Thursday, February 26, 2015

Almonte's journey: 'passing on the baton'

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

And I thought I had first crack at “Endless Journey: A Memoir” by Jose T. Almonte as told to Marites DaƱguilan Vitug. The Inquirer beat me to it with the excerpts on 1986 events, and so did two other columnists, in the runup to yesterday’s 29th anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolution. An important chunk in the book deals with how the military uprising was plotted and carried out, and the role of Almonte, then a colonel, in it.

But I am glad for Vitug, a friend of more than 30 years and an investigative journalist par excellence, that the book is getting a lot of media attention. The book was launched yesterday at the Club Filipino, the historic place where, in 1986, Cory Aquino took her oath as the new president and head of the revolutionary government after the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was toppled by People Power and flown, with his family, to exile in Hawaii.

When I read memoirs and autobiographies, I always love the part about the authors’ childhood memories, whence they sprang, their ancestry and the land of their birth. The heavier historical and political stuff is for later. As they wax sentimental and attempt at the literary when describing their growing-up years, my imagination goes cinematic.

Take South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela’s “A Long Walk to Freedom.” More than his years in prison and his struggle to end apartheid in his country, it is his growing up as a herd boy in Qunu that is colorfully etched in my mind, like how he drank milk straight from the udder of a cow and frolicked in the fields. Here, he was at his best as a storyteller. And as one proceeds to the historical stuff, one begins to understand the character and the beauty of the struggle.

Almonte’s childhood is one for the movies—the rustic village in Albay, the rice paddies, his dying mother—but so are his suspenseful adult forays into dangerous zones as a soldier and intelligence expert. Used to secrecy and covert operations, Almonte had to be repeatedly prodded—by Japanese academic Yutaka Katayama who would write the book’s introduction—to put between covers, if not his entire life, at least his involvement in this country’s becoming. What he knew, saw, heard, felt and experienced, and most important, what he did.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Images of unspeakable human cruelty

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

These are not scenes from a movie that can be shaken off as soon as one steps out of the dark theater. But even movie scenes can be so disturbing that they leave traumatic imprints on one’s mind. How much more true-to-life barbaric acts against helpless persons purposely recorded for the world to see? And shown almost on real time?

These past days we have been served up images of human cruelty committed against fellow human beings. These are not only still photographs but also moving images that show the unspeakable cruelty that humans are capable of doing—and showing. The perpetrators immediately flaunted their horrible acts via electronic media even while the blood of their victims was still warm on their hands and on their bladed weapons.

I am referring to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that emerged to prominence sometime last year to declare the establishment of a caliphate that would dominate the world. In the meantime, they terrorize and kill while invoking the name of God.

Closer to home, we have been made to see—presumably by the perpetrators of the heinous deeds—video footage of the aftermath of the Jan. 25 armed clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, between the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front/Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters when the SAF troopers tried to serve arrest orders on two terrorists believed to be hiding in the area. More than 68 persons died, 44 of them SAF troopers. All is over but the blame-throwing. And the high cost of the botched operation continues to shake the Aquino presidency.

In that video footage recorded by cell phone, SAF troopers, wounded but alive, are shown being finished off at close range, stripped of their uniforms, firearms and ammunition, and personal belongings. The perpetrators shout praise to God and even answer phone calls and tell the callers that the phones’ owners are lying dead in the cornfield of Mamasapano.

What kind of human beings are these that they can commit such inhuman deeds with the name of God on their lips? Why such cruelty, not only to their victims but also to the intended viewers of the video? While many people shudder and throw up at the sight of the bloody images recorded at home and abroad, the images serve the purpose of presenting the perpetrators as the despicable people that they are and their causes anchored on cruelty.

Why line up 21 Coptic Christians, dressed in orange overalls, and make them face the camera, while the killers dressed and hooded in black stand behind with their sharp blades, ready to make heads roll on the sand?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fr. Bu, Jedi Master of unknown universe; 92

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

MANILA, Philippines–He was fondly called Father Bu. Students also called him guru, Jedi Master and guide to the unknown universe. He was my teacher.

Known as the “father of Philippine psychology,” Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ, died on Feb. 10. He was 92. After a funeral Mass at Ateneo de Manila University’s Church of the Gesu Saturday, he was laid to rest at the Jesuits’ Sacred Heart Novitiate cemetery in Novaliches.

In a piece I wrote about him for the book “To Give and Not Count the Cost: Ateneans Inspiring Ateneans, 1859-2009,” which was published for Ateneo’s sesquicentennial, I recounted how Father Bu’s 3-by-2.4-meter (10-by-8-foot) room could hold “a universe of objects…,” stuff that looked like they came straight from “The Twilight Zone.”

Here’s my piece from that book, titled “In Fr. Bu’s room, fly on a witch’s broom,” edited to reflect his recent passing.

“IT’S MY mess and I love it,” declared the piggy on the poster that sat on a heap of odds and ends.

Welcome to Fr. Jaime Bulatao’s room and its 1001 curiosities. This room could have been one of the wonders of the Ateneo campus, if not of the entire Loyola Heights. It was amazing how a 10-by-8-foot room could hold a universe of objects and literature on the psychic, the unusual, the spiritual, the mystical, the extraterrestrial, the astral, the paranormal—and not explode, whirl or hurtle itself into the unreachable beyonds where finally all the energies therein could be dissipated or transformed.

It was a wonder, too, how its occupant, Father Bu, and his friends, clients, counselees, students and colleagues could feel at home in such surroundings. The place could be described as messy, topsy-turvy, typhoon-visited, weird, out of this world, a curio shop, a playground for spirits, intelligent.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Peace bridge over Mamasapano river

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

If only it were “across the river and into the trees” (to borrow the title of a Hemingway novel with reminiscences of war in it), the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police that suffered 44 dead could have had fewer casualties. In their case it was across the river and into the cornfield, which provided no cover at all. It was, in fact, the water lily on the river that gave cover to the lone survivor of the SAF’s 55th Company, sniper PO2 Christopher Lalan, in the battle with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters last Jan. 25. His survival was a miracle.

War movies, among them “The Bridge at Remagen,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” and “A Bridge Too Far” have in their plots strategic bridges, the conquest of which spelled life or death, victory or defeat.

I have watched a video clip taken from a drone that flew over that area. It was posted online by Raffy Tima of GMA 7. The video shows a wide, open field with nary a tree, a river that runs through it, and a long makeshift footbridge across it. Parallel to a portion of the river is a dirt road.

I examined the bridge on the Inquirer’s banner photo that shows Commission on Human Rights head Etta Rosales watching her step on the footbridge’s two logs and holding on to the bamboo railings. A policeman behind her and another one in front of her keep her steady so that she does not plummet into the water. The bridge is made of rough logs, tree branches and bamboo poles tied together with wire. A close-up of a video clip shows bark on the logs, proof that the bridge was made out of felled young trees and constructed by the people of the community and not by the Department of Public Works and Highways. It is quite a long bridge, obviously a much-needed one in that area. The river is wide, wider perhaps during the wet season.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

'Thanatopsis' on the Mamasapano cornfield

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

Last Saturday morning, a group of us from the Office of Women and Gender Concerns (OWGC) of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines went to Camp Bagong Diwa where 42 of the “Fallen 44” of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force temporarily lay in state. We brought personalized sympathy cards for the bereaved families, each card with the slain soldier’s official photograph downloaded from the Internet. It was the OWGC’s small way of comforting the grieving.

It was the second and last day of the wake in the camp but, alas, early that morning most of the dead had been taken away by their families. Sympathizers, many of them civilians, were still coming in. The bodies of the troopers slain in battle last Jan. 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, were to be brought to their respective hometowns, there to be further honored and then laid to rest.

One of the bodies still in the camp was that of Insp. Rennie Tayrus, who had led 72 men in the battle to capture two international terrorists who were reportedly hiding in the lair of their armed sympathizers. That battle lasted some 10 hours and left 44 SAF troopers, more than a dozen members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and several civilians dead.

Postbattle analysts are now hard put to describe what it was—a misencounter, an encounter, a massacre, etc.—even while the road toward peace is being laid out.