Thursday, September 26, 2013

GMO corn farmers in debt

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

From the start, there had always been concern about the havoc GMO-agricultural crops might create in the environment and the adverse health effects they might have on end-consumers. (GMO means genetically modified organisms.) The financial/material aspect—higher yields, more hungry people fed, etc.—seemed to be the redeeming factor.

There always had been protests against the “invasion” and production of Bt-corn and Bt-talong (eggplant). Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, the donor organism in the genetically modified plants. The protestors were sometimes labeled as “purists” who were getting in the way of the advancement of science.

Among the advocates of GMO-free agricultural products are Masipag (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura) and Greenpeace. Masipag is a network of farmers’ groups, scientists and NGOs that aim to improve the farmers’ quality of life “through their control over genetic resources, agricultural technology and associated knowledge.” And there are the consumer groups that are now raising their voices to make sure the food on their table are GMO-free. I wrote about the consumers groups’ concerns some weeks ago.

Masipag has just come out with a book which explains the adverse effects of GMO-corn on farmers and shows “evidence of failure” of what was supposed to have given farmers increased yields and better income. The book, “Socio-economic Impact of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines,” is an eye-opener for those who seem enamored with so-called high-yielding varieties that promise to feed the hungry of this world.

Dr. Chito Medina, Masipag national coordinator, says in the book’s foreword: “Promoters of GM crops always recite a litany of benefits including better yield, use of less pesticides, (being) less labor-intensive and improved income of farmers despite lack of sufficient evidence.” These supposed benefits are promoted without consideration for other socio-economic factors, he added. And while evidence of the adverse effects of GMOs on health and the environment are accumulating, data on the socio-economic impact of GMOs are rarely and dramatically laid bare, he stressed.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Agri-scam versus agro-dev

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/byMa. Ceres P. Doyo

For me, among the shockers related to the multibillion-peso scam and plunder that involved the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund, often referred to as pork barrel, is the fact that most of the conduits used were fake or ghost nongovernment organizations that had agriculture and farmers—poor farmers, if I may stress—as the supposed beneficiaries. “Soft” projects, the conduits of these PDAF allocations are called, with the poor food growers as the end-beneficiaries, and us, too, whom they feed. It is the “soft” that the plunderers have discovered to be where the billions are.

This time it is  the soft, not the “hard” ones, such as massive infrastructure projects—although they are also a great source—because these are easily seen, touched and used, never mind if overpriced, of substandard quality, or dangerous to life and limb. I remember interviewing years ago a “highwayman” who spoke about—confessed, that is—how money could be had in these hard projects.

But since the so-called fertilizer scam broke some years ago (with no one yet tarred, feathered and marched around the Quezon City circle where several agriculture-related government agencies are), we now keep waking up to the bad news that it is the farmers—ironically among the hungry in this country—that have been used and abused by the shameless senators, congressmen and their partners in the crime that cries to the heavens for the severest punishment.
“We went home with just a bag of worms” was what one farmer said of his take-home starter vermiculture bag that was supposed to be among the benefits from a PDAF-assisted “NGO” project. I have nothing against worms. I am an urban, weekend backyard gardener and I can hold a fat earthworm in my hand.

But that take-home bag that a farmer despairingly, if not sarcastically, spoke about all but made me puke and scan the pages of Jeremiah to justify the rage I felt for those who have waylaid billions of pesos and stuffed them into their pockets. “Therefore lions from the forest slay them, wolves of the desert ravage them, leopards keep watch round their cities: all who come out are torn to pieces for their many crimes…” Yea, a bag of worms for the farmer, while a plunderer struts about with a signature bag that costs more than a farmer’s two-year income.

I say to them: How dare you make fools of the people who put food on our tables, how dare you treat them like the scum of the earth that you are. I say again: No mercy.

Suddenly I call to mind Edwin Markham’s 1899 poem “The Man with a Hoe,” which we were made to recite in class. Yes, I can still recite the first four lines of this first stanza: “Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans/Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,/The emptiness of ages in his face,/And on his back, the burden of the world./Who made him dead to rapture and despair,/A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,/Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?/Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?/Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?/Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

'Human Face,' the book

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

The Manila International Book Fair is ongoing (Sept. 11 to 15) at the SMX Convention Center at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City. Among the participants is Anvil Publishing, copublisher (with Inquirer Books) of my book, “Human Face: A Journalist’s Encounters and Awakenings” (2013). There will be as much as 80 percent off 724 Anvil titles and 50 percent off 697 titles. I hope my newest book is among the discounted ones.

Some people have asked me when “Human Face,” the book, was or will be launched. We didn’t formally launch it, but it made its debut at the exhibit of the Women Writers in Media Now (WOMEN) of which I am a member. There were 17 of us who exhibited our more than 30 years of works and memorabilia at the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (Aliww) from February to April 2013.

If “Human Face” (336 pages) has to be launched at all (it’s already in 80 National Bookstores nationwide), it might have to be launched with my other book “You Can’t Interview God: Church Women and Men in the News” (Anvil, 2013) which is going to press any time soon. We want this to make it on time for the Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization in mid-October.

Unlike “Human Face” which is a compilation of column pieces, “You Can’t Interview God” is a mixed bag—profiles, features, column pieces and news stories. Will write about it (plug it, that is) when it is out. We hope to come up with an affordable price for young people who might want to read about inspiring lives.

So, okay, this might sound like—to borrow a Norman Mailer title—an advertisement for myself, but if I can write about other people’s works, why not about mine?

As I said in my “Writer’s Note,” the daunting part about publishing “Human Face” was shaking up close to 2,000 articles (features, investigative stories, special reports, news articles and column pieces I had written) in their resting places, separating the “Human Face” columns—over 1,000 of them—and choosing less than 100. The 93 pieces in the book are representative of various topics and issues.

My filing system for both hard and soft copies of my articles that date back to my early writing days is relatively orderly. What was daunting was being confronted by the memory load these articles carried.

The book’s title, “Human Face,” explains itself; choosing the subtitle took some time. Journalists are averse to long words and I couldn’t find shorter ones. So “a journalist’s encounters and awakenings” it had to be. Like in my previous book’s title, the word journalist had to be there, to show where the writer is coming from. Somewhere in the book I wrote about the beginnings of my writing life.

Under my byline on the title page is my name written in ancient indigenous script used in pre-colonial times. The cover photo was shot in a T’boli area near Lake Sebu. I stopped an overloaded jeep and clicked twice. Only after I looked at the shots and counted the faces did I realize that I had something rarely seen in this world. Only in the Philippines.

Many of the pieces included in the book are also in my blogsite, www.ceresdoyo.com.

The humbling part was contemplating how the trove got to be written. That it is only by divine grace that I have understood the power and meaning of the word, and the confounding process the word takes—from reality to brain, heart, soul and hands, to pen, paper or keyboard and finally to the printed or digital page—and the world.

The heartwarming part was calling to mind the persons who had assisted or conspired so that these pieces could be written, see print, be read, and finally be included in the book. They are mentioned in the “Writer’s Note.”

It would be quite immodest for me to quote the blurbs on the back cover written by Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, journalist and editor, who wrote the Foreword; Leticia Jimenez-Magsanoc, Inquirer editor in chief; and Virginia R. Moreno, poet and playwright. But if you need to see the front and back covers of the book I can e-mail them to you. Like most books, “Human Face” will be an e-book, too.

The book is dedicated “to the faceless, nameless, voiceless.” The book’s 92 pieces are divided into 16 chapters: Herstory, Beyond Borders, Poor and Obscure, Faces of War, Wet and Wild, Cry Justice, Breaking Through, Tribes are Us, Brave Hearts, Faith and Fire, Pressed Freedom, OFW, Remembering, Encore, Outer Spaces and So Pinoy. Each chapter breaker is a blurb taken from one of the pieces.

The prequel is titled, “Better Dead than Read: The Years of Writing Dangerously,” a piece I wrote for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine on the 40th anniversary of the proclamation of the dreaded martial law. Those dark years of martial rule was when all the writing began. “Suicide journalism” was how editor Magsanoc called what I did. I look back and say, only by the grace of God.

Well, let me end by quoting from Stephen King’s “On Writing: A memoir of the Craft,” one of his two nonfiction books. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy…

“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Historic 'Cuartel de Sto. Domingo'

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

“This mute sentinel challenges us to peer into the past, (for it) to be appreciated in the present and safeguarded as a legacy for all time. Cuartel de Santo Domingo evokes a quiet strength and historicity yet to be fully told, the steadfastness of whoever held the ground there.” Words from Nonia D. Tiongco, a Santa Rosa City historian and resident.

Not a few were curious as to how I got to photograph that now hidden structure, at different times the detention house of big-time detainees with big-time cases—former President Joseph Estrada (for plunder), Moro National Liberation Front chair Nur Misuari, and coup plotter Sen. Gregorio Honasan. And since a few days ago, of Janet Lim-Napoles, one of the alleged brains behind the blockbuster P10-billion pork barrel scam. It was the Inquirer’s banner photo last Saturday, Aug. 31, before MalacaƱang released inside photos of the bungalow.
I didn’t climb over barbed wires to get inside the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force training camp. I was there two years ago as a tourist. You see, Fort Sto. Domingo is a historic site, with Spanish-era ruins inside it.

 My college classmates and I make lakwatsa and visit historic sites every now and then, so one day, we decided to explore the old Sta. Rosa. I tracked down our classmate Nonia Tiongco, a history major who has done extensive research on Cuartel de Santo Domingo which is in Sta. Rosa, her hometown. A volunteer cultural worker, Nonia was able to get the permits so that we could go inside the fort. She served as our guide not only in Cuartel but for other sites.

For the curious, here are some excerpts from my Sunday Inquirer Magazine story. I will again post some photos in my blogsite.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Marcos victims may get $10 million from from buyer of Imleda's Monet

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

In this photo provided by the United States Attorney’s Office in New York shows an an 1881 painting by Impressionist master Claude Monet entitled “L’Eglise et La Seine a Vetheuil.” AP
MANILA, Philippines—Members of the class suit against the estate of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos recently received a “notice of class action settlement” from their lawyer Robert A. Swift through Filipino cocounsel Rodrigo C. Domingo pursuant to an order of the US District Court to the District Court of Hawaii.

The notice informed members that the court would, among other things, decide whether a settlement between the class and the owner of a (Monet) painting formerly belonging to Imelda Marcos was fair, reasonable and adequate.

The court would also decide whether the class counsel’s second interim request for an award of fees and reimbursement of expenses was reasonable. Finally, it would decide whether the request for an incentive award to a class representative was reasonable.

The notice said that in November 2012, the district attorney of New York county unsealed an indictment against Vilma Bautista, former personal assistant to Imelda Marcos, which said that Bautista had sold a valuable French impressionist painting (the Monet) to an unknown buyer without authority from Marcos for $32 million.

Swift immediately filed a lawsuit against Bautista in New York Supreme Court seeking the painting, other art works owned by Marcos and the proceeds from the sale of the painting.

Second suit

As Swift was preparing to file a second lawsuit against others involved in the sale of the painting, discussions took place between himself and the buyer of the painting. In June 2013, the buyer agreed to pay the class suit members $10 million.

The $10 million was deposited in the class settlement fund in the Hawaii Federal Court. Swift said that in exchange for the payment, the class and its members would release the owner from all claims to the painting.

The notification said the Hawaii court will hold a hearing on Oct. 10 and then will consider whether to finally approve the settlement agreement as “fair, reasonable and adequate.”

It will be recalled that in April 1986 a suit was filed against the strongman Marcos on behalf of 9,539 Filipinos, or their heirs, who were tortured, summarily executed or disappeared during Marcos’ rule between September 1972 and February 1986. The estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos was substituted as the defendant upon Marcos’ death in 1989.

The Hawaii Federal Court entered a judgment on Feb. 3, 1995, in favor of the class in the amount of $1.96 billion. But the collection of the amount was hindered by the concealment of assets. For this, the Marcos estate was found in contempt of court. In January 2011 the court entered a judgment of contempt for $353 million.

Swift’s notification said that should the court grant final approval, the settlement of $10 million will be distributed to class members. The lawyer will ask the court to give $1,000 each to eligible class members in 2014.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Habiba Sarabi: Rebuilding lives in a once fabled land

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

RM Awardee Habiba Sarabi, governor
 of Bamyan province, Afghanistan.
Photo by Ma Ceres P. Doyo

 After the land of turquoise blue lakes, awesome cliffs and sweet pomegranates had been turned into a place of terror, violence and death, after the once fabled land of misty valleys, craggy hills and historic monuments had become a battlefield, what is there to do?

“Rebuilding lives and the land in a socially divided nation” is the daunting task and challenge for Habiba Sarabi, governor of Bamyan province in Afghanistan. This was also the running theme of her sharing sessions with those eager to learn from her experience.

The first and only woman governor in a “fiercely patriarchal” nation that has gone through years of strife brought about by foreign domination, warring tribes, warlordism and terrorist attacks, Sarabi has shown what an educated woman, wife, mother and leader can do for her suffering people.

Hopeful persistence

Sarabi, 57, is one of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay awardees. In choosing her, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) recognized “her bold exercise of leadership to build up a functioning local government against daunting odds, serving her people with a hopeful persistence grounded in her abiding commitment to peace and development in Afghanistan.”

Coming from a family of relative means, Sarabi studied pharmacy in a Kabul university and later specialized in hematology in India. She was teaching at Kabul Medical Science College when the fearsome and extremist Taliban seized power in 1996, sowed terror among the populace and imposed harsh measures, especially on women.

Taliban rule GOV. HABIBA SARABI of Bamyan province, Afghanistan. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

But before the rise of the Taliban, Afghanistan was already a troubled country. Russian occupation (1979 to 1989), the civil war among mujahideen groups (1992 to 1996) and Western intervention had already sown the seeds of chaos in the predominantly Muslim country. It did not take long for Afghanistan to become a lair and training ground for anti-West extremist groups, the ones linked with Osama bin Laden among them. This was not the case when Sarabi was growing up. “The tribes got along,” she said.

To escape Taliban rule, Sarabi fled with her children to Pakistan where the children could continue their education while she became a teacher and activist. She joined other Afghan women in organizing the Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan (Hawca). She went to refugee camps, held classes on women’s rights and organized doctors to work in the camps.

Despite the risks during those years, Sarabi would traverse on foot the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border to supervise some 80 literacy classes. She served as general manager of Afghan Institute of Learning in Peshawar, Pakistan.

After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Sarabi and her children returned to Kabul. She immediately set up a Hawca office, resumed teaching and continued her work in the field of women’s rights and literacy.

Appointed governor

An ambassadorial post was offered to Sarabi but she declined it. In 2003, she was appointed to head the Ministry of Women’s Affairs under the government of President Hamid Karzai. Her abilities did not go unnoticed. In 2005 she was appointed, that is, on her own proposal, as governor of Bamyan (population 500,000), a poor province in the central highlands, 150 kilometers from the capital Kabul. The appointment was a challenge because Sarabi was not a native of Bamyan. There were some opposition and even jokes about her.

With her businessman husband and three grown children left behind in Kabul, Sarabi buckled down to work at her new post.

Bamyan saw many changes on Sarabi’s watch. Roads and other infrastructure projects as well as health services were among her priorities. But the education of women was always important to her. Now, more women in Bamyan are building careers, something once forbidden by the Taliban.

Educating women

“When you educate a man, you educate only a person,” Sarabi told a crowd of young people. “But when you educate a woman, you educate a community.” Women’s rights, along with peace and prosperity, are among her dreams for her people. “That is why we have to work with families, so that we can educate the men,” she said. To make them see.

Among her immediate concerns are child and maternal mortality and the lack of health professionals. Safe drinking water is badly needed. Agriculture is not easy in Bamyan because of poor soil, Sarabi said. Afghanistan is a land of harsh winters (as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius) and fierce summers.

Before Sarabi became the governor, Bamyan had only 41 health centers; in 2009 the province had 89. Bamyan had no asphalt roads in the past; now 200 kilometers are asphalted. The number of students has increased from 100,533 in 2005 to 135,000 in 2009. There used to be only 367 students in higher education (seven of them women); this increased to 2,627 (418 women) in 2009.

There used to be only 100 beds for tourists; now there are 1,000. The number of policewomen has increased from one to 21.

Ethnic differences

Because Bamyan happens to be a place with natural, historical and archaeological assets that have great potential for tourism, Sarabi established the 570-km Band-e-Amir National Park, which is Afghanistan’s first. Bamyan is the site of the tall ancient Buddha statues that the Taliban destroyed. (What remains is now a Unesco Heritage site.) The destruction caused international furor.

“Though we are Muslim, we wanted to preserve those ancient Buddha statues,” Sarabi said. “The Taliban wanted to erase our history.” Being a member of an ethnic and religious minority (she is a Hazara and a Shi’ite), Sarabi is very aware of conflicts and hostilities that could arise among her people because of ethnic and religious differences. But she remains undaunted.

Sarabi recalls an incident where male religious leaders accused her of preaching during a religious feast, something women were not allowed, and she could have been punished. “Luckily we had video footage of that occasion,” she said. “I was not preaching at all.” She was giving instructions.

Rebuilding trust

Death threats do not scare her. The governor puts great importance on transparency and accountability in governance and the rule of law. (She had sent her own bodyguard to jail.) The media, she said, have been a big help.

Sarabi notes with sadness that one of the casualties of the conflicts in her country is trust. “It is easy to build trust, but it is hard to rebuild trust. We have to earn the confidence of the elders,” she said. One has to be attuned to the “sensitivity of society,” she added.

“We have to inspire the next generation, we have to go beyond the family,” she said. Her daughter and two sons are very lucky that they are educated, she mused. She is very proud of her daughter, who has a Master’s Degree in Development Management from Germany and is now in the United States working for her doctorate in economics. Sarabi expects her back.

Sarabi does not hide her cynicism about international aid. “They have their own …,” she said. But she is aware of the implications of the withdrawal of international forces in 2014, including the decline in foreign aid. The challenge is awesome, the future is uncertain but there is no stopping Sarabi in continuing what she has begun.


International donors have noticed Sarabi’s accomplishments. She is considered among the top performers in local government. This has earned for her province budgetary rewards.

The Ramon Magsaysay recognition is not Sarabi’s first. She was among Time magazine’s 2008 Heroes of the Environment. She also received citations from the French government in 2007 and from a US organization in 2005. This year she received an Outstanding Performance Award after selection “by referendum” in 34 provinces.

Sarabi is only the second Afghan to receive the RM award, which started 55 years ago. The first was Sima Samar, a woman and doctor, who was awarded in 1994. Sarabi and Samar know each other. This year’s batch of RM awardees brings to 301 the number of awardees. The award is named after the charismatic Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, who died in a plane crash in 1957.

The RM Awards honors “change-makers” who have created “ripples from the base of the pyramid,” women and men who have shown “greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia.” http://globalnation.inquirer.net/84673/habiba-sarabi-rebuilding-lives-in-a-once-fabled-land