Thursday, August 28, 2014

'Let them eat cake'

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

“Let them eat cake,” the famous callous remark attributed/misattributed to Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, went down in history and was used as an example of the powerful rich’s contempt for the poor hungry peasants clamoring for bread.

“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” or something similar, historians say, could have been uttered by someone else long before Marie Antoinette’s time. Her contemporary Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that there is no proof that she said it. If she said it at all, she was not the first to say it.
Whatever the context and the intent of that utterance, it has taken on a negative meaning over the centuries. More so because Marie Antoinette was guillotined for the crime of treason during the French Revolution. She became the caricature for the matapobre profligate rich.

In a Philippine context, or in a movie perhaps, an emaciated crowd could be chanting, “Bigas, bigas!” (Rice, rice!) to which a disdainful despot might respond with, “Palamunin nga ninyo ng litson!” (Shove roasted pig into their mouths!)

I smile while I write this piece because I suddenly remember a scene in the Mike de Leon 1980s movie classic “Sister Stella L.” (Vilma Santos in the title role) where a group of us women writers became women-in-black extras chanting “Welga! Welga!” at the picket line. We were crying for “jobs and justice, food and freedom.” Yes, you’d spot me there. The movie was shown despite its antidictatorship overtones.

We could very well have cried “Bigas, hindi bala!” (Rice, not bullets!) because the labor leader (Tony Santos) in the movie was gunned down. Street slogans were the rage then, the more alliterative the better. But I digress.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Assisi Dev't Foundation gives, not receives

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

The term “nongovernment organization” has been tarnished because corrupt individuals, in connivance with the corrupt in government, put up fly-by-night “NGOs” to which they channeled loot stolen from public coffers. Even the NGOs (nonprofit groups, foundations, etc.) with good track records are sometimes put under a cloud of suspicion simply because they are too eager to do their jobs and deliver to the poor.

Zealous muckrakers, fault-finders, or simply investigative types seize every morsel of data that could damage or condemn. This is not to say that we should refrain from doing spade work. But there is a saying about asking first before shooting or reporting, especially if it is going to damage innocent persons or the good work being done for the hungry poor.

Howard Dee, founder and chair of Assisi Development Foundation (ADF) and former ambassador to the Vatican, got the shock of his life when it made the news. So did ADF president Ben Abadiano (holder of the 2004 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership) and vice chair Viel Aquino-Dee, President Aquino’s younger sister and Dee’s daughter-in-law. The 40-year-old ADF has been doing development work among indigenous communities, championing their right to a life of dignity. It was among the lead agencies (including the Inquirer) in Tabang Mindanaw.

It continues its mission by drawing from the personal resources of the senior Dee, 84, who has laid down his entire earthly treasures (no kidding) for the NGO that he named in honor of St. Francis, the poverello of Assisi.

An Inquirer news report (“COA questions P230-M milk fund,” 8/18/14) by Gil C. Cabacungan said “[t]he milk feeding program was meant to provide 200-milliliter packs of milk to pregnant women, senior citizens and children in day care, preschool and Grade 1 ‘pre-identified by the legislators and the ADF for a period of 120 days…’”

The report continued: “In its annual audit report on the National Dairy Authority (NDA), the Commission on Audit (COA) cited dubious signatures, faulty monitoring systems, conflicts of interest in the procurement of milk and the failure of the program to live up to the Disbursement Acceleration Program’s (DAP) goal to be an economic stimulus.”

A leftist group delighted in the issue and questioned the government’s favoring a foundation, “no matter how pure the intentions and how good the track record may be,” where the President’s sister sits as vice chair.

A more important question to be answered is: Did the ADF get hold, touch, or spend the money?

In a statement, NDA administrator Grace J. Cenas clarified the role of the ADF in the Hapag-asa Nutrition program: “For the record, the ADF did not receive, hold or manage any funds for the implementation of the program. The ADF’s only role was to coordinate the identification and validation of malnourished children in different dioceses and municipalities who would have been the beneficiaries of the milk-feeding program. The ADF provides the social preparation work for the community, that is, identifying the malnourished and weighing the children, among others.

“If beneficiaries are thus validated, the process would have been as follows: 1) The NDA pays the dairy cooperative for producing and packaging the milk; 2) the cooperative delivers the milk to the diocese or municipality; 3) the diocese or municipality then takes charge of ensuring that beneficiaries receive the milk; 4) a careful reading of the COA report, particularly Annexes A and B, would also reveal that there has been no disbursement of funds for the Hapag-Asa Integrated Nutrition Program of the ADF.”

The Department of Budget and Management also said that in line with its regular process for fund releases, “all funds for the Milk Feeding Program under the NDA were released only to the NDA, and not to any of the foundations or implementing arms identified by the government-owned corporation in executing the projects.”

Present in 72 provinces, the ADF partners with the Church, academe, people’s organizations, other NGOs, barangays and municipal government units. It aims to help the poor and the oppressed become economically secure, socially responsible and morally mature by making available the following: sustainable agricultural technology, farm implements and tools; education (formal and nonformal); medical assistance, facilities and healthcare alternatives; opportunities for leadership and livelihood, skills training, and values/spiritual formation; and relief and rehabilitation of communities affected by the armed conflict in Mindanao.

How sad that a foundation so zealous and so giving is now being suspected of getting its hands on public funds, when all it did was point a finger to where the poor and hungry are, where some milk, not even money, should go.

If there is a lesson here for the well-meaning but not well-versed in the labyrinthine ways that evildoers take, it is this: Don’t even so much as point to public funds, or your pointing finger will be considered tainted. Let the corrupt just have it all. Or leave them for public lynching.

I remember quoting Dee, known to be a deeply spiritual man, after he received the Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Award in 2006: “My heart is filled with gratitude yet I feel no sense of triumph. I feel no pride of achievement in the face of so much injustice and widespread poverty that condemns so many of our people to a life of subhuman existence.”

But just as quickly, Dee lifted spirits by quoting a French philosopher: “The important thing is to not be a success. The important thing is to be in history bearing witness. This is not the time to lose heart. Rather, it is in the darkness that our lamps should be lit and our hearts set ablaze.”#

Thursday, August 14, 2014

To Robin Williams: 'Nanu nanu'

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

And so he’s gone. But not from our memories of laughter and sadness to which his movies moved us.

Robin Williams, 63, ended his life two days ago and we are stunned by the suddenness of it all. No final goodbye notes or video (please, let there be) to soften the loss, to make us understand and see why he turned off the lights, closed the door behind him, and left the building without so much as a by your leave.

Once, while mulling over movies, I thought that if I were to be asked who my favorite actor was, I would say without any hesitation: Robin Williams, of course.

Now that he’s gone, I imagine him walking on Van-Gogh-ish fields of flowers or on a distant pristine shore in the afterlife depicted in the heartbreaking movie “What Dreams May Come.” I can’t imagine a sadder movie brought to life by the world’s funniest actor. Or now I try to imagine him swaying to James Brown’s “I Feel Good” song that kicked off “Good Morning, Vietnam” to a rockin’ start. See, I remember that small detail.

I have watched many Williams movies on the big screen, among them “The Birdcage,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Hook,” “Awakenings,” “One-Hour Photo,” “What Dreams May Come,” and “Dead Poets Society.” They were not just very funny or sad, they had soul, a something that brought the viewer to unexplored landscapes of human life. I hope a cable TV channel would do a retrospective.

US President Barack Obama’s tribute stabbed the heart: “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien (as Mork in TV’s “Mork and Mindy”—CPD)—but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who need it most—from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.”

“Apparent suicide” by asphyxia was how police investigators described the death of Williams, who did not hide his on-and-off battle with alcoholism and, recently, with depression. Chronic clinical depression, it must be, for there didn’t seem to be any sudden triggering factor that made him spiral down the steep hole and into the dark depths. Or was there? So many unanswered questions only Williams and those very close to him might be able to answer.

Some years ago I wrote a magazine story about a support group for the clinically depressed. I provided the hotline number. The support group forwarded to me the readers’ rain of text messages that poured in. They were mostly cries for help. Only then did I realize that there were so many of them out there. I later wrote a column piece titled “Txt mssgs frm d clncly dpressd” (March 7, 2002).

I am not a depressive, so I don’t know what it is like. Someone described it as extreme sadness and being under a dark cloud. Another said she felt heavy bricks on her chest. People do get depressed while sick, or after a loss or a traumatic experience. That is expected. But depression as a chronic illness is different and needs professional attention and treatment. Still, many who we thought had easy access to professional help chose to just end it all. The severity of it must be beyond the person’s level of endurance. We never know what it is like at that particular instance when they are alone and they suddenly decide it should be over in an instant because it’s time.

The love, appreciation and adulation that Williams had could not make him stay.

I have written several times on the subject of suicide, which springs up in the media when a well-known person carries it out “successfully” or when someone unknown or unlikely (very young, for example) commits suicide in an unusual manner or place for very strange reasons. For some information, two books I open are “The Savage God: A Study of Suicide” by A. Alvarez and “Survivors of Suicide” by Rita Robinson, a journalist.

One foundation that aims to prevent suicides especially among the Filipino youth is the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation founded by Jeanne Lim Goulbourn, who lost a daughter because of depression. The World Health Organization provides health kits for support groups, families, schools and health professionals. WHO’s “Towards Evidence-based Suicide Prevention Programmes” provides basic suicide prevention strategies, but it also stresses that there is no single solution in a heterogeneous environment—that is, one size does not fit all, and therefore the need for novel approaches.

One may ask, why efforts to prevent suicides when there are people who want to call it quits? One could rationalize that the suicide victim would be in “a better place” or beyond suffering. But what about the bereaved who will bear the loss, trauma, stigma, guilt and blame? (Though guilt should never be assigned.) Death through suicide diminishes a family and a community in many ways. On the part of the deceased there is the death of dreams and unfulfilled possibilities. The same goes for those who truly loved them and hoped in them, they who must move on.

Experts say that among the “protective beliefs” that lower the suicide risk among college students are: spirituality, family support, peer support and positive expectancy. Components of national suicide prevention are public awareness, media education, access to services, building community capacity, means restriction, training and research and evaluation.

Those of us who appreciated Williams’ gift to make us feel deeply for ourselves and others—through laughter and sadness—feel diminished and will truly miss him. To Robin Williams, thank you and “Nanu nanu.”#

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A garbage-free papal visit

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

Last week, the announcement on Pope Francis’ coming to the Philippines in January made the headlines. I was not at the press conference at the Arzobispado when this was announced, so I was not able to ask the question I so wanted to be answered. It had nothing to do with doctrinal issues or Church matters crying out to be addressed. (Not that I had nothing lofty or profound in my question box.)

DESPITE pleas from environment advocates and local government officials not to toss their litter just anywhere, heaps of trash quickly piled up at the closing of the Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo, Manila, on Jan. 9, making this street sweeper’s job of cleaning up twice as difficult. ALEXIS CORPUZ

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma, along with several Church officials, were there. Not present was Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino who, I foresee, will carry much of the burden in implementing logistical plans such as traffic and crowd control in Metro Manila. Other cities have their own plans.

I covered the two papal visits (1981 and 1995) of St. John Paul II. There were two major angles in the coverage—the sacred and the secular. The former was often, if not always, eclipsed by the latter, which had to do with police matters such as security and crowd control. Whatever profound message the visiting pontiff gave was often drowned out by possible threats to his security and other headline-grabbing police stories.

(Well, it was discovered much later that there was indeed a threat to John Paul’s life. Facing the apostolic nunciature where he stayed was a condominium building where a lair of terrorists with bomb-making paraphernalia was accidentally found, thanks to a security guard. This later led to a terrorist’s arrest somewhere by US agents.)

Anyway, one of the questions I would have wanted to ask at the press conference on Pope Francis’ coming was about garbage, trash. Huh?

Filipino Catholic crowds are known for leaving enormous piles of garbage. The morning after the Jan. 9 Black Nazarene procession or traslacion that draws more than a million frenzied devotees, the MMDA gathers tons and tons and tons of garbage strewn all over the vigil site and the procession route. Last January’s haul, according to the MMDA as reported in this newspaper, was 336 tons, or 17 truckloads, of garbage.