintly or not—who have crossed over to the afterlife. 

 Speaking of saints, Catholic Philippines now has two—San Lorenzo Ruiz who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1987, and San Pedro Calungsod who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI 12 days ago on Oct. 21. The two were martyred in foreign lands in the 17th century during Spanish colonial times. San Lorenzo, a lay married man, was brutally killed along with several Dominican priests in Japan, and San Pedro, a teenage catechist, was killed along with a Jesuit priest in the Marianas or Guam.
Both Filipino missionaries were killed by inhabitants of their host countries. These martyred Filipinos represented an alien faith that intruded into the culture of their host countries. Well, one sending country’s saints could be another’s villains. A sending country’s martyr-missionaries could be the colonized or threatened country’s culture polluters.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The horror of toxic mine spills

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

In the 1980s, long before the deadly Marcopper mine spill shocked us witless, I went to Marinduque to document for a church-based organization the havoc that Marcopper had been wreaking on the sea and the lives of fishing communities living near Calancan Bay. 

Environmental activism was not very much in vogue then but the social action arm of the Catholic Church was the voice in the wilderness that called attention to the wanton destruction of the environment in that part of Luzon.
 Marinduque Bishop Rafael Lim, then chair of the Luzon Secretariat of Social Action, stood tall against the massive destruction in his diocese. But the country was under martial rule and unlike now, there was not much national outrage over local issues then. 

I saw for myself Marcopper’s giant kilometric pipes jutting out far into the sea and pumping, pumping, pumping out toxic mine byproducts as if the world would end tomorrow anyway. Day or night, one could see a deadly sheen on the surface of the water and imagine fish na nangingisay (in the throes of death). One could see beaches turned into mud-covered landscapes that cracked under the noonday sun. One could see rashes on the bodies of fishermen. One could see the imminent death of creation.

 I wrote a long feature on Marinduque’s woes in a church social action anniversary publication, with on-the-spot line sketches by an artist who had come with me, and stark black-and white photos that I took, one of them of a huge pipe dumping poison into the sea. (I have a photo of myself standing on top of a huge pipe.) I could not hide my dismay. I wrote then: “But the church leaders are not disheartened. In Barangay Botilao in Sta. Cruz, villagers one day met to discuss the issue of pollution. In a way it was too late since Marcopper Mining has already done so much harm. President Marcos has upheld Marcopper’s petition to continue dumping its waste into Calancan Bay.” Today this would have caused a global outrage. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Women wield plows, cast nets

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

"Grow your own, be sure, be safe, grow organic, go organic.”
“Make the shift. Go brown.”
“Food security is nutritional security.” 

These were some of the popular catchwords on World Food Day on Oct. 16 that brought together many Filipino women farmers, fishers and their supporters in a market venue.
Today is the last day of the 4th Women’s Market at the Quezon City Hall Plaza. Go celebrate, buy and support the women’s efforts to combat hunger and wrong food choices. Support their call for government to put up social enterprises that focus on women food producers in rural areas. 

Sponsored by the Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), women farmers and fishers from various regions of Luzon have come together this week to call for support and awareness of women’s role in global, national and local food security.
Women feed the world in ways that are not always recognized. They rock the cradle, yes, but they also cast nets into the sea and wield the plow. Like the fecund women that they are, the earth they move yield flower and fruit, the sea they scour yield fish aplenty. If only they can get more support. 

It is so energizing to be with these women of substance and energy, to be infected by their joy, to feel their trembling hopes, to hold their hands—rough, gnarled and therefore beautiful—that cause life to spring forth from earth and water. 

“It is high time the government strengthened its programs for women farmers by finding a market for their products and increasing their incomes,” PKKK president Mary delos Santos said. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

'Hour Before Dawn'

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Marites Danguilan Vitug is Philippine journalism’s most prolific book writer today. Her oeuvres aren’t easy to write and aren’t easy on the heart, mind and conscience. She excavates, names and damns, not for her personal delight, but in order to bring to the surface long hidden ills of society and in the government, for these to be exposed to the light that kills harmful microorganisms. 

Vitug’s latest opus is “Hour Before Dawn: The Fall and Uncertain Rise of the Philippine Supreme Court” (Cleverheads Publishing, 2012). It is a natural sequel to her “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court.” And more importantly, it comes in the wake of the first quasijudicial drama involving a long-revered government institution—the impeachment trial of a chief justice that played out live nationwide via broadcast media.

The book’s back cover blurb says it best: “‘Hour Before Dawn’ takes the reader to what might have been the darkest hour of the Philippine Supreme Court, when its integrity was compromised by the actions of its Chief Justice, who was subsequently impeached, and by a series of highly irregular reversals of its own rulings.
 “It reveals a Court seemingly subject to political pressure, disbursing funds for questionable purposes, and abetting plagiarism by one of its own members, and yet placing itself beyond criticism even by the country’s top lawyers and academics. It chronicles the most open and contentious clash between the executive department and the Court.”
 But Vitug weaves in redeeming facets and redemptive acts that give hope that the damaged institution could rise again, albeit “uncertain”-ly.

For “the book is also a record of how a staunchly independent minority within the Court stood up for what was right, giving hope for the rebirth and reorientation of one of the country’s most vital institutions.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

In God we trust (and also in stocks)

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

Vintage Bo Sanchez discourse: 

“Why is Facebook so big today? 

“Because deep in our hearts, our most basic need, found in our DNA, written in our genetic code, is the need to belong to a community, a friendship, a network, a club, a family. 

“Forgive me for being flat-out corny, downright mushy, but whether you know it or not, whether you admit it or not, you have a desperate need for LOVE. 

“You were born with it. 

“Everybody has it. 

“Male or female, you need love.” 

So why do people follow him on Facebook, in public events and in various media through his blogs, books and other publications? Why do thousands here and abroad listen to his preaching and follow his advice on how to pray, how to love God and neighbor, make things work and live happy, progressive and successful lives? 

The answer is simple: Sanchez says things simply and makes them look and sound easy. And most of all, he shows us why something-like making money, for example-could be good and godly. 

For “If God is with us, who can be against us?” 

Eugenio Isabelo Tomas Reyes Sanchez, a.k.a. Bo Sanchez “the preacher in blue jeans,” is not the fire-and-brimstone kind of preacher who shakes the ramparts to mesmerize followers. Unlike many breast-thumping Bible-quoters, he does not try to impress his audience by rattling off Biblical verses and scriptural passages from memory.  For him, one or two verses could be enough to fill a Feast. 

Bo’s own personal life could explain how the guy can speak to everyone like he finds God in their most mundane everyday concerns. 

Born on July 11, 1966 in Caloocan City to Eugenio and Pilar Sanchez, Bo is the youngest and only boy in a brood of six. He recalls with great humor how he was “the most ungifted kid in the whole wide world.” He was poor in math, among other things. But at a young age he opened himself to grace.

In his easy-to-read “My Conspiracy Theory: A Brief Autobiography at the Middle of my Life” Bo begins: “I wrote my first book at age 20. I led the first prayer meeting of the Light of Jesus Family at age 14. I began preaching at age 13. I had my conversion at age 12. I was toilet trained at age 1, but that has nothing to do with this book.”

It is amazing how Bo has been able to sum up his life story into a booklet of 97 pages. “Chapter 1: My Childhood: Being the Most Ungifted Kid in the Whole Wide World” is as hilarious as it is heart-tugging. “Chapter 2: My Conversion—How God Became More Real Than the President” is just as interesting.

But the whole point of his autobiography is his warning “that there is a conspiracy of grace at work in this universe and heaven is scheming to bless your life.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Religious of the Good Shepehrd: weaving compassion

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

One of the wondrous times in my life was spent in a special place with very special people, in an atmosphere of simplicity and prayer. I remember how we came together somewhere, I remember taking in the mountain air and the soft scent of the pine that wafted into my soul.

The flowers were in full bloom, the hills were green and throbbing with life. The stars were out the night we gathered to sing hymns, and the sun rose gently from behind the hills the next morning. The quiet and the peace overwhelmed me in ways I could not explain. I was filled with awe and wonderment.
 But beyond feelings, I experienced community—and communion. This is indeed a special moment, I thought then, as I pondered the simplicity, as I gazed at the persons I was journeying with, persons I have come to love and cherish until today. 
 But that was long ago and far away, and that experience will not be repeated in the exact same way ever again. So. I wrote some of those lines years ago in this column space to describe an experience. Some curious readers wondered what it was all about and what place on earth I had been to. 

There are experiences one can never fully explain. But okay, that was when I was in spiritual formation as a novice of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS). We were on a hillside retreat cum celebration then. As I look back now, all I can say is that as sure as the transfiguration that is dazzling to behold is the agony in the garden to follow. 

Today, the RGS is marking its 100th year of active and prayerful presence in the Philippines. The centennial theme is “Weaving compassion, embracing challenges, forging hope.” Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle will lead today’s Eucharistic feast at the Good Shepherd compound in Quezon City. 

I will be there. There where I once belonged, where I once prayed and chanted melodies ancient and new. At the break of dawn. At eventide, at eventide…

 Founded in Angers, France, in 1835 by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, the RGS or Good Shepherd Sisters (Soeurs de Notre-Dame de Charité du Bon Pasteur d’Angers) first stepped on Philippine soil on Oct. 4, 1912. The first to arrive by slow boat from Burma (Myanmar) were Irish RGS sent in response to the call of Lipa’s Bishop Giuseppe Petrelli. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Songs of protest, songs of love

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I am wondering why no concert has been organized to showcase the fiery and heart-rending protest music of the dreadful martial law era whose imposition 40 years ago in 1972 we are remembering with pain, horror and triumph this month. There have been art exhibits, book launchings, forums, ceremonies, fund raising and religious rites in many venues as well as memorializing in the media.

But what? No concerts? Should I just play the music in isolation, reminisce and hum by my lonesome while the memories crash in in 3-D and with sensurround reverberation?

Two years ago I donated to the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Archives and Museum close to 100 protest posters and other anti-Marcos memorabilia of the martial law era. Most of them were used for a Bantayog exhibit which I did write about (“ML posters from the edge,” 9/23/10). I felt good that finally they were in good hands. I have also donated documentaries in Betamax and VHS which, I hope, can still be converted into a digital format. 

I still have a lot of archival materials—protest statements, pamphlets, etc.—in my steel cabinet. And photos aplenty of my forays into the wilderness and battle areas—as a journalist. Of course, like some non-combatants I know, I also have souvenir photos of myself holding an Armalite and with a bristling bandolier slung across my chest. My proofs of having been there, done that. For the record: I was never a communist card holder.

What I cannot yet donate to Bantayog are cassettes of protest songs, prison songs and freedom songs composed, sang and recorded clandestinely or underground during that repressive era (1972-1986). I will do so when I am sure that these can be digitalized. Somehow many of these songs had made it above ground even during those terrible times and became the anthem of our generation of activists, freedom fighters and free spirits with a cause.

Right before me now are cassettes of “Ibong Malaya” vols. 1 and 2 with the subtitle: “Songs of freedom and struggle from Philippine Prisons.” This was produced by the Resource Center for Philippine Concerns and recorded in Singapore in 1982. I have “Philippinen Lieder der Freiheit” which contains Filipino freedom songs composed and sung by Jess Santiago, Paul Galang and the late Susan Fernandez.

I have “Prison Songs” vols. 1 and 2. A slip of paper inside the case has the list of the songs.  (I must have typed this myself) and the footnote:  “Recorded in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan in 1979 (?). Copied for Task Force Detainees (TFD) by (me), April 1999.”  I, along with TFD volunteers and religious sisters and priests were frequent visitors at detention camps during those horrible years. These songs were recorded upon my request. They were taped in the prison bathroom. Good quality!

On visiting days the prison camp came alive with food, camaraderie, music and art. Prominent detainee and intellectual Edicio de la Torre was behind many creative pursuits (music, cards, pendants, paintings) behind bars. 

I also have a cassette simply labeled “Militant Songs.” I don’t remember where this came from, but the songs must have been sung by Patatag, a militant singing group at that time. With flute, guitar, cello and, sometimes, drums. And of course, I have “Inang Laya” (Dyna, 1986) with Karina Constantino-David and Becky Demetillo-Abraham performing. 

It is the songs recorded during the darkest days in the most unlikely places that tug at my heart. We will never know who composed many of them, where in the wilderness they were first sung, perhaps with the accompaniment of a creaky guitar and in the eve of a bloody battle.  Not all the songs were songs of defiance and protest. Many were songs of love and longing for the beloved (fiancee, spouse, child), and, always, the motherland.

One is playing now and hurriedly I try to catch the refrain “Di magtatagal ang iyong paghihintay, di lahat ng araw tayo ay hiwalay, wag kang lumuha,  ako’s nasa iyong tabi, tayo magkasabay sa madilim na landas, tungo sa maningnging na bukas…”

 “Meme na aking bunso, ang tatay mo ay lalayo” are lines from a lullaby a father sings to his child before he goes off to the battlefield. “Paalam na o mutya ng aking pagmamahal, ako’y babalik at hintayin mo sana ang aking paguwi.”

Perhaps one of the saddest is “Wala nang tao sa Santa Filomena” which is about a deserted village that has been “hamletted” and militarized. Ah, it will bring tears to your eyes. “Tumidig Ka,” is sometimes used in place of the “Our Father” in underground liturgies. 

Sung during funeral masses for fallen comrades: “Unang alay, unang tuwa, unang ngiti, unang alay, ay buhay, sa kinabukasan…Bawat bayan may dapithapon na may korona sa magdamag… ‘Wag  palupig  sa lumbay, wag paapi sa hapis, harapin natin ang bukas ng may pananalalig.” I first heard this at the funeral of slain rebel priest Fr. Zacarias Agatep.

“Masdan ang daloy ng tubig sa batis ng gubat, ‘di ito matutuyo  bukal nito ay lilikas, konting agos sa ilog magtitipong lakas at mararating ang inang dagat. Kung ang daloy ng tubig, tubig na naipon, higit na lalakas, tibayan man ang harang sa huli ay sasambulat. Wawasakin ang lahat ng balakid upang laya’y makamtan.” Sasambulat, wawasakin. How onomatopoeic.

All melodious (minor key often shifting to major, like the kundiman), the music has matching lyrics written by warrior-poets. I now imagine a medley of these songs arranged for a symphony orchestra and sung by a hundred voices on a shimmering stage under the stars. 

These songs kept the fires burning before the breaking of dawn.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Corruption in NGOs

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma.Ceres P. Doyo

What a shock it was to read that a much-awarded, much-funded nongovernment organization (NGO) is being investigated for fund anomalies. It was front-page news (reported by Nancy C. Carvajal) in the Inquirer last Sept. 14, and the day’s banner story no less. 

The headline: “US sues top NGO execs.” The subhead: “P210-million aid unaccounted for.” The lead paragraph: “The US government has accused the founder and president of Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VFFI), a group that has won international accolades for its campaign against human trafficking, of failing to account for P210 million in US aid, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said.” 

That the NBI is investigating means that this case is not a small one. NBI antifraud chief Rachel Marfil-Angeles said charges of falsification of documents were filed against VFFI respondents. This was based on the complaint of USAID official Daniel Altman and the testimonies of two whistle-blowers and boxes of falsified documents seized in a raid on the VFFI Quezon City office.  
This case is sure to rock the NGO world not just in the Philippines but in Asia. The Philippines is teeming with international and national NGOs into which a lot of foreign funding has been plowed (for development and varied advocacies) over several decades, resulting in donor fatigue. Now this. 
 The VFFI officers will question the NBI’s findings and the whistle-blowers’ allegations in court. I withhold my judgment until the final verdict is out. 

In 2006 I wrote a cover story for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine on VFFI founder Cecile Oebanda, who is at the center of the current probe. She was suddenly catapulted to the NGO firmament around that time, having won for VFFI a string of international awards. 

Oebanda also has a storybook, for-the-movies kind of background—born poor, did well in school, was a catechist, joined the armed communist resistance (she was known as Commander Liway), and figured in bloody battles, imprisoned wife and mother, solo parent, NGO worker. 

The first paragraphs of my 2006 feature story: The first Sunkist orange that she ever tasted she found in the garbage dump. At a very young age of five she was already hawking fish. Buyers would say, “Dance, little girl, dance, and we’ll buy what you sell.” She would oblige, sell, and move on, with the basket of fish on her head and fishy water streaming down her neck and shoulders. The dump and the streets could not even be her playground as there was no time for play. It was where she clawed her way to survive. That landscape haunts her to this day, as do the sounds, the slights, and most of all, the filthy smell of her lost childhood. 

 Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, 47, looks back and declares that her family was among the poorest of the poor. If her life were a movie, it would start off as a four-hankie melodrama progressing in a Brockaesque pace toward a defiant denouement. It’s been a long and winding road from there to here. Two months ago, on Nov. 29 (2005), Cecil, executive director of Visayan Forum Foundation, received the 2005 Anti-Slavery Award in London “for her outstanding and innovative work in the Philippines and surrounding regions, particularly in the area of child domestic work.” 

You can search online and read the whole article. 

 This needs to be said: While NGO work is synonymous with selfless service for the poor and oppressed, NGOs are not entirely made up of saintly people who are beyond temptation. You’ll be amazed at how those who hold the purse strings can navigate their way around and end up with their hands in the cookie jar. Some get caught early on, others get caught when it’s too late. 

I know first-hand of a case where the finance officer was in cahoots with the messenger assigned to transact with the bank teller. The triumvirate did something about the dollar exchange and funneled the excess amounts into their pockets. By the end of the year around P1 million had been lost. The executive director said she knew nothing and found out too late. She can tell that to her lola. The case is still pending in court. 

Some NGOs have board members that are not always involved. They just say yes (e.g., to exorbitant salaries and freebies) and sign papers shoved before them. Or executive directors are so busy with project implementation that they do not know what is going on in the finance department. 

There are NGO officers who deliberately commit fraud. I have heard of fake “official receipts” bought in Divisoria for ghost purchases. I have heard of seminars with ghost participants. I have heard of ghost beneficiaries and scholars. 

They sure can produce genuine receipts for purchases (groceries, school supplies) that they will take home for their own personal use. Or order much too much food for a meeting and take home the “excess.” They go on R and R (“out-of-town” meetings) and shop using NGO money. This is also a practice in the government bureaucracy, I am told. 

There are those who put up so-called service-oriented NGOs (even foundations) from which their families can draw salaries, that is, as their family’s “livelihood” program. 

I say this with contempt: Those who put up foundations should have personal wealth to donate to the foundations; they should not make foundations their cash cows. And yes, I am scandalized when I learn of an NGO headed by or employing a conjugal team—husband and wife, that is. 

Funding agencies are stricter now but the corrupt are wilier, too. Are Left-leaning NGOs still able to funnel funds to the communist underground?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who are out to kill the Subanen chiefs?

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Last Sept. 4, Timuay Lucenio Manda, a Subanen chieftain and environmental defender, and his 11-year-old son Jordan were ambushed by armed men. Jordan died instantly. Manda sustained wounds. The ambush happened on a road between Conacon and Bubuan in Bayog, Zamboanga Peninsula, in Mindanao.

Timuay Barlie Balives is second from right. Columban photo)
Last July, Subanen Timuay Barlie Balives and his son Gerry were killed at their home in Duilec, a remote rural area about four hours away by foot from the town of Midsalip, also in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Manda and Balives hold/held the Timuay title that means “chief.” Both are/were defenders of their ancestral domain against the intrusion of destroyers of their natural habitat.

The Subanen are an indigenous group native to the Zamboanga Peninsula. The name means “river people” and comes from the word suba (river). The Subanen, who wear beautiful native costumes, used to dwell near rivers until the intrusion of Muslim groups and settlers from other places. They have since moved to hillsides and mountains.
The bad news is that these indigenous people (IP) who once freely roamed the vastness of Mindanao are under siege. Their vocal leaders are under threat of extermination.
The National Secretariat of Social Action-Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (Nassa-CBCP) has issued a statement (“Stop Attacking Environmental Defenders” dated Sept. 7, 2012) condemning the attack on Manda, whom the bishops described as a strong antimining advocate. They likened Manda to other “environmental defenders who offered their lives to protect Mother Earth, [and thus the attacks] merit the immediate action of the national government, to stop further violence and impunity, especially in areas where the environment is under threat by exploitative and environmentally destructive operations which are insensitive to people’s rights.”

The killing of Barlie and Gerry Balives preceded the attack on the Mandas. The Columban missionaries, who work among the Subanen, said father and son “were horribly mutilated in what appears to be a ritualistic killing reminiscent of the 1980s when fanatical groups roamed and controlled areas of Mindanao and terrorized the local population.”

London-based Fr. Frank Nally, who had worked in the Midsalip parish, said the killings had “shocked” not only the local people but also the Columban priests and sisters who work with the Subanen. “[They] have noticed a slide toward the rule of law being abandoned in the countryside. There is no security or rule of law now as their lives are ruined by outsiders after the [discovery of] minerals, iron-ore and gold on their land.”

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Filipino moms rank first in food campaign

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Filipino mothers rank first in wanting to make a difference in the world’s ailing food system. This is the finding of a six-country survey of Oxfam, an international NGO.

In its report, “The Food Transformation: Harnessing Consumer Power to Create a Fair Food Future,” Oxfam said women who make the majority of the decisions about the food their families eat control amounts to around $12 trillion or 65 percent of the world’s annual consumer spending. The Oxfam report also revealed that the women surveyed want to know what changes they can make in the way they buy, store and prepare food in order to tackle hunger and help the environment.

Oxfam found out that 73 percent of mothers living in urban areas of the six countries surveyed said they want to know how to make a difference when they shopped for food. Filipino mothers posted the highest at 88 percent.
Oxfam laments that the global food system—how food is grown, distributed and consumed—sends 1 billion people to bed (if there are beds) hungry every night. And yet consumers, women in particular, can dramatically turn things around by making “positive food choices.”
It must be instinct that drives women to always find ways to make changes for the better. But it would be even better if they are shown how, where, when, what and why. For example 83 percent of all the mothers in the survey said they wanted to know how to use less energy when cooking. More than 75 percent also said they were happy to make other changes such as feeding their families a meat-free meal once a week. And 85 percent of Filipino mothers were willing to give up meat, while 96 percent of them wanted to know how to use less energy when cooking.

This brings to my mind a nun who taught poor rural women how to cook nutritious and delicious meals that used cheap, indigenous and readily available ingredients. Ingredients that many ignored because these were thought to be less tasty or because people were ignorant about their nutritional value.

That is why I am glad that the humble malunggay that thrives just about anywhere is now the toast of nutritionists and alternative healers. And so is the kamote which still has to be rehabilitated from years of verbal abuse, as in nangamote, which refers to a person groveling in failure. And now the violet variety is even vaunted as a super food. I have planted some in my backyard but the heavy rains weren’t very kind.

Said Kalayaan Pulido-Constantino, Oxfam spokesperson for the Philippines: “The survey shows that Filipino women can be a force to fix the way we manage food. Filipino women—and men who must begin to share this responsibility—can do this through positive food choices that redound to the good of our food system.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Better dead than read: The years of writing dangerously

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

I dig my files and clippings and I realize that this assignment is somewhat discomfiting. A flood of memories surges, tsunami-like. I feel the warmth of triumph and of freedom long-won, but also feel sadness over the loss of those I had met and known and written about.

It all began more than 30 years ago.

On July 10, 1980, my face was on the front page of Bulletin Today, the biggest newspaper at that time. The photo caption read: “Hearing: A magazine writer, Ma. Ceres Doyo, answers questions from Deputy Defense Minister Carmelo Barbero, chairman of the Armed Forces human rights committee, in connection with her article on the death of Bugnay chieftain Macli-ing. (Photo by) L. Perez.”

The caption was misleading. It was not a “hearing”; it was a public interrogation. What “human rights committee”?

SUICIDE JOURNALISM: The author being arrested by the Metrocom during martial law. Photo by Erik de Castro  

The article headline was simply, “MACLI-ING.” All caps. The blurb was also misleading: “Dismiss link between dam, tribesman slay.” The military was dismissing the link, not me. The byline on the news story? Ramon Tulfo.

Several national papers carried the story on my interrogation following my Macli-ing Dulag story that came out in the Panorama Magazine dated June 29, 1980. (With birthday girl Imelda Marcos on the cover.) The story about Macli-ing’s death and the subsequent investigations ran for days in the Marcos-controlled newspapers and in two foreign magazines. Letters to the editor and to me poured in.
HEAR THEM ROAR: Women’s rallies during the ML era that the author regularly covered (top and extreme right). Press censorship was documented in the book “The Philippine Press Under Siege” (right). (Photos by Ceres Doyo)

As a writer, that Camp Aguinaldo interrogation was my first high-profile brush with the military. A few years earlier, writer Chit Estella and I were seized by the Metrocom while we were transporting an anti-dictatorship publication, “Iron Hand, Velvet Glove,” for a church-based human rights group. It was night and I was driving a car full of “subversive” materials. The armed men released us upon the intercession of Sr. Mary Christine Tan, RGS.

For the Macli-ing story, I received the summons dated July 5, 1980 through Panorama editor Letty J. Magsanoc (now Inquirer editor in chief). Without batting an eyelash, she had published my story about the killing of Macli-ing Dulag, chief of the Butbut tribe in Kalinga-Apayao. She sure gave it a provocative title: “Was Macli-ing killed because he damned the Chico Dam?” Macli-ing led his tribe in opposing the construction of the Chico River dam. One night, armed men barged into his mountain home and pumped bullets into him.

With a group of church and human rights workers I went to Kalinga on a fact-finding mission. To get to Bugnay village we scaled hills and crossed the raging Chico River with the help of Kalinga braves in G-strings. In the home of Macli-ing, I saw the blood on the wall and ran my fingers on it. I listened to the people’s stories and took photographs. After that I don’t know what possessed me but I just sat down and wrote. I sent the story and trembled. A dam inside me had burst.

That was my first major feature article and it got me and my editor in trouble.

Before going to the interrogation I went to Sen. Jovito Salonga, a former martial law detainee. His advice: “Go.” He said it like a blessing. A horde of nuns and a very concerned aunt of mine went with me. They took down notes-the questions, my answers. (I still have those notes.)

A few months later, in January 1981, Pope John Paul II came for a visit. What do you know, he handed me the Catholic Mass Media Awards trophy for that Macli-ing story. He held my head with both palms. It was never the same after that. The writing continued. Magsanoc would call it “suicide journalism.”

The second interrogation was in 1982. There was this series of summons for, and interrogations of, women writers that went on for days. This time, the individual interrogations were held inside closed doors and the interrogators were high-ranking military officials-a general and several colonels (one of them a woman). There was food galore-and wine, too-but how could one eat while being cracked?

I was the first to be summoned to Fort Bonifacio. Next were Domini Torrevillas, Jo-Ann Maglipon, Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, Niñez Cacho-Olivares, Arlene Babst, Eugenia Apostol and Doris Nuyda. Torrevillas, Tirol and I (a freelancer) were writing for Panorama, the Sunday magazine of Bulletin Today. Olivares and Babst were Bulletin columnists. Apostol was the publisher, and Nuyda an editor, of Mr. & Ms. magazine. Obviously, the military and, it goes without saying, the Marcos dictatorship did not like what we were writing. (The Inquirer, began in December 1985, was not yet a gleam in Eggie Apostol’s eye.)

For several hours the military officers questioned me for my magazine stories on the military’s human rights abuses in Bataan and on rebel-priest Fr. Zacarias Agatep who was killed in an encounter with soldiers. The Macli-ing story was also brought up. I was giving the government a bad image, the interrogators said. Before the interrogation began, I had asked loudly and defiantly, with pen and paper in hand: “Please give me your names.” And they did.

We all emerged uncracked. Ah, the stories we narrated to one another. What did we-the women writers-do next? Having gotten all the interrogators’ names, we plotted in the dead of night and built a case against them with the help of the Flag and Mabini lawyers. We strode into a jampacked Supreme Court to question the so-called National Intelligence Board, a creation of the Marcos military dictatorship to cow writers. We won. The respondents said they were done with it anyway. Duuuh…

We were front-page news. Not long after, Panorama editor Torrevillas and I were each slapped a P10-million libel suit for my story on military abuses in Bataan, courtesy of a military general who was not even in Bataan at that time, I was told.

My lawyers: Saklolo Leano (Siguion-Reyna Law Offices), Flag and Mabini lawyers Joker Arroyo, Rene Saguisag, Fulgencio Factoran, Jejomar Binay, Antonio Rosales, Augusto Sanchez, Lorenzo Tanada. The same ones who marched with us to the Supreme Court. At the preliminary investigation, Arroyo and Saguisag exchanged barbs with the fiscal nicknamed Joe Flame (Jose Flaminiano) who proceeded to file the case because he had to. (The case was dropped after the People Power uprising and Cory Aquino rose to the presidency.)

But there were other writers and stories similarly treated but which were not widely known and documented. So in 1984 and 1985, a group of us came up with two volumes-”The Philippine Press Under Siege,” volumes 1 and 2, that contained “dangerous writing,” stories that provoked the dictatorship-and their aftermath. It was published by the Committee to Protect Writers of the National Press Club under the bold leadership of the late Tony Nieva. Leonor Aureus-Briscoe edited Vol. 2. Transcripts of my two interrogations (from notes and memory) are in volume 2.

From the editors’ note in volume 1: “Together, (these stories) show the kind of ’dangerous writing’ that has brought about the forced resignation, firing, blacklisting, arrest or detention of journalists, the padlocking or sequestering of a newspaper’s printing plant and equipment, and the filing of multi-million peso libel suits or subversive charges against writers, editors and publishers.

“What constitutes ’dangerous writing’ these days? Perhaps this volume can shed some light on this question. Two articles… deal with the President. Six reports are on the growing militarization in the countryside. Two are about election fraud and two on the aftermath of the Aquino assassination.”

Of volume 2, Nieva wrote: “Better dead than read” may well have been the title of this book for its graphic documentation of the blood-and-sand state of a profession under siege, underlying the personal struggles and heartbreaks of the men and women of the Philippine press who now work under the shadow of death itself.”

(I am trying to get a publisher for the 2012 second edition—two books in one.)

Having been harassed for my writings, I joined the almost 10,000 individuals who filed a class suit against Ferdinand Marcos and his estate. In 2010, almost 25 years after the dictator’s downfall, the victims and survivors of martial law excesses finally got a trickle in the amount of $1,000 each from a newly discovered hidden/ill-gotten stash. We know there’s more where this came from. One thousand dollars—a measly sum for all the blood—and ink, in our case—that was poured, until and unless the other claimant, our democratic government, looks the other way.

Still and all, I say, what a great and sobering adventure it has been. Doing the stories gave me great times—of terror and joy and sadness and fun. As I always say, nobody told me it would be like this. •