Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Je suis Ebangelista'

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

At a press conference last Sunday, reporters asked former Iglesia ni Cristo minister and newly released alleged abductee Lowell Menorca if he was Antonio Ebangelista, the tell-all blogger who exposes corrupt activities inside the 101-year-old homegrown church. Menorca did not answer yes or no. He suggested that he could be one of many Ebangelistas trying to bring out the truth and protesting corruption inside the INC.

It was like saying “Je suis Charlie,” the cry of multitudes all over the world that rose after the brutal murder by Islamist extremists of the French cartoonists behind the publication Charlie Hebdo. Enraged, people suddenly owned up to the “crime” of cartooning, so to speak, or took it personally and cried victimhood.

 It was like telling the murderers: You killed a handful but there are so many more of us you cannot kill or silence. (A good friend gifted me with “I am Charlie: Editorial Cartoonists Honor Free Speech,” published by the Committee to Protect Journalists.)
 Je suis. I am.

“Je suis Ebangelista,” or “I am Ebangelista,” or “Ako si Ebangelista” might well be the cry of many INC followers who cannot come out openly for fear of sanctions, like becoming the expelled (“tiwalag,” a dreaded word and fate) or abducted, as alleged by former ministers Isaias Samson Jr. and Menorca. The two men have come forward to tell their story. Menorca first came out months ago to deny his abduction and the attempt on his life, telling the media that it was all a lie, only to again come out last Sunday in a press conference with his wife and lawyer present, to say that the abduction was real, that his previous statement was made under duress.

Only after his family filed petitions for writs of habeas corpus and of amparo before the Supreme Court was Menorca released from months of alleged detention at the INC headquarters then at a safehouse in Quezon City. Now able to speak freely, Menorca disclosed details of his alleged abduction last July—led by police officers, no less, whom he promised to identify.

Menorca has filed cases of abduction and attempted murder against several INC leaders, among them INC head or executive minister Eduardo Manalo who heads the powerful Sanggunian or council. Before this, Manalo had been untouchable; only the Sanggunian members were the focus of complaints and exposés.

I did ask a source in the INC why Manalo seemed out of the fray, living in an ivory tower or immune from complaints when he had command responsibility. Surely he knew what was going on, I insisted. Where was he? How was he? Was he himself being held hostage, if not physically, perhaps psychologically, by a bunch of men who ruled the INC?

The answer I got was this: The INC teaches that its leaders—that is, the successors of its revered founder Felix Manalo (son Eraño, and now grandson Eduardo)—are technically beyond reproach because of their so-called inherited God-ordained positions, and that whatever human transgressions they might commit would be for God alone to judge. Much like how God punished King David, the source said. As you know, David committed murder and adultery.

Divine right of kings? Well, that might be how it is within the INC for the Manalo successors who live privileged lives. But crimes are crimes and there are laws of the land that must be followed. No one is exempt. Suspects and alleged wrongdoing have to be investigated. We are no longer living on the pages of the Old Testament of the Bible.

And so when thousands of INC followers trooped to Edsa and occupied the main transport artery for four days in August after the Department of Justice promised to investigate complaints received, what unfolded was plain mob tyranny. Crying separation of church and state, these INC followers were made to believe that their church was under siege and that it was no one’s business, much less the law enforcers’ or the justice department’s, to look into the complaints.

A crime was allegedly committed, there was a complainant, but the government may not investigate? Some politicians reveled in the thought that publicly airing their sympathies for the misguided mob would translate to INC votes, only to discover the sad fallout of their sympathies the next morning. Politicians playing to the INC gallery, you will be rewarded accordingly, irate commuters promised.

There are indeed serious allegations against the INC Sanggunian. The media are in possession of a PowerPoint presentation detailing excesses and wanton display of power and pelf. The problem is, the compilers of these allegations hide behind anonymity. Such is their fear of being expelled that, it seems to me, they would rather have the media do the spade work for them.

The fear of expulsion comes from their belief that there is no salvation or heaven outside the INC. When judgment day comes, only those in the INC fold will be ushered to eternal life. But haven’t they heard of the so-called economy of salvation, or of ecumenism and religious freedom that level the field for all upright, righteous men and women of all faiths, sinners or saints? Has anyone among the INC deceased come back from the afterlife to announce that the rooms in the Father’s house are reserved for the INC only?

We shouldn’t be arguing about doctrines and belief systems. But I noticed that in INC TV stations there is always room to bash Catholics, especially on beliefs and practices not consonant to theirs. This INC practice of badmouthing other faiths to promote their own is bad manners and etiquette. I’m sure they wouldn’t dare speak against Islam.

But if they must speak, it should be against corruption in their midst, against the culture of fear, silence and unquestioning obedience that erodes.#

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Wars over water

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

“Nations will rise against nations, kingdom against kingdom…” This apocalyptic biblical warning is often used to depict portents of things to come that sometimes do come true.

Wars are waged over ethnic and religious differences as well as territorial issues that include resources yielded by the earth—fossil fuel, natural and living resources from the oceans and the wilderness, etc. Hardly anyone talks about water which humans, the most wasteful and destructive occupants of this planet, presume to be free and readily available especially out there where they do not have to pay money for its delivery. Who talks about water (as in H2O) as a dwindling resource, and more so as a potential disputed resource that can spark a war? Only the experts whom we sometimes look upon as geeks and nerds with an alarmist bent.
The war-over-water scenario is not from a trailer of a futuristic movie of the “Soylent Green” type. The scenario could become real, but it is really up to us to prevent it from happening. Experts are issuing warnings, and it is best to harken and heed.

Why water, you ask, when we just had so much of it from Typhoon “Lando” and its destructive predecessors? And how doesthe watery landscapes square with El Niño and the drought predictions that even sent the Metro Manila water providers into supply-tightening moves? Warning: Save and conserve, or else.

Last Tuesday, USAID’s Water Security for Resilient Economic Growth and Stability (Be Secure) Project invited media practitioners (those who showed up were mostly from the Inquirer) to a roundtable discussion. The discussion centered on how to “improve water security and strengthen resiliency to climate change impacts.”

Present were Ramon Alikpala, Be Secure senior technical adviser for water; Bebet Gozun, Be Secure climate resiliency team leader; and experts on water demand management: Mary Ann Dickenson, president and CEO of Alliance for Water Efficiency (United States); Maysoon Zoubi, former secretary general of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (Jordan); and Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology (Australia).

From the graphs, charts, statistics and experiences they presented, one could not help believing (if too late for many) that the impact of climate change is real and here to stay until reversed in the latter days—that is, several generations down the road. Meanwhile, what do present dwellers of this planet have to do?

First I had to ask the question I had long been wanting to ask planetary experts: Is the water content of Planet Earth constant, meaning what goes up as vapor comes down again? Or does some of it, because of our own doing, escape to outer space, never to come back again, in which case, will Earth become a barren landscape, like Mars, someday?

The answer to the first question is yes, Earth’s water content is constant, but what goes up does not necessarily come down to the right places, which is on land that thrives on fresh water availability—for drinking, agriculture, industry, etc. Because of climate change, a lot is going back to the oceans whose levels keep rising in a worrisome way (also because of melting ice glaciers).

Fresh, safe water on land readily available to Earth’s inhabitants is a key issue. How do we, as Filipinos, safeguard what we have? Are we making changes in the national and local levels, in the institutional and the domestic, in the business and the personal?

What about behavioral? (Do you use a hose to clean your car? Do you reuse laundry water? Do you turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth or soaping your hands? How often do you wallow in your bathtub? Tabo or shower?) Little acts of conservation can save a resource that money can’t buy.

Some definitions: Water efficiency: Having a product or appliance at the lowest flow rate possible and ensuring that water supply is conveyed and distributed efficiently. Water conservation: Taking efficient products and using them for shorter duration (shower heads, for example).

Demand management: Closing the gap between available supply and increasing demand by reducing water use rather than by just augmenting supply. Demand management allows reallocation of short supplies to other customers. In other words, you can’t have it all by simply saying you can pay for it. Remember, you are not paying for the water but for its delivery. Otherwise, be Jack and Jill and do it yourself.

From Dickenson’s personal experience: Forty of 50 states in the United States are already experiencing supply shortages. In 2014, California delivered less than 5 percent of its former water supply capacity because of drought. Conservation and demand management can help communities cope and save utility costs.

Filipinos have a lot to learn from so-called desert countries that have turned arid areas into fertile valleys, and how citizens innovated and used technical know-how to maximize use of limited water supply.

Part of USAID’s Be Secure Project is getting the media and local communities involved. While technical solutions (e.g., desalinization of sea water, turning gray water into potable water, wastewater treatment, etc.) can ease water problems, required, too, are social marketing techniques that raise the level of knowledge and awareness that lead to sustainable behavior change.

There is so much more than can be discussed today in this space. But I intend to be a Water Woman and write more about water in future columns.

We have this romantic view of river water as owned by no one, that it defies boundaries and flows where it will—from mountains to valleys and into the sea. That it is forever.

Why should nations have to rise against nations over water? But they sure will when their pipes and rivers are threatened or begin to run dry.#

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Joker Arroyo unedited: On Marcos debts, in defense of 'trapos'

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

(The following is excerpted from an interview, “Joker Arroyo Looks Back,” that was published in the Feb. 24, 1991, issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.)

It was a long chase that extended even to the turn of the year. The man simply refused to talk. He would give his famous shrug—and laugh. Then he softened a little. “Give me time,” he said, sounding neither weary nor impatient. And one day, he sounded more definite: “When I come back from abroad.” But we have to make it to the Edsa anniversary, we pleaded.

When our day finally comes (way past our deadline), he is still fussing over the things he had noted down on paper. There seems to be something he wants to focus on. When finally he breaks open, he makes sure he comes through loud and clear.

When President Corazon Aquino assumed office in 1986, Joker Arroyo, who was her legal counsel during the snap election, became her very first appointee. Nineteen months later he resigned. His critics say he was ousted. Since then, he has shunned interviews, TV appearances and speaking engagements, only coming out occasionally in print with articles on matters of public concern. But on the fifth anniversary of the Edsa Revolution, Arroyo makes an exception and pours out his righteous indignation.

Where Cory was successful

“President Aquino’s concerns when she assumed office were forthright and uncluttered,” he begins. “She wanted, one, the reestablishment of our destroyed democratic institutions; two, the resolution of the communist insurgency; and three, the revival of our gasping economy. Corollary to these were the mitigation of the increasing poverty, crowbarring the imbedded corruption and the vindication of true nationalist goals.

“The government was successful in areas where the President had a direct hand, that is, in the reestablishment of our democratic institutions. Sad to say, government faltered where planning was delegated.

“The President took a direct hand in regaining the freedoms Mr. Marcos took away from us. This she did with precipitate speed and grit. In a little more than a year a new Constitution was ratified, a duly elected Congress was convened, an independent Supreme Court was in place. In short, the framework of a functioning representative democracy was at work. The Bill of Rights was resuscitated. Along with that was the inevitable return of an unrestricted, impatient ‘born-again’ press that would hound her administration. I must stress that President Aquino deserves historical credit for this great achievement.”

He dwells briefly on the insurgency and the military. “Mr. Marcos’ military campaign with all its human rights violations against the communists was a dismal failure. Then there was the Muslim secessionist movement in the south. Add to that twin problem a third and more vicious one —the disgruntled elements of various shades in the Armed Forces seeking her overthrow. But this, I say, is not of her own making, but a failure of the military to rein in those elements.”

Who’s to blame

Arroyo becomes agitated when it is suggested that on the eve of the sixth and last year of the first Aquino presidency, the people continue to suffer, that they expect some economic relief, and then perhaps the growth of the insurgency which feeds largely on poverty would be stemmed. He goes back to the early days of the Aquino government. He singles out a bloc, a group of like-minded people, mostly from big business, often derisively referred to as “The Council of Trent,” people who, Arroyo says sarcastically, “enjoys the divine right of businessmen.”

It is on this group of people that Arroyo pins the economic woes of the country. Through much of the interview, he dwells on this group and their bearing on the economy. “Let not their failure be considered the failure of the system of government,” he said.

Here then is Joker Arroyo unleashed and unedited (excerpts):

On the ‘Council of Trent’ :This has not ceased to astonish me. In the formation of the Cory Cabinet, a bloc emerged. This bloc cornered the economic positions in the government. This group opposed Sonny Belmonte’s appointment but relented if he would only be made general manager of the Government Service Insurance System. They intended to put a president over him. Cory made Sonny both president and general manager. The bloc recommended Winnie Monsod only as OIC of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and she would be under probation. Imagine! Of course Cory did not agree to this anomalous arrangement and gave Winnie a permanent appointment.

On the nature of this bloc: This group turned out to be the proconsuls of big business and was entrusted with the economic recovery of our country. They were later referred to as “The Council of Trent.” According to one journalist, this bloc, this clique, “is composed of nearly identical numbers of the Makati Business Club. Another journalist who knows what goes on behind closed doors said it was “allied to the Makati Business Club.”

Whenever some of the positions became vacant, the council recommended and filled them with their men. They have control of the economic, monetary and fiscal policies of the government. How many concurrent posts do the secretaries of finance and trade and industry hold? So many you cannot count them. They create problems, they create solutions and put in their own people. Then you have musical chairs.

On why he thinks the ‘Council’ should be blamed for the country’s economic woes: As the saying goes, the test [proof] of the pudding is in the eating. The success or failure of our economy was placed in their hands. When [Ferdinand] Marcos became President, our foreign debt was roughly $500 million, the exchange rate was P4 to $1. Translated, our external debt was P2 billion. At the time Marcos started harnessing technocrats to help in government. By the time he fled 20 years later, our foreign debt stood at $26 billion and the exchange rate was P22 to $1. Translated, it would be roughly P572 billion. You wonder, how did this happen? You don’t see where the P572 billion went. But it’s there for the Aquino government to pay. She has harnessed a new team to tackle it. Except for attacks on Marcos’ corruption and lamentations on our debts, there were no criticisms of Marcos’ policies. On the contrary, as days passed, it became obvious that our fiscal and monetary policies were a continuation of those of Marcos. The Aquino technocrats were no different from, no better than, the Marcos technocrats. They belong to the same school of thought. Then the President [Aquino] went on official visits to the United States and Japan. She was then at the height of her popularity worldwide. Her name was a byword everywhere. Some members of the Cabinet pleaded that a political solution be made regarding our foreign debt, that it be taken up during her foreign trips, banking on tremendous goodwill. But what did our fiscal and monetary people say? “A debt is a debt, we will honor every cent we owe.” That, of course, is a banker’s approach to loans. And so it was that the President’s visits were simply goodwill visits. We asked for nothing, we did not try for anything. What a grandiloquent stance for a poor debt-saddled country! Three years later we go on an embarrassing Philippine Aid Plan shopping. And that was even before the December 1989 coup try and before the 1990 calamities, the earthquake, Typhoon “Ruping,” etc. These people had absolutely no understanding of what government is all about! On what he thinks the right approach should be A government debt is not solely a fiscal and monetary problem. Everyone has to come in because this has a political dimension because the government’s effectiveness and staying power may depend on how this problem is resolved. It amazes me that the past practice of the Central Bank and finance [department] people of handling it by themselves and not consulting others continues. Once, Winnie Monsod of Neda asked for a list of our creditors. The Central Bank refused, saying our creditors do not want it shown to anyone. Imagine, the director general of Neda, by constitutional mandate the country’s highest planning agency, barred from taking a peep at the creditors’ list! As if the Central Bank had its own fearsome index like the Catholic Church had centuries ago. This is not to say we shouldn’t pay our debts. This is just to say that our finance and CB negotiators should try to understand what being in government is. This means consultation…

On big business vis-à-vis government: I have nothing against big businesses. They are necessary for nation-building. But I cannot help but disagree with their dominant role in government and their unhealthy attitudes which perhaps they are not even aware of. Whenever the President calls for a conference, it is big business that she calls upon for advice. I don’t believe in the truism that what is good for big business is necessarily good for the country. Asian Development Bank reports show that 83 percent of the labor force in manufacturing are employed by small and medium industries. So why is big business given a voice not commensurate to what they do in terms of employment opportunities?

On the other hand, the small and medium businesses which provide the bigger employment are never asked. The small ones have no access to credit, while the big ones get a very big part of the loans. Yet it is the small borrowers who are the more faithful payers rather than the big ones.

On the unsung dollar earners: Take the case of the overseas contract workers. They are our single biggest dollar earners. President Aquino even called them unsung heroes during one of her foreign trips. When I was with the Philippine National Bank (as its chair), we submitted a plan to the Central Bank for the overseas workers to avail of the debt-to-equity program. PNB would sell to OCWs $500 notes which they could then redeem in the Philippines at double the value in pesos. $500, at P22 to $1 then, would be P11,000, but under the debt-to-equity would be P22,000. The Central Bank denied the PNB’s proposal for a $10-million pilot project saying the OCWs might not use them for productive purposes.

Returning OCWs who put up sari-sari stores aren’t productive? The CB only thinks in terms of department stores. Pump boats for fishermen aren’t productive? CB thinks only in terms of fishing vessels. CB doesn’t think in terms of tricycles but of transportation companies. Some OCWs were deprived of this scheme because their enterprises were small. But in the Petroscam, the biggest of the big businesses got all the debt-to-equity and relending facility availments. It agitates me when the disadvantaged are deprived of privileges.

In defense of ‘traditional politicians’: It is unfortunate that the term trapo (cleaning rag) was coined for traditional politicians. Yet it was the trapos who stood up to Marcos. Ninoy was the quintessential trapo. His entire life was geared towards becoming President. It eluded him—but he became a hero. Tañada, Diokno, Salonga, Mitra, Rodrigo, Estrada-Kalaw—these senators who served for many terms were trapos. They never gave Marcos any quarter and they were all jailed for opposing him. Laurel, Padilla, Gonzales, Maceda, Osmeña, Cojuangco, Cuenco, Daza—trapos all—were reelected legislators and they refused to collaborate with Marcos. They were thrown into political oblivion while those who invented the term trapo were making money under Marcos or were employed by him.

Thought and dissent

"You know, all these things I say are, as a writer once said, meant to provoke thought and invite dissent,” Arroyo said. “I am committed to let the Cory government succeed, to see that the Constitution will prevail and operate. It is childish to wish that the government and the institutions I have helped create be destroyed,” he said.

Did it pain him that President Cory let him go? “That I was relieved of three positions did not cause me even a pinprick. A man who accepts an appointive position must be prepared to leave the next day,” he said. During those two years that he was “The Little President,” Arroyo said he resigned three times. He corrected the impression that for him to go, Finance Secretary Jaime Ongpin (who later took his own life) also had to go, or vice versa.

Joker Arroyo will go down in history as the first person to challenge Marcos’ imposition of martial law in 1972. Hours after Proclamation No. 1081, Arroyo raced to the Supreme Court to file a petition for habeas corpus contesting the constitutionality of the decree that would spell dictatorship. Arroyo filed the petition on behalf of many journalists and publishers (among them Teodoro Locsin Sr. of the Free Press and Chino Roces of the Manila Times) who were arrested without warrants and jailed without charges. Arroyo himself was thrown into a military stockade.

During the next 14 years until the Marcoses fled the country, this corporate lawyer turned human rights defender continued to chip away at the dictatorship. He defended, free of charge, hundreds of political prisoners. He was one of the founders of the Free Legal Assistance Group and Mabini, both composed of human rights lawyers. In the 1980s when the dictatorship and its military once again turned their ire on the press, particularly media women, Arroyo fought it out in court. (Arroyo was this writer’s defense counsel.)

Most rewarding

Arroyo was at home both in the courts and in the streets. He had his dose of tear gas, truncheons and water cannons, even sustained a few wounds. “The most rewarding years were those when we were after Marcos. Those water cannons could be painful, ha. They’d train the water on you from head down to the crotch. Then you see all the men in front going down on their knees. After a while I bought myself these hard supporters, the kind worn by baseball players. You have to suffer a bit to have commitment,” he recalled with a smile.

His Malacañang experiences probably wouldn’t compare to the streets, but he did get to collect a load of anecdotes, some of which are off the record. He admitted to having been wicked on the cunning: “Those lost documents? You know, I always had this paper shredder beside me. Suspicious transactions I fed to the shredder.”

He points to two backless Roman chairs with brass lion’s legs in his study. “When I was executive secretary, every day I saw to it that these chairs were so awkwardly arranged in front of my table. Whoever came to see me and sat there wouldn’t stay long.” He gives a wicked laugh. “I bought them when I left Malacañang,” he said.

In 1990, the Senate adopted Resolution 100 commending Arroyo for his “invaluable services to the Filipino people.” Arroyo was thrilled when he learned that the senators had made a deliberate effort to make the resolution fall on the number 100. But his face turns almost beatific when reminded of the Philippine Bar Association’s “peer judgment” of him. Of how, in quiet ceremonies last year, the Most Distinguished Award for Justice was presented to the “man beholden to no one except to his country.”#

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Magnet for wackos

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

Clowns, charlatans, megalomaniacs, merry Andrews, sociopaths and wackos of every color and stripe have been trooping to the Commission on Elections to file certificates of candidacy (COCs) since Monday. The COCs that these hopefuls filed were mostly for the presidency of what could be a woebegone, benighted republic during their reign.

I am not referring to the party-affiliated and independent candidates with years (ill- or well-served) as elected or appointed public officials in their resumés, candidates with the wherewithal to carry out their quest for the highest post in the land.
What is it about the presidency that attracts the other types? The presidency is like a magnet to them, like nectar is to bees, sugar to ants, rotting carcass to spontaneously generating maggots. Scientifically erroneous it might be, spontaneous generation may still apply to these election creatures. How did they spawn?

Is it the 15 seconds in the limelight? Is it the comforting thought that they have listened to the voices in their addled minds, and having heeded these, they are fulfilling their destiny to rule by, uh, divine right? The media always oblige to give them their 15 seconds, the reason perhaps that they multiply every COC-filing season. Never mind that they exhibit maniacal syndromes that annoy Comelec officials, never mind that they use fancy names that describe their lunacy. They’ll never get that kind of media attention elsewhere, except perhaps if they resort to hostage-taking, as what happened last week some blocks away from the Comelec (not election-related, though) that ended with a corpse (the hostage taker’s) that took days to identify.

So at this time every so often, these pesky presidential wannabes can say that on the day they marched to the Comelec, the heavens broke open, accompanied by the alleluias of a host of cherubim and seraphim. Heady.

But even the non-nuisance candidates brought some nuisance with them in the form of hangers-on, bootlickers, relatives and fair-weather friends, not to mention brass bands that added to the cacophony. No wonder the usually cool Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez lost his temper and shouted at the unruly crowd on the first day of filing.

As of yesterday, Day 3, 44 presidential hopefuls have filed their COCs. Yesterday’s Inquirer editorial cartoon by G. Daroy showed a gaily garbed clown representing “nuisance candidates” about to throw a dead rat into a well of “electoral integrity.”

Where in the world can one find a presidential hopeful who calls himself a missionary with the name Archangel Lucifer, a farmer who wants to create a “divine government,” a teacher favoring “absolute monarchy with unlimited power from God,” and who would do away with legislation? Someone who aimed to be a senator said he intended to live in the Senate building. Fat chance.

Be consoled that the list of those who filed their COCs will still be purged and the official list of candidates will be released on Dec. 10. The names of those who have no capacity to wage a national campaign and who sow confusion (nagdudulot ng kalituhan) or are out to demean the electoral process will be stricken out.

I am not saying that people whose livelihood it is to make people laugh or entertain—media celebrities, sportsmen among them—are unfit to be public servants and do serious work. Many have in fact served in elective posts and shown another side—the better or the worse side—of themselves. So you ask: Would the multititled world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who is also a singer, celebrity endorser, multibillionaire and absentee congressman, do as well in the halls of the Senate?

Throwback Thursday: During an election season years ago, I was assigned to do a feature story on entertainment personalities on the funny side who ran for public office and won (“Comedians in Politics,” Sunday Inquirer Magazine, 4/1/90). I interviewed basketball-player-turned-sitcom-actor Freddie Webb, Tito Sotto of “Eat Bulaga,” and songwriter and singer Yoyoy Villame (remember the song “Magellan”).

Webb was then congressman of Parañaque and Sotto was Quezon City vice mayor. Villame won second as councilor in Las Piñas. I had to do background research on each one and I even bought Villame’s albums so that I would not sound ignorant when talking with him. To my surprise, Villame’s “Buchiki” and “Hey,” a parody of an Julio Iglesias hit, became among my favorites. A respite from the opera heavies. (Villame has passed on to that place beyond the sea which Magellan couldn’t have reached in his lifetime.)

For an intro, I wrote then: “Machiavelli, in one of his discourses, said: ‘And it is not without reason that the voice of the people has been likened to the voice of God, for popular opinion is amazingly reliable in its prognostications, so much so that the people would seem to have hidden powers by which to foresee their future ills and triumphs…. Again, in the election of public officials we note that they make far better choices than princes do.’

“It is, by now, a fact that comedians who have successfully clowned their way to people’s funny bones could, just as successfully, laugh their way into the ballot box. The electorate has registered its resounding approval and deemed these funnymen fit and worthy for governance. These men’s constituencies have placed great hopes in them and there is nothing funny about this at all.”

Today’s nuisance wannabes who trooped to the Comelec these past days sure drew some laughs but, unlike the true-blue funnymen and women who were serious about service and got elected, they are better considered as annoyances that say something about Philippine elections. Perhaps they serve a purpose. #

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Air strike on Medecins Sans Frontieres

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

Heartbreaking was the news about the air strike on the Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders hospital that killed 12 MSF staff and 10 patients (including three children) and injured 37 (including 19 members of the MSF team). This happened on Oct. 3 in Kunduz in northeastern Afghanistan. The air strike came from the coalition forces (the United States among them) fighting the extremist Taliban.

I immediately wanted to know if there were Filipinos there. Not that I wish the dead and injured were all non-Filipinos, but because I knew there are Filipinos in MSF, and what a heroic death they had if they were there. If I were a doctor, I would work with MSF.
“The attack was unacceptable,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, president of MSF International who described it as a breach of international humanitarian law. In her Oct. 6 statement, Liu said that for four years, the MSF trauma center in Kunduz was the only facility of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan, offering essential medical and surgical care. “On Saturday 3 October this came to an end when the hospital was deliberately bombed.”

Here, verbatim, is the rest of her statement crying for the innocents and those who dedicate their lives to ease the pain and contribute to the healing of humanity: “The whole MSF Movement is in shock, and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those affected. Nothing can excuse violence against patients, medical workers and health facilities. Under International Humanitarian Law, hospitals in conflict zones are protected spaces. Until proven otherwise, the events of last Saturday amount to an inexcusable violation of this law. We are working on the presumption of a war crime.

“In the last week, as fighting swept through the city, 400 patients were treated at the hospital. Since its opening in 2011, tens of thousands of wounded civilians and combatants from all sides of the conflict have been triaged and treated by MSF. On the night of the bombing, MSF staff working in the hospital heard what was later confirmed to be a US army plane circle around multiple times, releasing its bombs on the same building within the hospital compound at each pass. The building targeted was the one housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms and physiotherapy ward. Surrounding buildings in the compound were left largely untouched.

“Despite MSF alerting both the Afghan and Coalition military leadership, the air strike continued for at least another 30 minutes. The hospital was well-known and the GPS coordinates had been regularly shared with Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials, as recently as Tuesday 29 September.

“This attack cannot be brushed aside as a mere mistake or an inevitable consequence of war. Statements from the Afghanistan government have claimed that Taliban forces were using the hospital to fire on Coalition forces. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital, which amounts to an admission of a war crime.

“This attack does not just touch MSF but it affects humanitarian work everywhere, and fundamentally undermines the core principles of humanitarian action. We need answers, not just for us but for all medical and humanitarian staff assisting victims of conflict, anywhere in the world. The preserve of health facilities as neutral, protected spaces depends on the outcome of a transparent, independent investigation.”

What can one say? The words “collateral damage” or “friendly fire” often used to describe such tragedies just compound the enormity of the pain and the senselessness of it all. MSF, its website says, is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare. MSF offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation. MSF’s actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of neutrality and impartiality.

Founded in France in 1971, MSF is a nonprofit, self-governed worldwide movement of 24 associations bound together as MSF International with headquarters in Switzerland. MSF also operates in the Philippines. MSF has programs in 70 countries run by health professionals and staff, many of whom are hired locally. It is committed to providing medical care to those caught in crisis, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. Most of its funding comes from private sources, not governments. MSF does not take sides in armed conflicts.

Because MSF teams see violence and neglect outside of the media’s coverage, they speak up to call attention to the situation on the ground. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, MSF used prize money for raising awareness and combating neglected diseases. MSF general director Christopher Stokes blames the United States for the air strike:

“Today the US government has admitted that it was their air strike that hit our hospital in Kunduz… Their description of the attack keeps changing—from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government…

“There can be no justification for this horrible attack. With such constant discrepancies in the US and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full, transparent, independent investigation is ever more critical.” One MSF nurse tried to save patients who were burning in their beds.

                                                                           * * *

On Page 1 is my tribute to human rights lawyer and former senator Joker Arroyo, my defense counsel during the martial law years. Joker passed on to the Great Courtroom in the Sky on Oct. 6.

Joker Arroyo: He was my human rights lawyer

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

I AM STILL a bit shaky after learning from Inquirer editor in chief Letty J. Magsanoc that Joker Arroyo has “passed on to the highest court in the great beyond,” but I am under orders “to write a personal tribute,” so I write.

When an Army general of the Marcos dictatorship slapped me with a P10-million libel suit in 1983 for my Panorama magazine article on human rights violations committed against rural folks in Bataan province, the publication gave me a lawyer, and from the Siguion-Reyna Law Office no less.

And then I got a call from Joker Arroyo whom I had never spoken to personally but whom I knew as a tough human rights lawyer and defender of big-name Marcos victims as well as unknown ones languishing in the dungeons of martial rule. I had been familiar with cases documented by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, and had helped in some of their publications, so his name rang loud.

His face was familiar too because he was among those often photographed with bigwigs of the anti-Marcos forces in rallies. He was also in photographs taken at the court trial of Ninoy Aquino that showed the defense team that included him and Sen. Lorenzo Tañada.

Could he have a word with me? Joker said on the phone. Could we meet somewhere? Joker came alone to a small restaurant in Quezon City and offered to be my lawyer. Pro bono, of course. I told him that I already had a lawyer, Saklolo Leano of Siguion-Reyna. He said he knew “Sak,” that they would work together to defend me. He was insistent and I couldn’t help wondering why my case meant the world to him. Perhaps because his late sister Nimia was a writer, I mused.

Defending women writers

Just a little backgrounder. I had been the first writer to be interrogated by the defense department (1980) and later was one of several women writers who went through a series of interrogations conducted by a military tribunal (1983). “National Intelligence Board” was how the military officers called themselves. It was the brainchild of Gen. Fabian Ver, then the Armed Forces chief of staff. I called them the Sanhedrin.

And then my case became like a trial balloon. In street-corner lingo, “sasampolan.” That was after our group, Women Writers in Media Now, routed the “National Intelligence Board” at the Supreme Court. We had a battery of human rights Mabini lawyers, with Tañada leading the pack, and Joker was among them.

We thought it was over. All of a sudden, Brig. Gen. Artemio Tadiar, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade, came out of the woodwork to claim he had been maligned by the article. He had become a military attaché somewhere, but a P10-million libel suit was staring me in the face. It was pure harassment.

Rosary in his pocket

I said yes to Joker defending my case. While saying goodbye after our talk, he pulled out something from his pocket, a handkerchief, I think, and out fell his rosary.

The case was filed in Manila. I remember Joker telling me to make myself unobtrusive until bail had been posted, else I’d be handcuffed by the sheriff right there. At the preliminary hearing, Joker and Rene Saguisag clashed swords with then fiscal Jose Flaminiano (Joe Flame, Joker called him).

Well, to my chagrin, the Joe Flame filed the case for hearing. I don’t recall the name of the legal maneuver Joker did to make the case hibernate but it did. Thankfully, it did not progress to see me impoverished and in prison because the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution happened.

Still, I made sure the case was finally dropped. Joker, President Cory Aquino’s executive secretary, made sure that would happen.

I was assigned to do a Sunday Inquirer Magazine cover story on Joker, no longer the executive secretary (“Joker Arroyo Looks Back,” Feb. 24, 1991) for the fifth anniversary of the triumph of people power that saw the Marcos dictatorship crashing down. The Q & A is still quite a read.


Joker sent a handwritten letter dated Feb. 21, 1991, tucked inside a long white envelope with a Post-It on the flap. So old-school, I thought. He sent it through then Inquirer publisher Eggie Apostol.

It read: “Eggie was indulgent enough to send me an advance copy. I felt great, being alternately humanized, then made bigger than life, then being combative, then supposedly humble in a stylish play of words and format only you can craft. Thanks really.

“I kept reading and rereading it like a priest reads and rereads the breviary in blind faith. And the paper didn’t soil. Has the color any preservative?

“Why don’t you, Lorna (then magazine editor), Bullit (Marquez, Associated Press photojournalist) and I meet for Chinese or Japanese, Filipino or Thai, Italian or Spanish lunch? Do set the date a week ahead or whatever. If mater publisher will condescend, it will be nice for her to join and stifle the fun. Most sincerely, Joker. P.S. Your handwriting is the trademark of a school.”

A faxed letter, now fading on thermal paper, was his reaction to my feature article on the exhibit of medieval torture instruments and King Ludwig’s castle that I visited in Germany. It continued with a letter to magazine editor Lorna Kalaw-Tirol congratulating her. “Why my interest in this (the Inquirer magazine)? I was editor of the Chinese Commercial News, a pre-martial law Chinese language paper. When the Yuyitung brothers, Quintin and Rizal, owners, were deported in 1970, I took over as editor so the show (newspaper) will go on. Advertising became my concern and was illiterate in Chinese. I was their lawyer.”

(The names of the Yuyitung brothers are now carved on the granite Wall of Remembrance of Bantayog ng mga Bayani dedicated to heroes and martyrs who fought, died or were imprisoned during the martial law years, a number of whom Joker had defended.)


Another note, written on Civil Liberties Union of the Philippines/Free Legal Assistance Group stationery said: “Your answers conveyed unabashed humility and plain grit. Very searing. I just thought I should let you know.” I think it was about an article on me. Printed at the bottom of the stationery were the names Lorenzo M. Tañada, Jose W. Diokno and Joker P. Arroyo. The Mabini brotherhood of lawyers was not yet in existence then.

From Joker, I learned the meaning of “equipoise” that he used to describe a trait of Sr. Mariani Dimaranan SFIC, human rights defender and founder of TFDP. After she died and I was writing an article on her, I asked Joker for a quote and he obliged. What a tribute he gave.

So many years have passed but the women writers and the Mabini lawyers continued to keep in touch with each other, our way of expressing our appreciation for their stand and struggle to defend the oppressed and see justice prevail. A number of them later occupied elective and appointive positions in government, among them, Joker Arroyo (executive secretary, congressman, senator), Rene Saguisag (senator), Fulgencio Factoran (environment secretary), Augusto Sanchez (labor secretary), but they did not enrich themselves. (Joker, you know why I am saying this.)

When we came together to wine and dine, there would be lots of reminiscences, political gossip, teasing, jokes and laughter. We would also speak about painful and crushing incidents in the past. Joker would come with his wry sense of humor but would occasionally give in to cajoling and break open his thoughts even while feigning disinterest in silly, mundane matters.

No goodbyes

The second to the last time we lunched with Mabini lawyers Joker, Saguisag and Factoran was sometime in 2013. Joker ordered Chinese food and paid for it. When reminiscing time came, I suddenly remembered and narrated that small rosary incident with Joker when I was an endangered species. What do you know, the three formidable human rights lawyers, food in their mouths, instantly dug into their pockets and brought out their rosaries. Joker, too, had his.

No goodbyes, Joker. You left on the month of the rosary. My prayers and sympathies to your daughters and your lawyer-wife Fely.

I had written about persons who mattered to the lives of many and to my own, persons who are listed in my book. If I may quote myself, let me say and apply this to you, too: “You will be reborn in my words/ On the pages I write you will rise/ You will die say goodbye/ But I will remember/ I will make you live again in my words.” #

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pope Francis on Merton: 'Man of dialogue'

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

When Pope Francis was choosing four Americans to cite in his speech to the US Congress assembly in New York, he had plenty to pick from. That he decided to pick Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and more so Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton says a lot about him.

Lincoln and King stand big in American history; even schoolchildren know who they are. But Day and Merton are perhaps familiar only to Americans who are Catholics, and not even to all of them. Day had her day caring for the dispossessed; Merton, a Trappist monk (a member of the contemplative Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance that follows the Benedictine Rule), was an intellectual and prolific writer known especially among those in the contemplative religious life and those with contemplative and literary inclinations.

Let me get ahead of myself by saying that because Merton, long before ecumenism and religious dialogue became catchwords, had made personal inroads into non-Christian faiths (Hinduism, Buddhism, Hasidic Judaism, Sufism, etc.), dialogued with them and soaked himself in them, there was the question: Was Merton, a monk, still a Catholic? The same question is asked of Pope Francis: Is he still a Catholic? It could be a left-handed compliment because of his inclusive ways.

When Merton’s autobiography, “The Seven Storey Mountain,” first came out in 1948, little did he, his superiors and publishers know it would become a blockbuster. It is sometimes considered a modern-day “Confessions of St. Augustine.”

I think I first read it as “Elected Silence” (British edition). I will not attempt to describe its effect on me. Years ago, while on a journalism program in the United States, I stopped by a cavernous hall full of old books on sale. I found a cloth-bound 1949 edition of “The Seven Storey Mountain” and bought it for $3. Books by Merton are in the dozens, published while he was alive and after his death, but those about him are just as many. I have a small pile.

So why Merton? Pope Francis called Merton “a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.” He mentioned the word “dialogue” 12 times in his speech. “On the last day of January 1915,” wrote Merton, “under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadow of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.” In his speech, Pope Francis quoted the next lines of Merton’s first paragraph, how he “was the image of the world into which I was born.” Had he lived a long life, Merton would be 100 this year.

Born of a New Zealander father and an American mother, Merton had an only brother whose plane crashed into the sea during World War II. Merton joined Our Lady of Gethsemane Trappist Abbey in Kentucky in 1941 and became Fr. Louis OCSO. (You can have a Trappist experience in Our Lady of the Philippines Trappist Abbey in Guimaras.)

Merton was 53 when he died by accidental electrocution while at a religious conference in Bangkok in 1968. (I know two Benedictines who were there.) The conference was a highlight of his spiritual journey into Asia and his dialogues with people of other faiths. One can read about these dialogues in “The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton” published after his death. His eastward voyage had taken him to Calcutta, New Delhi, the Himalayas, Madras, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

After many books on prayer, contemplation, the monastic life, poetry and even a “macaronic journal” (“The Sign of Jonas,” “The Ascent to Truth,” “The Tears of the Blind Lions,” “My Argument with the Gestapo,” among them), Merton came out with “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” (1965), which he described as “a personal version of the world in the 1960s … an implicit dialogue with other minds, a dialogue in which questions are asked…” Culled from his notebooks, the conjectures ranged from nuclear arms, the Cuban crisis, and Marx to the Church and the world.

Merton must have left such a profound impression on Pope Francis (22 years Merton’s junior) that almost 50 years after Merton’s death he would bring up the name at theUS Congress , pointing out Merton’s “capacity for dialogue and openness to God.”

Said the Pope: “A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to dream of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”

Dialogue and that “contemplative style” should remain in style today. Didn’t the Pope say that walls should be broken down instead of built?

In her “Merton: A Biography,” Monica Furlong wrote: “One of the most influential Christian figures of the 20th century, Thomas Merton was a spiritual writer and poet, a social activist, a Trappist monk vowed to a life of silence and solitude. Yet he was also a dynamic, flesh-and-blood man, dedicated to his search for a meaningful existence, at the core of which was a profound love for God.”

Much of what Merton did and “broke down” would have been lost to my generation had he not been a writer. In “Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton and the Vocation of Writing” edited by Robert Inchausti (my latest acquisition), one finds a compilation of Merton’s thoughts on writing and not writing.

Included in Merton’s “Raids on the Unspeakable” (1965) is his message read to young Latin-American poets gathered in Mexico City in 1964 wherein he said—and this stumped me: “We are stronger than the bomb.” #