Tuesday, September 29, 2015

75,730 claims of rights violations under Marcos are being processed

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

A severed hand being taken away by a dog after bombing operations. A pregnant activist under intense military interrogation and forced to identify the father of the baby in her womb, yelling, “Andres Bonifacio!” A drinking straw inserted into a victim’s penis.

Many cases and stories leap out of the pages as painful remembrances, others sound simple and direct but are written in detail, still others appear to be “copy and paste.”

Poring over, evaluating and deciding on tens of thousands of stories about cruelty, suffering and loss during the martial law years is a difficult and heartbreaking task. Establishing the authenticity of supporting documents and witnesses’ accounts goes with it. Just as difficult is setting monetary reparation for each proven case.

But the task has to be fulfilled because a law, although almost 30 years too late, has been passed requiring that a form of justice be dispensed with.

Reparation, recognition

On Feb. 25, 2013, President Aquino signed Republic Act No. 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act, “providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, documentation of said violations, appropriating funds therefor and for other purposes.”

By May 2015, a total of 75,730 persons have filed in the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) their claims as human rights violations victims (HRVVs) of martial rule (1972-1986), or as next of kin of victims who have suffered, died or disappeared during those dark years under dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Besides filling out forms and submitting documents of proof, individual claimants had to submit a narrative of what they had undergone in the hands of martial law enforcers, mainly military and police elements.

The number of claimants ballooned after the period to file claims (May 12 to Nov. 10, 2014) was extended by six months. The work of the HRVCB became even heavier and will take longer.

Under the law, HRVVs are to be classified as 1) victims who died or have disappeared and are still missing, 2) victims who were tortured, or raped or sexually abused, 3) victims who were detained and 4) all other victims. Each category is given a range of points that will correspond to the reparation amount.

‘Liberally interpret’

The HRVCB chair, Lina Sarmiento, a retired police director, said that utmost care had been given every case to assure justice for the genuine victims. These mean some dubious claims have to be weeded out.

“We do not want to use the word fraudulent,” Sarmiento told the Inquirer. “We liberally interpret in favor of the claimant.” But she also stressed that the board always had “the benefit of the legitimate claimants” in mind.

The breakdown of claims filed is as follows: main office (16,895), regional desks (26,088), caravans (32,659), abroad (90). Claims filed in the first filing period (47,128), extension period (28,602).

Next to the caravans, Metro Manila yielded the most number of claimants (16,895), followed by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (2,763) and Tuguegarao City (2,351).

Places listed in the report are the sites where claims were filed and received, not necessarily where the abuses were committed. Interestingly, some places yielded more claims during the extension or second filing period as compared with the original filing period.

3 divisions

The HRVCB is composed of Sarmiento, Doctors Erlinda Senturias and Aurora Parong, and lawyers Byron Bocar, Wilfred Asis, Galuasch G. Ballaho, Glenda T. Litong and Jacqueline Mejia. Jose Luis Gascon left the board after he was appointed chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) a couple of months ago.

The board is divided into three divisions. Each division meets for a whole day twice or thrice a week to decide on cases. The divisions are supported by lawyers and paralegals who read, check the details and write summaries. They also refer to supporting data, many of these coming from the Task Force Detainees-Philippines (TFDP), a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines.

The TFDP documented thousands of human rights violations cases and helped detainees and their families during the martial law years. If not for TFDP’s files, many HRVVs would have difficulty proving their cases.

And thanks to computer technology, the HRVCB staff can easily access cases across divisions. Names, events and places can be checked and counterchecked for truth and accuracy. Someone’s independent account can bolster somebody else’s. Even news reports and articles written during that time can lend proof.

P10 billion

A total of P10 billion allotted for the HRVVs’ reparation was sourced from the Marcoses’ hidden and stolen wealth recovered by the government from their Switzerland accounts.

Separately, P500 million has been allotted for the building of a memorial museum to be supervised by the CHR and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. The museum has yet to be built. The money is still with the national treasury.

The Philippine government’s P10 billion for reparation is distinct and separate from the $2 billion (almost P90 billion) won in a Hawaii court after more than 9,000 HRVVs filed a class suit against the Marcos estate in 1994. Alas, more than 2,000 claimants had been delisted. The awarded amount comes in batches and is dependent on hidden stash discovered abroad by the claimants’ American lawyers.

Those already on the Hawaii class suit list enjoy “conclusive presumption,” which means they would be approved as claimants under RA 10368 as long as they have filed claims with the HRVCB.

Senturias said talk about claimants getting 80 percent more in reparation was plain misinformation.

The HRVCB operates on a P50 million yearly operational budget, Sarmiento said. This is not enough because the number of claimants dramatically increased during the extension period, therefore more personnel became necessary. The HRVCB has a life span of only two to three years.

“We have talked to the Department of Budget Management about this,” Sarmiento said. “We had expected only 20,000 claims, double the number of the Hawaii claimants. Now we have more than 75,000 cases.”

The HRVCB cannot give a definite number of cases that have been decided upon because the number increases every day. But 75,739 cases are a daunting number to handle, and Sarmiento said for a division to finish 1,000 cases a month was not a breeze.

Nine stages

There are nine stages in the claims process. Stages 1 and 2 (preparation and submission), though time-consuming and physically tiring, were not as difficult as Stage 3 (evaluation and resolution of each claim by the board.)

The board is now in Stage 3, which is not only time-consuming. It also needs patience, probity and good judgment. Adding to the difficulty is the sensitive nature of the cases: Wade into pools of blood and tears, stories of torture, death, loss, suffering, imprisonment, despair, trauma, fear, broken lives, lost opportunities, rage.

Not easy for the HRVCB, said Senturias and Parong who, as doctors, had seen their share of medical cases involving victims of martial rule. Parong was herself a political detainee.

Zumba for release

“That’s why Chair Sarmiento decided to have Zumba sessions for the staff every end of the week,” Parong said with approval. The exercise is their way to release the toxicity continuously poring over human rights violations cases that are in the thousands.

After Stage 3 is (4) publication of a preliminary list of eligible claimants, (5) filing of opposition and/or appeal, (6) decision on opposition and/or appeal, (7) publication of the final list of eligible claimants, (8) determination of monetary award per eligible claimant, and (9) distribution of the tax-free monetary award claimed personally by victim/claimant.

The HRVCB clarified that determination of monetary award couldn’t be done now, but only after all cases had been decided on with finality. “We have to end with a zero balance,” Sarmiento said.

Who’s the claimant?

Every now and then the HRVCB would encounter telenovela-type cases, such as when three persons separately appeared in one day, each one claiming he was the rightful heir of a deceased. Or two women claiming to be the wife of a deceased victim.

In cases where there is no marriage certificate, the board would advise that the offspring of the deceased, if he or she has one, act as claimant.

“We don’t want to interfere with families,” Parong said. “But once, in the morning we had someone who said he was the sole heir. Then in the afternoon two other siblings showed up. They all needed to show birth certificates.”

Horror and heroism

The offices of the HRVCB are housed in Virata Hall and a neighboring building on the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City.

On a regular day, one would find lawyers, paralegals, encoders and other staff quietly going over files in hard and soft (scanned) copies. Two rooms are lined with shelves that hold tens of thousands of brown envelopes—some thick, some thin—that contain human rights violations cases.

The sight gives one goose bumps. When the HRVCB’s work is over, the files will be turned over to the memorial museum that is yet to be built, a museum not so much of horrors but of heroism.

Added benefits

On Sept. 21, the 43rd anniversary of the signing by Marcos of the martial law declaration, the HRVCB members signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with government agencies on nonmonetary compensation for HRVVs or their surviving kin.

Agencies at the MOA signing were the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Health, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

This means added benefits for the legitimate claimants. Many victims who suffered but survived martial rule have already passed on without having experienced a balm for their wounds. But like those who fell in the night, they have bequeathed to their loved ones lessons in heroism.

For those fighters-victims-survivors who remain hale and strong, justice can never be too late. The taste of it is ever so sweet it is worth the wait.#

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Without undivided allegiance'

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

The somewhat abstruse wording—“without undivided allegiance”—that the Supreme Court used in its ruling against a town mayor discovered to have dual citizenship made me do a double-take. I computed it thus: Two negatives cancel out each other to produce a non-negative. Therefore, “without undivided allegiance” simply means “with divided allegiance.” A lesson for the mayor who, in two rulings, was stripped of his landslide victory.

The opposite of “without undivided allegiance” is without divided allegiance, which is the same as with undivided allegiance. Gets mo?
Tossing these words around in one’s head can be discombobulating. The devil is not in the grammar but in the syntax. But that is how it is with legalese.

An Inquirer news report said the high court, voting 8-4, upheld the Commission on Elections’ 2013 resolution disqualifying Mayor Rommel Arnado of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte. Arnado had won reelection by a landslide despite questions about his citizenship dating to 2010, when he first ran for mayor. He was found to be “a candidate without an undivided allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines.”

“Undivided” is the operative word, with emphasis on the “un”. The mayor did not have that. Despite having renounced his acquired US citizenship and sworn to again become Filipino in order to run for an elective office, he still used his US passport. He was found out, and got the boot.

So dual citizens with two passports, be warned. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. The Comelec’s certificate of candidacy (COC) form now asks if the candidate has dual citizenship and has renounced the foreign one. Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the requirement had always been there. Now, by asking questions about citizenship in the COC, a candidate would at least be reminded to first put his/her status in order, or not to lie. The candidate cannot feign ignorance.

If you want to remain citizens of two countries in order to enjoy the benefits and the convenience, it is best that you do not run for an elective office, not even for mayor or for barangay chair. This is not discrimination, or saying that you do not love the Philippines, the land of your birth. This is saying that because you have dual citizenship, you are loyal to two countries. In fact, you are expected to be so because you swore to be so.

So enough with the sentimentality. Dual citizens are not totally undivided no matter their pronouncements, else why have both? But that’s all right. Nothing wrong with that. You alone can feel where your heart really lies, which could be in the Philippines. But you also know where the convenience and benefits are—in the other country.

In last week’s column, I wrote that I still have to find out what oath one takes—the wording of it, and it should better ring bloody poetic, with a sting to it (may kurot)—to regain Philippine citizenship. Several readers supplied me with the oath that blandly states:

“I ____________, solemnly swear (or affirm) that, I will support and defend the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines and obey the laws and legal orders promulgated by the duly constituted authorities of the Philippines; and I hereby declare that I recognize and accept the supreme authority of the Philippines and will maintain true faith and allegiance thereto; and that I impose this obligation upon myself voluntarily without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”

Methinks it needs a rewrite. So many wordsmiths out there in both Filipino and English who can make that oath sound more profound and bloody poetic.

Quite a contrast to the oath of allegiance to the United States of America that presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe had made and later renounced when she reacquired Philippine citizenship. The nature of her citizenship is still being decided by the Senate Electoral Tribunal—whether she, a foundling with still unknown biological parents, is natural-born or naturalized.

Here now is the complete wording of that oath that, I said, makes me shudder when I think of Filipinos who utter it against the beating of their hearts: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

One reader wrote to say that his mother wept (not with joy, he was sure) when she took her oath of allegiance to another country.

I’d like to think that foundlings found in the Philippines are natural-born citizens and should be allowed to run for elective office. But my issue with those who had renounced their Philippine citizenship and later reacquired it in order to run in the elections is allegiance or loyalty.

Is Poe, with her American brood, with or without undivided allegiance to the Philippines? Is she, with her American brood, with or without divided allegiance to this country?

Oaths signed on paper, oaths read and uttered, are not mere words. “So help me God” is how they usually end.#

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Renouncing one's motherland

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

You can’t have it all back. That’s what I want to happen, if I had my way, to those who had once officially renounced their loyalty to their motherland. Sure, you can have most of it back, but not all of it, such as one little thing: aiming for the presidency of the land. That is not too much to give up.

You can come back, but it is not like love the second time around. If you were once with us, then were not with us, and, later, were with us again, has nothing changed at all? Some things should’ve changed. Some things you should’ve lost somewhere along the way.

You can’t have left us and say you never really left us. That line is better used as lyrics for a song. In fact, you renounced us. It was not treachery on your part, not at all; you just preferred them to us and that is your right.

I am not talking about physically leaving the motherland for whatever reason, with hopes to come back. This is about renouncing one’s country to embrace another, for whatever reason, and taking an oath of allegiance to another. Just the same, it is renunciation.

Questions about Grace Poe’s citizenship as a newborn foundling should have been put to rest by now. She was a Filipino at birth, at the time she was found and at the time she was adopted and loved by her Filipino parents, show biz royalty Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces. She was a Filipino until…

Enough of the statelessness issue already, as there is no such thing for newborns unless they are non-earthlings dropped from outer space. Case closed. Really, for a while there, having a true-to-life foundling becoming president seemed so cinematic, so fairy-tale-ish, so only-in-the-Philippines, one couldn’t help wishing it would come true. And it could come true.

Besides the questions about citizenship which should be closed by now, there is the question of residency—that is, whether Poe had enough of it before she ran for an elective position, which was for senator, and now for the presidency.

But the gut issue—or heart issue, if you will—is loyalty. Loyalty is hard to qualify and quantify. The print on paper on renunciation day says it simply. Are you for us or against us?

In his commentary in this paper’s Opinion section (“Shattered loyalty,” 9/8/15), former Albay representative Edcel Lagman provided the full text of the oath that Poe pronounced. To quote some lines:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law… So help me God.” In this context, “abjure,” in Filipino, is iwinawaksi, tinatalikuran.

One’s shift in loyalty—on paper—can’t get any clearer than that. But what is in one’s heart and mind? Who can know what was in Poe’s heart and mind then? But Poe has regained her Philippine citizenship. And there’s the fact that if she becomes president, then American citizens (such as her husband and children) will be occupying the presidential residence with her. What if she were president, and US and Philippine interests clashed?

During the Marcos dictatorship, many Filipino patriots sought asylum abroad to escape persecution and, while there, continued the fight for freedom. Among them were President Noynoy Aquino, who was an exile along with his parents, Ninoy (assassinated upon his return in 1983 at the then Manila International Airport)) and Cory (who would become president of the Philippines and its revolutionary government in 1986), as well as Raul Manglapus, Jovito Salonga, Serge OsmeƱa, Heherson Alvarez, Charito Planas, Gaston Ortigas. They never renounced their Philippine citizenship; they came back as soon as democracy was restored. Some became elected officials. They never renounced the land of their birth.

So, to paraphrase Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, do Filipinos deserve a president who once renounced his or her Filipino citizenship—that is, her loyalty to this country? The question is not a legal one, she said, it is about having turned your back on your country. “Tinalikuran mo ang iyong bansa” were the words she used.

The reason for renouncing could be economic, familial or political, but just the same, you chose them over us. Millions of other Filipinos have done that, and that is not to be taken against them. There’s no law—but why shouldn’t there be?—that says if you had once renounced your motherland, you are unqualified to be president. But those “Pinoy-once” do not lose sleep over becoming president of the Philippines. Why should they? They have other distant dreams to reach. But I’d like to think that the motherland is in their hearts.

When Poe, along with her husband and three children, decided to settle in the United States and renounced her Philippine citizenship in 2001, was loyalty and running for president someday (like her actor-father did) in her thoughts?

Questions on citizenship and residency can be easily resolved with some research and arithmetic. What about loyalty? Listen: “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity…” I shudder when I imagine Filipinos uttering those words against the beating of their hearts.

Loyalty is a basic issue for me. Capability, character, charisma, intelligence, dedication, integrity, honesty, spirituality—Poe can have all of these, but loyalty and renunciation should strike deep for both the renouncer and the renounced. Perhaps deeper for the renounced. That is my opinion, and it is not the law.

I still have to find out what oath one takes—the wording of it, and it should better ring bloody poetic, with a sting to it (may kurot)—to regain Philippine citizenship. #

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lipa Marian phenomenon "worthy of belief"

 Philippine Daily Inquirer/FEATURES/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
WHERE MARY APPEARED This is the spot at the Carmelite monastery in Lipa City, Batangas province, where Carmelite postulant Teresita Castillo said the Virgin Mary appeared to her in 1948. The plant near Mary’s statue was supposedly growing close to the site where Mary appeared. The statue is a likeness of Mary as Castillo saw her. MA. CERES P. DOYO WHERE MARY APPEARED This is the spot at the Carmelite monastery in Lipa City, Batangas province, where Carmelite postulant Teresita Castillo said the Virgin Mary appeared to her in 1948. The plant near Mary’s statue was supposedly growing close to the site where Mary appeared. The statue is a likeness of Mary as Castillo saw her. MA. CERES P. DOYO

Finally, after 67 years, has skepticism turned into belief? Initially marked by doubts and investigations by overbearing Catholic Church authorities but buttressed by the unflinching stand of eyewitnesses and believers who were either silenced, chastised or banished, the so-called Marian apparitions and showers of rose petals that occurred in the Carmelite monastery in Lipa City have been officially recognized as true and, therefore, a wellspring of faith and devotion.

On Sept. 12, Archbishop Ramon C. Arguelles of the Archdiocese of Lipa issued a decree declaring “with moral certainty” that the events of 1948 were indeed “worthy of belief.” The archbishop decreed:

“Therefore, I, by the grace of God and the authority of the Apostolic See, the seventh bishop of this local church of Lipa, the fifth archbishop of this Metropolitan See, the most unworthy servus ancillae filius, declare with moral certainty and with the best intentions and hopes in mind, seeking the compliance of the norms of the Holy See, acting for the greater glory of God and ascertaining always greater love for Holy Mother the Church, that the events and apparition of 1948, also known as the Marian phenomenon in Lipa and its aftermath, even in recent times do exhibit supernatural character and are worthy of belief.

“Thus I encourage the devotion to the Most Holy Mother Mary under her revered and worthy title Mediatrix of All Grace.”

Mary the Intercessor

The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, the day the decree was issued, is now also observed in the archdiocese as the Feast of Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace. The title, according to the account of Teresita Castillo, who claimed in 1948 that Mary appeared to her several times and gave messages, was how Mary called herself. The Marian apparitions were followed by showers of rose petals in the Carmelite monastery and witnessed by other nuns.
Mediatrix is a Latin word that means mediator or intercessor.

Castillo, a 21-year-old Carmelite postulant in 1948, underwent rigorous investigation and psychiatric examination. She was later made to leave the monastery on the dictates of Church authorities but much to the sorrow of her religious superior. She, however, kept in touch with the Carmelite nuns and never wavered. Castillo is now 88 years old and, according to her adopted daughter Grace, is in frail health.

Castillo’s written account on the Marian apparitions and messages, “I Am Mary Mediatrix of All Grace,” was published in 2008. She also wrote about what she and several Carmelites underwent during the investigations.

Other saints

The Carmelite monastery in Lipa is only one of more than a dozen Carmelite monasteries in the Philippines. Reformed by St. Teresa of Avila in the 1500s, the Carmelite Orders’ contemplative nuns live lives dedicated to prayer and sacrifice. Other popular saints of the Carmelite Order are St. Therese of Lisieux and St. John of the Cross. Hundreds of missionary religious congregations all over the world have drawn their charism and rule from the Carmelite Order.

Before pronouncing the Lipa events as “worthy of belief” in his decree’s last paragraphs, Arguelles gave an informative, historical backgrounder to what he called “the Marian phenomenon.”

Arguelles said that the title of Mediatrix of All Grace had already been used in ages past by the early Church Fathers. In 1942, he said, the bishops of China consecrated the Church of China to Mary Mediatrix to assure the fidelity of Catholics during the most trying times.

‘Secret message’

It might have sounded strange then but mentioned in Castillo’s published account was a Marian “secret message” she received on Oct. 17, 1949: “Pray hard for China’s dream to invade the whole world. The Philippines is one of its favorites. Money is the evil force that will lead the people of the world to destruction.”

Fast forward to 2015: The Philippines and China are now in a tug-of-war over areas within Philippine territory that China claimed and seized without warning. The Philippines has filed a protest with an international body.

Marian warning

Arguelles mentioned how Castillo and several others associated with the apparition “endured severe sufferings, giving proof of the realization of the Marian warning: ‘You will suffer, you will be ridiculed, but fear not, because your faith will bring you to heaven.’”

The first Filipino bishop of Lipa at that time, who believed that the events were true, was removed and sent back to his hometown in Ilocos Sur. He was Bishop Alfredo Verzosa whose cause for beatification is now being pursued.

But despite the so-called silencing, the bishops of Digos and Kidapawan in Mindanao consecrated their dioceses to Mary Mediatrix.

Journalists who covered the events at that time would later recall how their reports were met with skepticism.

‘Globes of light’

Forty-three years later, in the 1990s, Castillo again began receiving Marian messages. But this time, she wrote, they came as “globes of light” and voices only. Again, several “showers of rose petals” were reported to have taken place in the monastery but the Carmelites of Lipa did not speak openly about it.

In his decree, Arguelles narrated that the 1951 Church document declaring the events as a hoax was later overturned by bishops’ signed testimonies that were notarized toward the end of their lives. It was only in 1992 when Archbishop Mariano Gaviola lifted the 1951 ban and openly expressed his belief in the authenticity of the 1948 Marian apparitions.
And so began the open devotion to Mary Mediatrix of All Grace.

Gaviola declaration T

he late media personality and Edsa heroine, June Keithley, was among those who pursued the reopening of the Lipa case. A Marian devotee, she produced a documentary on the events.

As archbishop of Lipa, Arguelles said he sanctioned the yearly Marian pilgrimages to Lipa starting on Sept. 12, 2004, drawing devotees from both the Philippines and abroad. In 2009, he reinforced the Gaviola declaration by encouraging devotion to Mary Mediatrix.

In love with Mary

Arguelles described the Philippines as “pueblo amante de Maria” (a country in love with Mary) that “shows and leads the world in the effort to preserve the integrity of creation, to renew itself according to the standpoint of faith in God, to reject the prevalence of materialism, secularism and atheism, to uphold the culture of goodness, love, generosity, selflessness, sharing and solidarity among individuals and nations.”

Mother Mary Grace Rillo, OCD, prioress of Carmel in Lipa, reacted to the archbishop’s decree with joy. “I can’t get over this,” she told the Inquirer. But she also added: “Pray for the archbishop. He’s in for a crucifixion. Pray for us, too, for vigilance, for holiness.” #

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Laotian RM awardee smooth as silk

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

Like the various stages in the making of silk—from silkworms winding cocoons around themselves, to human hands unraveling and spinning them as thread, to the hand-weaving of the fabric with intricate designs—so has been the life journey of Kommaly Chanthavong, a Laotian woman who revived an art and cultural treasure that was nearly lost because of war.

Early in her life during the Indochina War, Chanthavong lost her father and also her childhood home. In 1961, she and her family fled their farming village in eastern Laos and walked 600 kilometers to Vientiane to escape bombings during the Vietnam War. The US bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail had displaced communities.

Chanthavong was a refugee at 13, but a refugee with heirloom treasures hidden among her few belongings. She brought with her heirloom hand-woven silk handed down from her grandmothers. From these she would later draw inspiration for her life’s important work—the revival of silk weaving in her native land that would help communities. She had learned the art from her mother when she was only 5 years old. She was not going to let it fade away into the past.

‘Transformative leadership’

On Monday, Chanthavong, 71, received the 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Award for “her fearless, indomitable spirit to revive and develop the ancient Laotian art of silk weaving, creating livelihood for thousands of poor, war-displaced Laotians, and in the process preserving the dignity of women and her nation’s priceless cultural treasure.”

The date marked the 108th birth anniversary of President Ramon Magsaysay, who died in a plane crash in 1957. Chanthavong was one of this year’s five Asian awardees, the first Laotian woman and only the third from Laos to have received the award. She had received other awards for her work.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award, often called Asia’s Nobel, celebrates “greatness of spirit” and “transformative leadership” in Asia. In the past 57 years, the award has been bestowed on more than 300 outstanding men, women and organizations whose selfless service has offered their societies, Asia, and the world successful solutions to some of the most complex problems of human development. Ancient art

On Wednesday, Chanthavong arrived at her lecture venue with samples of exquisite Laotian silk produced by Mulberries Organic Silk Farm/Lao Sericulture Co., which she founded to promote the ancient art. She also showed silk cocoons and bundles of thread brightly colored using natural dyes. The venue was perfect—the Metropolitan Museum of Manila where “Renaissance: The International Festival of Extraordinary Textiles” was going on. Promoters of indigenous Philippine textiles and weaving, among them members of Habi (The Philippine Textile Council), came to learn from Chanthavong’s experience.

Laborious process

Chanthavong always wore hand-woven silk with brocade-like edges wherever she was invited while she was in Manila. She said that despite the laborious process of silk weaving, women in Laos take pride in wearing the sinh, their traditional dress. The intricate weave designs in Laotian silk are like no other.

With her daughter Boby as interpreter, Chanthavong described the interesting process of making silk and weaving the designs into it through traditional methods. She explained how long it took (weeks, months, depending on size and design) to weave a piece. Silk journey But just as interesting was Chanthavong’s silk journey.

Though life was difficult in Vientiane, the young Chanthavong continued her studies. She later went to Thailand to study nursing. In 1972 she got married and started a family. The communist takeover of Vientiane brought more hard times while she was doing business between Laos and Thailand.

Seeing the suffering of war-displaced, unemployed women moved Chanthavong to do something for them. She used her small savings to buy looms and started with a group of 10 women weavers. Later the group grew to 450 in 35 villages. The Lao government noticed and, in 1980, leased to Chanthavong 42 hectares of bombed-out land northeast of Laos.

But first, the area had to be cleared of deadly, unexploded land mines. Here mulberry trees were planted, silkworms raised and put to work. The once highly acidic land was turned into a fertile valley. This was where Mulberries Organic Farm began.


The farm was not all about mulberry trees and silkworms. The farmers also planted vegetables and sources of natural dyes, and raised cattle that produced manure for organic fertilizers. The farm became a big production workshop for various stages of silk production.

Since its founding, the farm has trained more than a thousand farmers and created 3,000 jobs. “One of the most beautiful things you can experience on earth,” a Mulberries invitation says, “is standing in the middle of a wide open and fresh green field of mulberry bushes, with the scent of moist soil and ripening mulberry fruit. This is where it all begins, where nothing will go to waste.”

Social enterprise

There is mulberry the fruit and Mulberries the farm. There is Mulberries, the social enterprise founded in 1995 that initiates income-generating projects. Thanks to Chanthavong’s industry and vision, silk production has expanded into something bigger. More people have been trained not just in weaving, but in other productive endeavors such as making mulberry tea, pies, wine and soap. They undergo training in raising healthy silkworms and dye-making (from fruits, leaves, stems, roots, flowers and seeds). From these natural dyes, Chanthavong said, they can produce more than 100 colors and hues, “from autumn red to cranberry to faded pink, blue spruce to pistachio, harvest gold to chalk yellow, hot chocolate to malt.”

For the uninitiated, silkworms are not worms like the earthworm. They are the larvae or caterpillars of the domesticated silk moth (Bombyx mori). This primary producer of silk is therefore a moth or insect in the making whose preferred food is mulberry leaves. The pupa (what becomes the silkworm after it has spun a cocoon around itself) can be a source of protein for humans and fowls.

Strengthen women

Chanthavong continues to travel around Laos to provide training and set up silk houses. She sees to it that the silk products are world-class. Indeed, Mulberries products are. (Visit www.mulberries.org.).

Her husband and three children are all involved in the enterprise. Eldest daughter Boby manages the Lao Silk and Craft in Melbourne, Australia. Chanthavong also founded the Phontong/Camacrafts Handicrafts Cooperative that linked up with fair-trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages so that silk products could be exported to the United States. This meant more income for skilled weavers.

Chanthavong looks beyond her own generation. “Our goal,” she said, is to strengthen the position of women by giving them a dependable income and thus improve the chances of their children.”

Kommaly Chanthavong, brave, enterprising Laotian woman, revived an almost lost ancient art of Laos and created a new Silk Road for her own people.#

'Lumad' in the crosshairs

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

The lumad, or members of indigenous communities, in Surigao del Sur—the Manobo, in particular—are suddenly finding themselves in the crosshairs or guns’ viewfinders. Whose? Why?

In the past days, the Inquirer has continuously come out with reports, plus an editorial yesterday, on the plight of the Manobo, two of whose members and a much-loved educator were murdered last Sept. 1. Dead were Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, chair of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu); and Bello Sinzo, a Mapasu member. Campos and Sinzo were gunned down allegedly by paramilitary groups in the presence of other Manobo in Lianga, while Samarca was found dead with stab wounds and his throat slit in an Alcadev classroom.
At a gathering arranged by the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Manila last Monday, survivors, victims and eyewitnesses of this tragedy spoke of their harrowing experiences and said their persecutors were members of a paramilitary group. They said they were being tagged as sympathizers of the communist New People’s Army (NPA). Does that make them fair game?  
One young Manobo recounted how he was grilled on whether the insurgents were training them how to handle firearms, what they were being taught, etc. And oh, if they were made to sing the Marxist hymn “Internationale.” I was tempted to ask: “In German or Filipino?”

I was not born yesterday; such suspicions, accusations and the resulting tragedies are not new. How many such bloody cases have I covered in the past, how many times have I gotten myself in the crosshairs? But that’s another story. Military/paramilitary groups, even so-called “lost commands” with fancy names, would go after insurgents while hapless remote communities were caught in the crossfire or in the battle of ideologies. The way things are, militarization, evacuation, hamletting, etc. are not things of the past.

Let me mention here that the Benedictine Sisters and St. Scholastica’s College-Manila, which the sisters run, have partnered, through a memorandum of agreement, with lumad schools in Marihatag and Han-ayan in Surigao del Sur. Over the years, sisters, faculty members and students have been going there for exposure, outreach, seminars and teacher training. Naturally, the Benedictine Sisters expressed concern over the tragic events and hosted the Manobo who came to Manila to air their grievances.

So what prompted the killings? Who slew the three men, and for what motives? If they are not government forces, where do they come from and who are arming them? According to the witnesses, the armed and masked men who barged into their community (and into a wake at that) and herded them to a basketball court a kilometer away were members of the Magahat-Bagani. These men killed Campos and Sinzo in their presence. These men, they said, raided Alcadev and burned it. If it were mere suspicion of sympathizing with the NPA, why kill the two men, and in such a brutal manner? Several gunshot wounds for Campos and Sinzo and a slit throat and stabs for Samarca.

I asked a witness if there was a recent encounter between the military and the NPA, and the answer was no. So this couldn’t have been a case of retaliation.

Let me recall the massacre in Lupao, Nueva Ecija, in the late 1980s, when the military opened fire on a village after the head of their patrol group, a new graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, took a bullet in the head. That bullet came from the clump of village huts in the distance where the NPA insurgents were spending the day. The military fired back, many villagers were killed and maimed, and the insurgents abandoned the villagers and ran away to safety in the Caraballo mountains.

I shed hot, angry tears when we (media and church people) arrived in the barrio and saw the local folk with white mourning bands on their foreheads, the smoldering embers and cooking vessels in disarray near a clump of bamboo. One young girl’s arm had been blown off. I still have her photo. Where is she now?

So who was I angry at? Ask me. As I said earlier, I wasn’t born yesterday.

But here is a big factor in the tension to which we cannot turn a blind eye: the presence of huge mining and logging operations in the proximity of the lumad ancestral domain. Surigao del Sur is in the Caraga region in northeastern Mindanao. The region is rich in natural resources but among the country’s poorest. It is home to big logging and mining concessions. According to Caraga Network Campaign, almost half of the operating mines in the country are in Caraga. Conflicting interests and the lumad communities’ resistance to encroachment into their ancestral land result in tensions. And so, one may conclude that where there’s gold, there are guns.

The network adds that among the most threatened are lumad community schools responding to the need for literacy for children under the Department of Education’s Alternative Literacy System. Sadly, these schools are vilified as “NPA schools,” or even illegal. Students and teachers are subjected to questioning and even detained at checkpoints. Armed groups operating in the area—military, paramilitary, communists, “lost commands,” bandits and private armies—are often the cause of the indigenous people’s woes. I say: Back off, stay away! Whose interests and ideologies are you protecting, anyway?

Asked Sophocles: “Who is the victim, who the slayer?” #

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Saints and martyrs for creation

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

The launching and opening of the Season of Creation on Sept. 1 goes in tandem with Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si,” his recent encyclical on the environment or “On Care for Our Common Home.” Laudato si is Latin for “praise be to you,” the first line of the canticle of praise for God and creation written by St. Francis of Assisi, the Pope’s namesake.

On immediate recall are some saints and martyrs for the environment, foremost of them being St. Francis (1181-1226) himself. His love for creation and the poor has made him very popular so that his image has become a common presence in gardens and wildlife sanctuaries. His spiritual life and teachings were closely linked with his surroundings, which is not only made up of human beings but of other living beings as well and the landscape—the ground, the sea, the mountains, the rivers, the sky—where they thrive.

At that period of history when man-made structures vied for praise and recognition, Francis and his band of brothers chose the green outdoors as their cathedral, the winged and four-legged creatures of the wild their companions even while they sought out fellow humans who needed their comfort and care. They served in the simplest way possible.

But before Francis there was Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), a Benedictine abbess, preacher, writer, musician, mystic, scholar, scientist, environmentalist, healer. She was also a communicator of wisdom and knowledge. She was later canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church. With the rise of the women’s movement and with heightened environmental consciousness in the churches, Hildegard is back to her future, so to speak. Her written works and music are being studied.

For almost 800 years Hildegard was virtually unknown but in the 1980s interest in her began to grow. Hildegard coined the word “viriditas.” She was the first to view the universe as a cosmic egg. She offered a scintillating insight into the cosmos and its symphonic beauty. In reading her “Illuminations” one gets a glimpse of Hildegard’s “greening power.”

God speaking through her. “I am the breeze that nurtures all things green./I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits./ I am the rain coming from the dew/ that causes the grasses to laugh/ with the joy of life.”

Hildegard was eight centuries ahead of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who had been described as “a figurehead in the unfolding of a new cycle in the life of mankind” and “the undeclared patron saint of Catholic ecology.” Though not a canonized saint, this saintly Jesuit priest, paleontologist and writer was, for some time, questioned for his views about the universe. That was before environmental theology. In 2009, more than half a century after Teilhard’s death in 1955, Pope Benedict XVI praised him for his vision of the cosmos as a “living host.”

As far as martyrdom is concerned, Sr. Dorothy Stang comes fast into my mind’s viewing screen. This American Catholic nun took in bullets because she sided with the indigenous Amazon dwellers who opposed commercial intrusion into their ancestral domain.

Here at home, we have a good number, some known only to their small communities. Others became nationally known, thanks to like-minded advocates who continued their struggle, and the media, of course.

There is Dr. Gerry Ortega, the crusading environmentalist and radioman in Palawan who was gunned down in 2011 because he campaigned against mining firms and corruption in government.

Now written into Cordilleran history is Macli-ing Dulag, the Kalinga brave and defender of the Cordillera who opposed the building of the Chico dam that would have ruined large portions of the Kalingas’ ancestral domain and cultural heritage. (My book on him is available at the University of the Philippines Press bookstores.)

Not many know Elpidio de la Victoria whose campaign against illegal fishing in the Visayan Sea cost him his life.

Meanwhile, here on the Philippine side of Planet Earth, among the living, the advocacy for the care of creation continues. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle presided last Tuesday at the opening of the Season of Creation and the observance of the day of prayer for the care of creation at the Manila Cathedral. He called the season the season of ecological conversion. The cardinal emphasized stewardship and proposed acts simple enough to follow, such as curbing the throw-away attitude. This attitude, he said, is driven by materialism that results in mountains of garbage. This, he reminded us, leads to throwing away people and even principles as garbage. He proposed a “save mentality” instead—saving electricity, water, the environment.

The Ecological Justice Interfaith Movement (Ecojim) is pushing for science-based discourse and faith-based responses to the environmental crisis. In its recent statement Ecojim stressed that the global crisis “is as much a spiritual crisis as it is an environmental and political crisis. As an inter-faith movement, it is only fair and just that we humbly recognize and acknowledge the faults and failures that we have committed to the environment as well. It is by beginning with genuine repentance and desire for change that we will be able to achieve authentic ecological conversion…”

Mea culpa, everyone.

The Climate Reality Project, a global movement founded by Nobel laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore, has launched a Philippine-wide climate caravan to raise awareness on the importance of collective action to address climate change and gather grassroots support to encourage world leaders to come up with a strong climate agreement in Paris during the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) come December.#