Thursday, June 26, 2014

'Paawa" tearjerkers from the media

I agree with Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano when he wished that media would focus more on the magnitude of the crime rather on the supposed difficult prison conditions the senators accused of plunder will have to live with. “Difficult” means newly painted rooms with bath for each celebrity detainee, foam beds, electric fans—amenities regular detainees can only dream of. But still a far cry from the supercomfortable lives these wealthy senators have been used to.

Day in and day out these past few days, the media have been casing the Philippine National Police main headquarters where the PNP Custodial Center is located. The center serves as the place of detention for the accused senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, perhaps the first among the many linked to the PDAF scam. The third accused, Juan Ponce Enrile who is 90 years old, might be placed under hospital or house arrest.

President Aquino prefers leniency for Enrile on humanitarian grounds. This does not mean leniency on the part of the Sandiganbayan where the plunder cases will be tried.

“All I ask from the media is to… focus on the crime rather than do stories portraying the condition of the accused as unfortunate,” Cayetano said. One tabloid headlined the presence of rats and cockroaches in the PNP Custodial Center. There are rats and cockroaches in places where they can feed—homes, offices, restaurants—so what’s the big deal? A pest infestation is a different story.

Cayetano lamented that the media “lost its focus” in its coverage of the multibillion pork barrel scam to which lawmakers and bureaucrats have been linked. “The focus should be (on) how the crime is punished and not (on) the plight of those being detained.” His reminder: “We should remember that the poor and hungry farmers are the real victims here. Almost all the major corruption issues in the government involved agriculture funds like the fertilizer fund scam, swine scam and this issue of pork barrel funds.” And so Cayetano would rather not visit the detainees “because I remembered the victims of the crime.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Our daily garlic

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

I do not remember a time when garlic made the news because it became rare and expensive. Perhaps now is the first time most of us are experiencing the problem and getting daily news about it.

Prices have gone up 10 times or more, and those in the food preparation business are alarmed. Self-styled chefs at home or in turo-turo cannot use enough of this kitchen mainstay because its price has hit the roof. Is there really a shortage? Is it an artificial one, a manipulated shortage meant to benefit some sectors? Is there a problem on the ground where this important cooking ingredient is grown? Is it environmental, agricultural, cultural, economic?

Who are making a killing? If there were, I wish it were our garlic farmers who have long suffered because of the dumping of cheap imported garlic on the market. Consumers have preferred the imported kind because it is cheaper, bigger, and easier to peel. Never mind that it is not as pungent and aromatic, and therefore you need to use more of it. Locally produced garlic, though smaller, is stronger in flavor and aroma but more expensive. You know the variety is local because the bulbs are usually bunched together, with their stems in a braid. They make for nice kitchen decor, too.

The last time I went to the grocery I chose the locally grown garlic in a braid and ignored the higher price as my way of patronizing our local produce. Would you do that if you were running a food business?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Coconut sunrise, sunset

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

I once wrote a column piece, “Coconut sunrise” (4/25/13), on the amazing wonders and possibilities of the coconut that have not been fully tapped because there is little government support for coconut advocates’ out-of-the-box thinking and daring. In other words, the coconut industry has been seen mainly as a source of cooking oil. A pity because the wonder tree—its fruits, especially—has so many other possibilities that can even be more in demand worldwide and, therefore, more profitable.
Thanks to Harry Belafonte’s hit song “Coconut Woman,” the wonders of the coconut had been immortalized in song long before coconut advocates of this decade aggressively pushed it to its deserved place in the world’s diet and quashed the West’s self-serving black prop.
Coconut refers not only to the edible fruit (or nut) but to the entire wonder tree—from root to crown—that this country has been blessed to have plenty of. The Coconut Society of the Philippines had come out with a position paper titled “Fresco Processing versus Copra Processing.” Think of the coconut as a fruit, a health drink. And, yes, even as a vegetable to be harvested (as ubod) every so many years and grow it as such, but in a different way.
Advocates of fresco (or fresh) processing, among them the Philippine Coconut Society, argues that the coconut farmer will earn more by NOT producing copra, but “by selling whole nuts for fresh processing.” This has been studied, computed and tried, but still there are few daring producers and little government support. (More on this at another time.)
And now the coconut industry is facing the gloomy presence of a pest that has wiped out more than a million coconut trees in the past year or so. Delayed concerted action is killing more coconuts faster than one can sing “Coconut Woman.”
Recently the Philippine Coconut Society and BalikProbinsiya (a countryside entrepreneurship advocacy group) issued a statement on this most unwelcome “coconut challenge” or cocopest. I give space to their lamentations:
“Both the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and Department of Agriculture (DA) appear  incapable if not clueless as to how to contain and cure the virulent coconut diseases and insect infestations that, as of latest count, have destroyed over 1,000,000 trees in Batangas, 250,000 in Laguna, 400,000 in Quezon and 150,000 in Cavite.  And since local government units (LGUs) depend on the knowhow that are supposed to come from DA and PCA, LGUs probably wouldn’t be able to help much as the Calabarzon coconut casualty count passes the 2,000,000 mark.

“Assured by civil service laws of tenure and compensation and protected by their respective padrinos, government bureaucrats have no reason to do any actual work for ‘P-Noy’s bosses’  but just regularly collect their fat paychecks after 15 days of shuffling paper and endlessly attending new seminars to eat good food, engage in gossip with fellow bureaucrats and collect ‘honoraria.’   Some supposedly specialized personnel don’t even stay in their assigned postings (except during paydays) but manage to move around the country like tourists… That’s one reason why the infestation has reached its current extent.
“PCA seems convinced that producing predators is the solution—but can PCA technical staff train people to raise the predators and deploy these to affected areas?   Scheduling problems have cropped up, due to the capriciousness of a diva-entomologist who insists that all training must be held at the PCA Alaminos nursery rather than onsite at each major plantation.  But the question remains: Will predators be effective?  It didn’t work too well when last attempted because too many insects had been created due to the long time it took to bring out the predators.  And has anyone projected the possible threats of predator multiplication to the Philippine environment?  That cure may turn out to be worse than the disease.
“Evaluating the predator option has done little more than provide a few favored bureaucrats an opportunity to go on a junket to Indonesia to look for insects to import to the Philippines, as if we didn’t have enough insects and leeches here already…
“Announcements by DA and PCA that P40,000,000 would fund a SAGIP team for a ‘spray-and-prune’ effort also raised questions.  First, how is this new plan different from the one done by PCA’s SICAT team and on which PCA spent P20,000,000?  This SAGIP is a rerun on a wider scale and won’t succeed.  Buying and positioning cranes and chainsaws are equally preposterous as indiscriminate chemical cures, giving new meaning to what the ‘C’ in PCA stands for.  In the end, this will just add more parts of the Philippines to the infestation map.
“Admission of a problem and failures to solve it is a healthy sign.  Some even say that DA/PCA may already have a cure; otherwise they would just stonewall on this.  An announcement of a solution would certainly be good for all concerned.  Hopefully, the rumors that a successful trial has been held in Bay, Laguna, and is now being evaluated by [Secretary Proceso] Alcala’s office has some basis.  Let’s all pray that such is the case.
“But until such is confirmed, it’s up to individual plantation owners, subsistence farmers and wage earners to now think of ways to save their farm-based livelihoods.  In this regard, larger corporations and landowners may wish to enlist the participation of smaller farmer compatriots to develop an appropriate response to the Calabarzon Coconut Challenge. Already, concerned plantations have begun to take steps to be more proactive given government’s failures.”#

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Not complicated: Wedding vows for two women in love

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

Two women, a Filipino and an American, will legally marry each other this month before an American judge in Illinois. Or, should circumstances allow, before a willing Catholic priest licensed to officiate civil weddings.

Erlinda Perlado, 55, and American Joan Mertens, 70, were betrothed to each other in 2010 in a union ceremony led by a woman priest of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion.

With Mertens’ fiancee visa petition for Perlado finally approved by the US embassy, marriage is in the offing, possibly this month.

“WARMTH AND AFFINITY”: Mertens and Perlado during their union ceremony in 2010. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

It’s a union that might raise brows and hackles in the Philippines where, according to the Constitution, marriage can exist only between a man and a woman. Meanwhile, in the US, several states, among them California, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico have accepted and legalized same-sex marriages.

Perlado’s and Mertens’ love story began in the US where both attended a 2005 summer renewal course at the Rockhaven Ecozoic Center in House Springs, Missouri.

Perlado was then working with the Integrated Pastoral Development Initiative (IPDI), a Philippine-based management and consultancy group when she decided to take a sabbatical leave that year. She wanted to close a period in her life that began after she had left the religious life.

At Rockhaven, Perlado and the other participants had sessions on self-integration, dream work, shibashi and the arts. They also learned about native American spirituality.

“I was there as a scholar,” the former religious said. “And so I volunteered to help with everyday chores.”

A graduate of the Mapua Institute of Technology who had passed the board for chemical engineers, Perlado joined the Carmelite Sisters of Charity, a Catholic apostolic congregation of women, when she was 22. She was a religious sister with vows for more than 20 years and was a vocation director at one time.

In 2002, Perlado asked for exclaustration, a temporary leave from her congregation. In 2005 she left the religious life for good. “My personal charism didn’t jive with the congregation’s,” she explained. “While in exclaustration I allowed myself to be who I was as a woman.” She needed time to find out who she really was, she said, adding that her search led her to Rockhaven.

Mertens, who was in the same Rockhaven group as Perlado, was herself a former member of a Catholic religious congregation founded in the US. She was a religious sister for 13 years and has been a special education teacher most of her life. When she met Perlado, her 15-year relationship with her partner had just ended.

“When Joan and I met for the first time, there was warmth and affinity between us right away,” Perlado recalled. After a month of being together in Rockhaven, she found the courage to reveal her feelings to Mertens. “I told her, ‘I like you.’ I am the gregarious type, you know.” Being a Filipino, she said expressing what she felt was just an opener to making friends.

Mertens had responded: “I like you, too, but I am not ready for a new relationship now.”

As far as Perlado was concerned, finding a partner was not even a goal. However, she disclosed that two years earlier, she had a special female friend, a Swiss. Their relationship, she said, was an eye-opening experience. Looking back, she said she had realized that even when she was a religious sister, there were women who were attracted to her.

After that Rockhaven summer course, Perlado said she and Mertens “parted as friends.” While Mertens got busy selling her house and moving to a smaller one, she stayed at Rockhaven to help out.

Since Mertens’ new place was near Rockhaven, the two would regularly meet to eat out or watch a movie. Occasionally, Perlado would spend weekends with Mertens.

One time, on the day that Perlado was leaving for New York and New Jersey to visit her aunts, she received an early morning phone call from Mertens asking her to call as soon as she arrived in New York. That call led to regular phone calls between them every evening, daily conversations that developed their relationship further and bridged the distance somewhat.

“There was only ‘MU’ (mutual understanding) between us at that time. Joan wanted to continue the relationship,” Perlado recalled.

When she came back to Rockhaven to continue her sabbatical in early September, Perlado said she and Mertens would sometimes meet, dine out, watch a movie or go to St. Louis. Sometimes she would spend weekends with Mertens, or visit the latter’s mom.

In October 2005, the two women went to the Lake of the Ozarks and decided to make their relationship exclusive. On Nov. 9, 2005, they confirmed their relationship in a blessing ceremony led by Sr. Tobias Hagan CSI, founder of Rockhaven. “That marked our engagement as a couple,” Perlado said.

Soon after, she left for the Philippines to continue her work with IPDI. Mertens followed during her spring break in March 2006. Her trip to the Philippines was her first outside the US. Mertens stayed for two weeks and visited several places, among them, Baguio City and Quezon. She also met Perlado’s family and friends. She would visit the Philippines twice more, in 2006, and has even learned to go to some places by herself.

That year, Perlado returned to St. Louis, Missouri to spend Christmas with Mertens’ family, thus further deepening their relationship. In 2007, she got a partial scholarship from The United Church of Christ-Hawaii Conference for a Master’s in Pastoral Studies at the Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where she pursued the course from 2008 to 2011.

“It was a good time for Joan and myself because we were able to live together as a couple and know each other better,” Perlado recalled. “In 2010 we decided it was time to go through a union ceremony. Unfortunately my mom got sick and eventually died in July that year. So we moved the ceremony from July to August.

“The union ceremony was a happy one. We honored the memory of our mothers, Evelyn and Ester. The ceremony was held in a log house that Joan had built and which I helped finish. It is in a wooded subdivision in House Springs. I call it our winter Swiss Alps cabin. The house is made of white pine logs. I helped Joan put up some of the walls and install bamboo flooring. I also helped in the interior decoration.

“Later we had ourselves registered as domestic partners in Columbia in Missouri. We are legally recognized as ‘a couple in a domestic partnership’ so we are able to share our insurance,” she said.

While doing a clinical pastoral education (CPE) course and training as a chaplain at Barnes Jewish Hospital-Washington University, Perlado also registered Mertens in her insurance. Her CPE course, Perlado said, helped her in coming out.

After she graduated from Eden in 2011, Perlado applied for work to be with Mertens. “Unfortunately, it was a bad time because the US economy was down,” she said. “I tried to get employment at a local Franciscan retreat, and the Franciscans tried to get a work permit for me at the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) but the application was denied.”

Her student visa had expired so in December of 2011, Perlado had to go back to the Philippines. She did not want to stay on without a proper visa while waiting for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be struck down.

DOMA was the law banning the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage already legalized in several US states. In 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled the ban unconstitutional.

In a majority opinion, US Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

“While separated,” Perlado recalled, “Joan and I were praying and hoping that the DOMA would be no more. Friends and family support helped us a lot.”

During that waiting time, she would fly to the US every so often to be with Mertens. “I was there in 2013 but we still could not get married until the DOMA was struck down. Our lawyer advised us not to, because then I won’t be able to go in and out (of the US). In the meantime, we supported the human rights campaign against the DOMA. What a joy it was for us when it was finally struck down in 2013. It was a kind of miracle, a real blessing from God, indeed.”

The elated couple thought it would be smooth sailing from then on. Mertens petitioned Perlado as a fiancĂ©e, much like what engaged heterosexual couples do. But Perlado had to go through medical tests and a waiting period of about six months for her health clearance. After the final hurdle—Perlado’s interview at the US embassy—her fiancee visa was approved. This means a civil wedding for the couple this month.

“It is required and expected that we get married legally within three months after I get to the US,” Perlado explained. “We will likely get married before a judge in Chicago where same-sex marriage is allowed.

“We already had sacramental rites before Rev. Jessica Rowley, assistant pastor of the Saints Clare and Francis Parish of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion which is affiliated with the old Catholic Church of the Netherlands,” she added.

Perlado and Mertens have been through several union ceremonies and spiritual blessings, but it is the legal wedding that will confirm that they are indeed a married couple before the law.

While Perlado still considers herself a member of the Catholic Church and is happy that her decision has been accepted by individuals within the church, she knows that the institutional church cannot grant her and Mertens marital status.

“My family accepts my decision,” she said, adding that “Joan’s brother has a same-sex partner. I have a first cousin in the US who is into a male-male relationship and who has children who are twins.”

But she and Mertens have not considered raising children since it is late for them to do so.

Last March, Perlado graduated with a second master’s degree—in Religious Studies, major in Women and Religion—from the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies, a Catholic institution for religious in Quezon City. She sometimes facilitates spiritual retreats for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. She also serves as a consultant in a church-related women’s organization.

“My mother knew I have kept my faith,” Perlado said. “She saw me holding the rosary and we prayed together before she died. I have never felt that I am condemned. My relationship with God has not changed. My relationship with Joan is deep. We share a lot of things together especially in faith and spirituality. We are good for each other.”

The friends of both Perlado and Mertens, church people among them, have only good wishes for the couple. Quipped Perlado: “It is hard to wait to be with my honey Joanie. We miss being together a lot. May God’s blessings be with us.” •

                           To Have and To Hold, Regardless of Gender

Same sex marriages are probably the latest, most revolutionary social change in recent years. Already, 17 states in the United States have legalized same-sex marriages as of February 2014.

6 by court decision California* (June 28, 2013), Connecticut (Nov. 12, 2008), Iowa (Apr. 24, 2009), Massachusetts (May 17, 2004), New Jersey (Oct. 21, 2013), New Mexico (Dec. 19, 2013)

9 by state legislature Delaware (July 1, 2013), Hawaii (Dec. 2, 2013), Illinois (law will take effect June 1, 2014), Minnesota (Aug. 1, 2013), New Hampshire (Jan. 1, 2010), New York (July 24, 2011), Rhode Island (Aug. 1, 2013), Washington, DC (2010) and Vermont (Sep. 1, 2009)

3 by popular vote Maine (Dec. 29, 2012), Maryland (Jan. 1, 2013), Washington (Dec. 9, 2012)

Still, there are 33 states that currently ban same-sex marriages.

26 by constitutional amendment and state law: Alabama (2006, 1998), Alaska (1998, 1996), Arizona (2008, 1996), Arkansas (2004, 1997), Colorado (2006, 2000), Florida (2008, 1997), Georgia (2004, 1996), Idaho (2006, 1996), Kansas (2005, 1996), Kentucky (2004, 1998), Louisiana (2004, 1999), Michigan (2004, 1996), Mississippi (2004, 1997), Missouri (2004, 1996), Montana (2004, 1997), North Carolina (2012, 1995), North Dakota (2004, 1997), Ohio (2004, 2004), Oklahoma (2004, 1996), South Carolina (2006, 1996), South Dakota (2006, 1996), Tennessee (2006, 1996), Texas (2005, 1997), Utah (2004, 1997), Virginia (2006, 1997), and Wisconsin (2006, 1979)

3 by constitutional amendment: Nebraska (2000), Nevada (2002), Oregon (2004)

4 by state law: Indiana (1997), Pennsylvania (1996), West Virginia (2000), Wyoming (2003)

All over the world, 18 countries aside from the US, have legalized same-sex marriages:

Argentina (2010), Belgium (2003), Brazil (2013), Canada (2005), Denmark (2012), England/Wales (2013), France (2013), Iceland (2010), The Netherlands (2000), New Zealand (2013), Norway (2009), Portugal (2010), Scotland (2014), South Africa (2006), (Spain (2005), Sweden (2009), Uruguay (2013); Mexico (2009, only in some jurisdictions) Source: gaymarriage.procon.org; pewforum.org Inquirer Research