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, NiƱez 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. •