Thursday, December 26, 2013

Lessons in humility

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

I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”—Lao-Tzu

Much has been said about the standoff between Makati Mayor Junjun Binay’s convoy and the DasmariƱas Village security guards who refused to let the former pass through a gate which was supposed to be closed at certain hours of the night. There was another gate close by that was always open.

Use the other gate, please—that was the guards’ instruction. There was no emergency situation.

The mayor’s party (that included his armed security and his sister, the newly elected Sen. Nancy Binay) just had to have their way. The police were called in; they lifted the barrier. The poor guards were “invited” over to police headquarters. All these took so much longer than if the convoy had just turned around and went to the other gate.

What is so wrong with turning back and using the other gate? What was that exercise all about?

Some officers and residents of the posh village were not pleased that their hired security agency’s head apologized to the mayor. They hailed the guards on duty who tried to stand their ground.

It was the Inquirer that first came out with the story and the video footage for everyone to draw conclusions from. The footage has since gone viral on the Internet. And the Inquirer has since published an editorial to stress what that footage showed and meant.

From the mayor’s father, Vice President Jojo Binay, there has only been defense for him. As mayor of the city he deserved some courtesy, the father said. Unhindered passage even in a private subdivision (where foreign diplomats who hold offices there are not exempt).

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas messages from the ruins

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Sorrow is just next door. Sorrow can be the word on top of one’s mind while one contemplates the series of tragedies—earthquakes, supertyphoons, storm surges, landslides, road accidents, armed conflicts abroad—that claimed countless Filipino lives and left families in grief while the Christmas season was approaching.
“Pasko pa naman”—not “na naman”—is the oft-repeated refrain. What difference a letter makes in a phrase.
And while many of us may remain physically, materially, or financially unscarred, we cannot be emotionally untouched by the sights and sounds, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the proximity of it all.
So easy for us to say that “hope springs”—and indeed it does in our eyes—but those who are still trapped in the depths see only darkness until and unless, little by little, they are lifted up by the loving arms of those they do not even know—those who offer time, talent and treasure and who wish no recognition or reward.
And, notwithstanding the ugly bickering, character bashing and political posturing among the ill-spirited (“Boo!” to you), the amazing thing is that nations, countless individuals and communities of people have stepped forward to embrace the Philippines.
When everything is compounded, mountains do move. The spirit of goodwill is worth more than the sum total of the material aid that has been given. And the divine forces in the universe have a way of weighing all of these energies together and ensuring that nothing goes to waste.

Just now, after writing that last sentence, I was moved to open the pages of Teilhard de Chardin’s “Hymn of the Universe.” And this is what met my eyes: “Without any doubt there is something which links material energy and spiritual energy together and makes them a continuity. In the last resort there must somehow be but one single energy active in this world. And the first idea that suggests itself to us is that the soul must be a centre of transformation at which, through all the channels of nature, corporeal energies come together in order to attain inwardness and be sublimated in beauty and in truth.”
I know an 88-year-old widow, loved by her many adopted sons and daughters, who was aching to give back to the universe. In my state, she thought, what can I do for the Supertyphoon “Yolanda” survivors? She picked up the phone, asked for relief items from her fellow senior-seniors in the neighborhood, and before she knew it her garage was full of donated goods. Now, now, she thought, what do I do with these when they can’t fit into my car? Well, a neighbor with a pickup vehicle happened by and offered to take the relief goods to a receiving center.
I have received letters from friends who have waded into the ruins of Samar and Leyte. Here are some excerpts:
From Sr. Cho Borromeo, FMM: “One heart-wrenching story is that of seven children who lost their mother while she was trying to save them one by one. That was just one of the many stories that gripped us.
“As we coursed through the various towns and barrios, scenarios of destruction and desolation loomed large: buildings and houses reduced to rubble, countless dead coconut trees lining the mountains, children running after passing vehicles begging for food and water, electric posts lying on the roads, roofless churches and houses.
“But amidst these images of darkness, we witnessed signs of light and hope. In all the churches we visited, statues of Jesus, Mama Mary, angels and saints stood tall in the midst of destruction around them. In Naval, a big stained-glass faƧade was shattered to pieces but not the figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the center. Is this not God’s way of assuring us, especially the Yolanda survivors, that He still has the last say?
“Despite lack of food, clothing and shelter … people still had time to prepare the Advent wreath, green being the symbol of hope, growth and life. Indeed, no amount of devastation can extinguish the religious dimension in the human heart—especially in the heart of Filipinos!
“What also made a strong impact on me was our teamwork. For many of us it was the first time we met the other members of the team. But the way we worked and interacted with one another gave one an impression that we knew each other from Adam! That’s the Franciscan spirit!”
From Sr. Ana Maria Raca, OSB, and the Benedictine Sisters of the Divine World Hospital in Tacloban City:
“In the midst of the immense darkness on the landscape, rays of light shone. It came from good hearts—hearts that cared—and they reached us! Relief goods, medicines, financial help and various forms of solidarity and support coming from all over the country and the whole world. Light pierced through the darkness and gave us hope and joy…
“In the confusion and chaos during the first days of the arrival and retrieval of relief goods coming to Tacloban, we received the first five boxes (the rest of them retrieved at a later time) from St. Scholastica’s College, Manila’s relief operations. These were 2 boxes of IV fluids, 2 boxes of Nips chocolates and a box of Bear Brand milk choco.
“The Nips were our supper for the night and what saved us in the succeeding days when hunger came. To you who donated the Nips, please know what it meant to us and how it became a symbol of hope. Please know that no action is small in a situation of life and death.
“For us who believe, destruction and death are not the last words, but HOPE in a loving God who works through His people like all of you.”
From me to you: A God-drenched Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

aka Rolihlahla, Dalibunga, 46664, and Madiba

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

One of my favorite autobiographies is “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela, published in the 1990s after he came out of 27 years in prison (where he was known as 46664) and rising to become the first black president of South Africa.

Madiba, as Mandela is also fondly called, died last week at the age of 95.

“Long Walk” is an awesome sweep spanning the generation before Mandela was born, to his walk to freedom and greatness, with so much in between—the struggle against apartheid—that is well known to the world.

But it is Part 1 (of 11), “A country childhood,” that fascinated the child in me. Here lay the seed of the great tree and the freedom fighter that he would later become. Let me walk the reader through it, with little interference.

“Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, Rolihlahla means ‘pulling the branch of a tree,’ but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be ‘troublemaker.’

“My father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a chief by both blood and custom. He was confirmed as chief of Mveso by the king of the Thembu tribe, but under British rule, his selection had to be ratified by the government…

“When I was not much more than a newborn child, my father was involved in a dispute that deprived him of his citizenship at Mveso and revealed a strain in his character I believe he passed on to his son. I maintain that nurture, rather than nature, is the primary molder of personality, but my father possessed a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness, that I recognize in myself….

“We lived in a less grand style in Qunu, but it was in that village near Umtata that I spent the happiest years of my boyhood and whence I trace my earliest memories.”

Autobiographies of great persons make for great reading, but it is not always the earthshaking portions that shake me. It is their hidden existence before they made their way into public life that I love reading about. How did it all begin? To get biblical about it, could anything great come out of Nazareth?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is world ready for climate change refugees?

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

Last week Agence France Presse reported on the case of a Pacific islander who had sought refugee status in New Zealand by arguing that his homeland, the island-nation Kiribati, is known to be sinking. His case received media attention. But the judge dismissed his case as “unconvincing” and “novel.”

Ioane Teitiota, 37, whose visa had expired, pleaded through his lawyers that he should not be deported because climate change is gradually destroying his place of residence in Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas). In his ruling, High Court Judge John Priestly said Teitiota did not qualify as a refugee under international law. The judge acknowledged that Kiribati is suffering from environmental woes such as storm surges, flooding and water contamination that could be attributed to climate change, but stressed that so are millions of other people in low-lying countries.

Priestly cited the United Nations Refugee Convention stating that refugees must fear persecution if they returned home, and said Teitiota did not meet this requirement.

Petition denied. The Inquirer gave the story the margin-to-margin title “Islander fails in bid to become first climate change refugee.”

This story is relevant in view of the unprecedented magnitude, even by world standards, of the destruction wrought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (“Haiyan”) in parts of central Philippines, the awesome rehabilitation and reconstruction work ahead, and the human toll (more than 5,600 dead at this writing) that Yolanda left behind. Many survivors have been leaving the devastated landscape in droves to seek refuge, even if temporarily, in safer havens. Others may not want to go home again.

Which got me thinking: What do we have here, internal refugees? Not evacuees, whose flight and change of residence are more temporary in nature.

The term “internal refugees” was coined by human rights groups during the Marcos dictatorship. The military would drive out residents of entire villages in order to flush out suspected rebels. Many left their homes never to return again. I know some from the provinces who feared for their lives and resettled in Metro Manila. Some even sought political asylum abroad.

The world has seen different kinds of refugees in the last century. Refugees from political persecution, war, famine. Now, as in the first test case involving a Kiribati national, we have a climate change refugee. Is the world ready? This will be a new kind of refugee—from climate change, which is not entirely Mother Nature’s whim, but her wrathful reaction to humankind’s abuses against the planet. (Some extreme schools of thought may attribute the calamities to inexorable planetary or cosmic changes not of humankind’s making.)

According to Nature World News (NWN), Kiribati faces problems of rising sea levels and its increasing population. NWN reported that about half of the total head count, some 50,000 people, are already packed onto a small sand strip that measures six square miles.

Countries such as Kiribati and Tuvalu have been sinking over the past many years, but NWN cited a Reuters report that global warming might not be the sole cause of Kiribati’s woes. Local traditions favoring large families and Church restrictions on family planning have led to population increase, overcrowding, disease, and infant mortality. Two friends of mine, both health education experts, worked in Kiribati many years ago. They didn’t tell me about Kiribati’s sinking then.

Agence France Presse reported that the UN Human Rights Commission is concerned that Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tokelau and the Maldives could become “stateless” because of climate change. NWN said Kiribati President Anote Tong has predicted that his country will be uninhabitable in the next 30 to 60 years because of sea level rise and contamination of freshwater. Among the options are moving the entire population to manmade islands and buying land in Fiji.

The Pacific region has some of the smallest nations on Earth which are most vulnerable to climate change. An Asian Development Bank report stressed the impact of climate change on the region’s agriculture, fisheries, tourism, coral reefs and human health. Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and Solomon Islands are taking a bad hit.

Last September, the 15-nation Pacific Islands Forum signed the Majuro Declaration (named after the capital of Marshall Islands) which seeks pledges on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adopting renewable energy.

Back to the local front. An Inquirer report (by correspondent Robert Gonzaga) said that Bataan, the site of the camp for refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (called “boat people” then) who fled communist rule two to three decades ago, could be a major relocation area for Yolanda survivors in search of new homes. Some Bataan residents are open to the idea of Yolanda survivors either as temporary refugees or starting a new life in the province. They had welcomed Indochinese refugees in the past, they said, why not fellow Filipinos this time?

The former camp in Morong, Bataan, is now the site of the Bataan Technology Park (area: approximately 360 hectares). Bases Conversion and Development Authority president Arnel Casanova said he’s open to the idea.

Of course, there are pros and cons, so hold your horses. The refugee camp under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had UN funding then. Bringing in Yolanda survivors will require logistics of the government kind. Jobs, skills and cultural integration are just a few issues. Will Yolanda survivors—refugees in their own country—even take the offer?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

New Bantayog heroes, martyrs honored today

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

Inquirer file photo

Three individuals and a group of 19, mostly teenagers, are to be honored Tuesday as martyrs and heroes in ceremonies at Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) in Quezon City. Their names will be added to the list etched on the black granite Wall of Remembrance, bringing the total number to 223.

To be honored are Inocencio Tocmo Ipong (1945-1983), a church worker and former political detainee; Nicasio Manalo Morales (1955-1999), a consumer advocate and, later, a US-based antimartial law activist; Cesar Ella Hicaro (1947-1980); and a group of 19 young Filipinos collectively known as the Escalante martyrs, who were mostly in their teens when shot dead during a 1985 rally in Negros Occidental province.

All were opposed to the martial law regime of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and considered freedom advocates. The way they lived and died varied but they all had a heroic streak that made them worthy to be included in the list of names engraved on the Wall of Remembrance. The wall stands a few meters from the 45-foot bronze monument by renowned sculptor Eduardo Castrillo. The monument depicts a defiant mother raising up a fallen son.

The monument, the commemorative wall and other structures at the Bantayog complex are dedicated to the nation’s modern-day martyrs and heroes who fought against all odds to help restore freedom, peace, justice, truth and democracy in the country.

Church worker

Born in North Cotabato, Ipong spent three college years at a seminary in Davao City and later transferred to San Carlos University in Cebu City where he graduated. In college he got involved in farmers’ struggles. Eventually, he joined the Federation of Free Farmers as an organizer.

When martial rule was declared in 1972, Ipong saw the abuses brought about by authoritarian rule. He worked as a lay assistant of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, an organization founded by the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines. He organized marginalized communities in order to empower them to fight exploitation.

In 1982, Ipong was abducted and illegally detained in Camp Catitipan in Davao City. He was declared missing for some time until his father, who was looking for him, heard him calling from behind the grills. Ipong had been tortured by his military captors who wanted him to admit he was the man they were looking for.