Thursday, December 31, 2015

Predis@30: A gift of music

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

Some days when many city kids harass their parents for a trip to the malls to gawk at the latest trends or spend the day glassy-eyed before computer screens, disabling space ships and zapping aliens, there happen to be youngsters who have an altogether different idea of a fun and fulfilling day. These kids come from many places in and around Metro Manila, and from varying social classes and educational backgrounds, but they have one common interest. On some designated days they gather for an all-important date with, ah, music.

Poor and rich, girls and boys, young and very young, they make beautiful music together. They interact, teach one another, play games, eat together and learn to get along—a day well spent by any parent’s standard.

St. Scholastica’s College’s 108-year-old music department (the Philippines’ oldest) was not like this until 30 years ago, when it opened its doors wider to meet the sudden surge of interest in music among the very young. And not just any kind of music, by the way. Time was when St. Cecilia’s (the building that houses the music department) was the domain of girls with pampered fingers and hardy souls, and from its halls arose only exquisite piano music—Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, etc.—and occasionally, violin music and cultured voices.

Not anymore. It has come a long way from the time of the revered Sr. Baptista Battig, OSB, the pedigreed German founder of the music department. If she were alive today, the saintly Benedictine nun would be proud. Now it is not only piano, occasional violin and voice that one hears from that section of the campus where Battig spent decades teaching music, but live orchestra music as well.

St. Scho is home to Predis (Philippine Research for Developing Instrumental Soloists). It is Predis that turns on the orchestral music on special days. Predis came to life 30 years ago through the efforts of St. Scho music dean Sr. Mary Placid Abejo OSB and Prof. Basilio Manalo, conductor, violinist and pedagogue and head of St. Scho’s strings department at that time. Predis was the result of a 1985 Summer Music String Workshop for talented young musicians held at the National Arts Center in Laguna.

The question and the answer: How to continue honing the young’s native talent if not by music, providing teachers as well as a permanent venue? St. Scho’s music department was it.

I did interview Billy Manalo 20 years ago when Predis turned 10. “We started with strings,” he told me then, “because it is harder to train in strings.” The wind section came later. The IS or “instrumental soloists” in the acronym Predis does not refer to solo performances in the strict sense, Manalo explained. “This simply means becoming well-versed in one’s instrument.”

And so on a clear day, when one steps into the music department, one can hear an assortment of sounds. One hears strains of Pachelbel’s “Canon” or Tchaikovsky’s March from the “Nutcracker Suite.” Somewhere, someone is tripping on a Mendelssohn piece. At a far corner are four or five high school kids playing the violin together, minus the teacher. When they sit in the orchestra rehearsal later, they are able to play their parts better.

Predis aims to discover, train and prepare young musicians for a career in music. It provides highly qualified teachers, a good curriculum and a good environment. Scholarships are given to those who are financially challenged, even up to college music courses. Through Predis, the Manila Youth Symphony Orchestra came to life in 1995.

Some Predis alumni have gone on to study in leading music schools in the United States and Europe. Others have joined music camps and youth orchestras such as the Asian Youth Orchestra, the Southeast Asian Youth Orchestra and Wind Ensemble, the Pacific Music Festival, and the Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra. Some have become concertmasters. Many Predis students have won international and national music competitions. Worth mentioning is Diomedes Saraza Jr., a well-known concert violinist, who took lessons under Predis at the age of six. Manalo was a tough mentor.

Some information for those interested to study under Predis (or support it): The training program includes individual and group lessons, music theory classes, regular recitals, chamber music and orchestra apprenticeship programs. Master classes are held whenever there are visiting musicians. Yearly summer workshops are offered. Through the Predis Chamber Orchestra, students are introduced to orchestral music and given the discipline required in performance.

Predis also provides performance opportunities. Recently I attended a concert celebrating Predis’ 30 years. Featured were Predis faculty, students and alumni, and the St. Scholastica’s College Chamber Choir. A number of the performers have become known names in music, busy performers here and abroad, but they came to play, to come home where it all began.

Predis cofounder Manalo, who has since gone to the Great Concert Hall in the Sky, would have been proud and cried “Bravo!”

May 2016 bring PEACE, JUSTICE and HOPE in badly stricken parts of the world, particularly the disputed Spratlys and areas of the West Philippine Sea, the focus of China’s unlawful occupation and bullying—while the world watches. To all who are dear to me—far and near, fat and thin, young and old, sinner and/or saint, fellow voyagers on this ailing planet—may we quietly find our way into the heart of God.#

Monday, December 28, 2015

'You--we--have a cause that's worth fighting for'

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

It was mid-1980s and Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc and I had yet to meet face-to-face. But in her handwritten (in green ink) letter to me, urging me to be courageous and face the lions, she was telling me in so many words that we were in this together because “you—we— have a cause worth fighting for.”

July 7/80 Dear Ms Doyo: Please “honor” Defense Deputy Minister Barbero’s “invitation” to appear for a hearing on Wednesday. I’ve been trying to call you but your phone is always busy. The committee on human rights is genuinely interested in your on-the-spot interviews with the Kalingas. Barbero called us up himself.

You have nothing to hide. Your nonappearance would give the impression that you were less than “truthful.” Also you—we—have a cause worth fighting for. You were there. You know that truth is on your side. Just tell the truth … The men on the committee are not ogres—I know them to be good honorable gentlemen who are concerned as you and I that justice is rendered whenever and wherever it is due.

Also, your nonappearance would make the Panorama like two cents. I trusted you because I know the group that brought you to Macli-ing’s village and its reputation for zeal wherever the rights of the minorities are reportedly prejudiced. We become a bit less credible if you should go into hiding.

Popular opinion is also on your side judging from the flood of proletters we have received congratulating us for our fearless exposé. You—we—started a good thing going. Don’t give up now. This is what we wanted after all, to focus attention on what we perceived to be injustice to our Kalinga brother.

The dam

I did not go into hiding as Letty feared I might but I did experience military-style interrogation … I would never forget. And that would not be the end.

Letty had published my story on the killing of Kalinga chief Macli-ing Dulag in the magazine Panorama. When I sent the story with pictures I took myself, I was literally shaking with fear at the thought that it might get published. It did, on June 29, 1980, with birthday girl Imelda Marcos on the cover at that. Letty gave it the title: “Was Macli-ing killed because he damned the Chico Dam?” I trembled.

As Letty’s letter showed, those were dangerous times for writers. A human-rights worker, I was then just beginning to write for the “mosquito press.” The Macli-ing story was my first major one in a mainstream magazine. In her Sunday column (“The truth about journalism”), she defended the story against a Marcos spokesperson, who had torn it apart.

Watershed moment

The story (was) a watershed moment for me. Letty was there when, months later in February 1981, Pope John Paul II handed me a CMMA [Catholic Mass Media Awards] rock trophy for Best Feature Article. Letty was herself a nominee for her column “Sundays” that was gnawing in a pesky sort of way at the Marcos dictatorship.

Letty lost her job soon after, but not without an uproar from the long suppressed press … Her case became celebrated, a cause celebre that brought the fetters on journalists’ hands to near-breaking point.

That was how Letty and I began our journey as friends and colleagues in journalism, with her she as my boss. She was my Sunday Inquirer Magazine editor (1986 to 1988) and, later, Inquirer editor in chief (1991 until her passing on Christmas Eve).

After Panorama, Letty wrote for Mr. & Ms. (“Letters from Letty”) published by Eggie Apostol (Inquirer founding chair) and, after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, was editor of Mr. & Ms. Special Edition that chronicled the protests against the dictatorship and exposed its rot. I wrote for Mr. & Ms., too. The magazine’s first editorial office had on its door “LJM Garments.” You know, just in case.

Letty was not a stranger to the excesses of martial rule. Her first cousin, Leticia “Tish” Pascual, was on the list of desaparecidos or disappeared presumed executed by military elements during the dictatorship. A former intelligence man told me Letty knew about efforts to find Tish’s grave but the area in southern Luzon, where her remains had lain, was now the site of a power plant.

After the Edsa People Power Revolution, the weekly Inquirer became a daily, and with a Sunday magazine at that. Letty asked me to be on the staff along with Recah Trinidad, Fe Zamora and JP Fenix, with Chuchie See as layout artist and Lani Montreal as editorial assistant. My first assignment was to fly to Leyte to look into the opulent playgrounds that Imelda Marcos had left behind.

After Letty left the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, she wrote a column (“Leavings”) for the Inquirer for a couple of years. Leavings, as in scraps left behind for someone to sweep away. How unpretentious a column name.

When she became Inquirer editor in chief in 1991, she asked me to write a weekly column for the daily. This, she said, would complement my magazine writing. She made me come up with column names. Grassroots? The Underside? Both disapproved. I sensed she did not like it to sound savior-of-the-oppressed. “What about Human Face?” I said. She beamed. Approved.

My first Human Face column (“Yamot is in the heart”) was, as Letty had wanted, an offshoot of my immersion among the Aetas for a magazine story, before and after Yamot village was buried in Mount Pintubo’s volcanic ash. I thought then, this woman has some kind of prescience.

Fun and freedom

In 1993, a week before Letty was to leave for the United States to accept a journalism award, her daughter Kara asked me if I had anything in my files about her mom. She wanted this for a backgrounder the awards body, the University of Missouri, needed.
Of course, I had the Magsanoc Files. Which Letty did not have. She was sometimes amazed that people had things on her—things she had written, said or done.

Before she left for the United States, Letty asked me if I had that clipping of a speech by John Chancellor, commentator of NBC, that he delivered when he received the Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. Chancellor was also among past awardees of the University of Missouri, where Letty finished her master’s degree in journalism. Letty probably wanted to have an idea about what past awardees thought of their profession.

Chancellor said: “As they say, journalism will kill you in the end, but it certainly will keep you alive in the meantime.” But it was Chancellor’s closing lines that Letty liked and which was an answer to the why in her style of leadership in journalism:

“The trick is to shoulder the responsibility without losing the sense of freedom that got you into the business in the first place. It is easy to go astray. Some of us begin to think we are important, which is a fatal trap. The news is important—we aren’t" … Letty totally agreed. ‘Brinkmanship journalism’

Letty’s citation partly read: For “her dedication and perseverance in exposing government corruption … and an effectively satirical and creative style that continues to grab the attention of readers.” Letty was the only non-American who received that year’s Missouri Award from her alma mater. (Winston Churchill is among past awardees.)

In her acceptance speech, Letty, who was cited for her role in toppling the Marcos dictatorship, said that only the people could free themselves; the media could not do it for them. She described what it was during the Marcos years: “… we went into protest journalism, Xerox journalism, brinkmanship journalism, set up the alternative press and what the Marcos minions called the mosquito press. The Philippine press just kept on daring.” (In Letty’s foreword to my first book, “Journalist in Her Country: Articles, Essays & Photographs,” she wrote about “gotcha journalism” and “suicide journalism.”)

How did Letty get away with it? Like Chancellor said, she did not lose her sense of fun and freedom that got her into the business in the first place.

I learned many things about feature writing from Letty. Here are some I often share with would-be writers:

While writing an article I asked her, “How long should this be?” Her terse but gentle reply in contralto: “You know when to stop.” Wow, I thought. That has since become some kind of mantra, a rule of discipline in writing for me. One should know when it is complete, coherent, concise … Words are not to be wasted.

When I was starting as a magazine writer, I noticed how she deleted my first paragraphs or transferred them below because she must have thought them unnecessary pasakalye (preludes). One got the hint.

She wanted the stories (features, too) to dive straight into the matter and hook the reader with a scintillating quote perhaps, or a dramatic scene. But she also appreciated meandering beginnings that would lead to the heart of the story.


Once when I wondered what I should include in my talk to nonjournalists about my experiences, she told me, “Tell them stories about what you’ve seen, where you’ve been.” Be a storyteller. She added, “Make it brief. They’ll love your for it.” And she laughed. Homilists, take the hint.

So in November when I wrote a piece on a talk I gave to 300 religious, I included the advice about storytelling that she gave. After reading it, Letty sent a message to say she needed to write something for the Inquirer’s 30th anniversary but she was having a writer’s block. “Thanks,” she said, “I am now following my own advice.”

Magsanoc Files

Oh yes, about the Magsanoc Files. I thought then that Letty should put together things she had written so that they don’t remain filed in the archives. And if the military intelligence department has not yet burned its dossier on journalists, it would be fun to read their file on a woman named Leticia Jimenez-Magsanoc.

And so I’m the one with a Magsanoc Files. Many of these will go to the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings or the Memorial Museum dedicated to victims and survivors of martial rule.

Months ago, I put together a file of articles written about her during the dark years when press freedom was under siege. These were to be submitted to the human rights violations victims board created by law and signed by President Aquino in 2013 for remuneration and recognition purposes. She lost them, found them but couldn’t get herself to file. She was a claimant in the class suit that won in the Hawaii court but was delisted because she did not refile as required by the court. This time, under Republic Act No. 10368, Letty could have been easily included (because she was already part of the class suit) as among those who lost jobs or property because of the excesses of martial rule.

‘Those would be tyrants’

I have before me several books hurriedly piled. In them the Magsanoc case is chronicled. “The Philippine Press Under Siege,” Vol. 1 and 2; “The Quiet Revolt of the Philippine Press,” by Marcelo B. Soriano; “The Manipulated Press,” by Rosalinda Pineda-Ofreneo; “The State of the Philippine Press” (Foundation for Nationalist Studies). Some of Letty’s “Sunday” pieces, along with other articles that incensed the dictatorship, are reprinted in “The Philippine Under Siege.” In it is included “The Letty Magsanoc Story.”

Many of these stories will again be compiled in a new volume, with me as editor. I would have loved Letty to write a new foreword for the new and future generations.

In “The Quiet Revolt of the Philippine Press,” is Letty’s forced resignation letter. She wrote this after Han Menzi, publisher of the Bulletin Today and Panorama, called a meeting in 1981 and said: “I just got back from Malacañang and I’ve never been embarrassed in my life. I’m sorry, Letty, I have to let you go.”

In her “Dear General” letter, Letty said: “Media institutions must illuminate the problems of the day and challenge those in charge to solve them. The untrammeled flow of information is the basis of an enlightened public opinion. Without it, those who would be tyrants will flourish; with it, truth is free to combat error … So I cannot understand why … men who have emerged from the war with 28 medals should fear the free expression of ideas. So much for embarrassing questions as there are only embarrassing answers.”


This article should not be about the writer (as she was wont to remind) but how can I not insert myself to give her credit for my becoming? What do I say to the person who mattered so much in my journalism career? She who started me off on a voyage at once so thrilling and so dangerous.

Letty, you never told me it would be like this. Oh, to be there where people live and die, feast and famish, laugh and cry. To be there where events unfold and to watch history leave its tracks behind for us to decipher and be awed and humbled to make us fall on our knees in thanksgiving and sometimes in mourning. To be there where heavens opened and hell broke loose.

Little notes she wrote me have been popping out of the woodwork. Let me share this one that might serve me for the long haul: “To Ceres, the light of reason wherever causes take her. As usual, Letty.”

During the time of the dictator, Letty wrote a piece that jolted the establishment. Its title: “Who elected the press?” The answer: No one. But for some divine reason, and in spite of our wretched selves, we have been chosen.

You, Letty, had been chosen.#

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Between 'Nona' and Pia

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

What a week it has been for many Filipinos: An almost-ringside view of heart-rending, heart-pounding happenings that have something to do with what we are, who we are, where we are. Here at home, scenes of the post-Typhoon “Nona” devastation in many parts of Eastern Visayas and Southern and Central Luzon.

On the other side of the globe, the Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas that culminated in Miss Philippines Pia Wurtzbach’s crowning as 2015 Miss Universe 2015 (after a 42-year drought), but only after the wrong announcement of winners was corrected and the crown was transferred from first runner-up Miss Colombia’s head to Pia’s.

From gloom to glitter. A roller-coaster ride, indeed, if we take to heart these media banner events—one exposing helplessness and poverty in the face of nature’s wrath, the other a display of pulchritude, poise and grit (and skin, too) amidst pressure and before the eyes of the world.

Just now, and in the run-up to Christmas at that, we are bracketed by these two events—a threat-come-true named Nona with the resulting death and destruction that were no surprise at all, and a victory treat named Pia that was no surprise either except for the surreal twist, courtesy of pageant host Steve Harvey’s bad eyesight, or whatever.

The post-Nona images of flattened and submerged homes, felled trees and human beings standing tall despite loss of loved ones and livelihood are images so familiar and so Filipino one can’t help but think that we are indeed world-class in the coping department. Are we made of steel?

Right now I think of Pope Francis’ visit to Tacloban and the hundreds of thousands who flocked to his Mass on that wind-swept day last January, how the people who survived Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in 2013 braved the threatening winds and stood in the pouring rain to be one in prayer and thanksgiving. An image of triumph, indeed, that did not escape the eye of the Pontiff’s heart.

Last week’s Nona reminds me of typhoons past that struck during the Christmas season and all but erased the shimmer and glow in the Filipinos’ most beloved season.

Pia’s triumph last Monday has brought ecstasy, most especially to those who had long cheered her on, the beauty and fitness advocates especially who hone and chisel beauty a certain way; it also brought cheer even to those of us simple folk who think of beauty in many out-of-the-box, alternative ways because Pia represented the Filipino on the world stage. I leave the debate on the relevance of beauty pageants and titles for another day. I also leave Pia’s reply to the question on US military presence in the Philippines (she said, “I have no problem with that…”) for her to further reflect on. It was her opinion, informed or not. Sen. Miriam Santiago’s message to her: “We need to talk.”

And on Harvey’s boo-boo? It’s raining suggestions, from funny to serious, among them good reading glasses, poster-size list of winners, more than one reader to silently read the card before announcement, a legal suit (for causing trauma to Miss Colombia), exposing so-called beauty academies, what goes on inside beauty pageants and their franchise holders, etc.

For some brief moments, those who watched the Miss U pageant forgot the war in Syria, the terror that visited Paris, the continuing terrorist threats, the climate change accord that should compel nations to shape up and clean up, and here at home, except for those who were directly affected—that is, the uprooted, bereaved, hungry, homeless, desperate—we momentarily forgot what Nona has wrought. And Typhoon “Onyok,” too, which hovered before it decided to spare us, the farms and the trees.

A college classmate and dear friend, now a nun of the Contemplatives of the Good Shepherd who is based in Connecticut, gave me two books of poems by Mary Oliver, “Evidence” and “House of Light.” This Christmas Eve, may I share Oliver’s poem, “The Trees.”

Do you think of them as decoration?
Think again.
Here are maples, flashing./And here are the oaks, holding on all winter to their dry leaves./And here are the pines that will never fail,/ until death, the instruction of green./And here are the willows, the first to pronounce a new year.
May I invite you to revise your thoughts about them?/Oh, Lord, how we are all for invention and advancement!/
But I think/it would do us good if we would think about/these brothers and sisters, quietly and deeply. The trees, the trees, just holding on/to the old, holy ways.

I have been cocooning since last week so as not to add to the pandemonium in the streets. How has Christmas come to this?

May your Christmas be warm, aglow in its simplicity.#

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What is essential

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/byMa. Ceres P. Doyo

While the election-related threats and counterthreats, Christmas traffic rush, climate change debates, another typhoon and other aggravating happenings were unsettling our everyday lives, I headed to the Cultural Center of the Philippines to watch Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Prinsipe Munti.”

On its last morning show last Sunday, “Prinsipe” was staged at CCP’s Tanghalang Huseng Batute (not at CCP’s Little Theater), a smaller venue that gave the audience a more intimate feel of the play.

I did not go to watch as a critic, but as part of an audience that consisted mostly of kindergarten-size children (I counted about 100 kids squeezed neatly on one side of the theater), who outnumbered the adults. How they sat it out for one and a half hours with little jostling and shoving amazed me. I wondered what they brought home in their hearts and minds after watching.

“Prinsipe” was written in Filipino by Layeta Bucoy and directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio. Teta Tulay and Karilyo provided the shadow puppetry projected on screen. It was an adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic, “The Little Prince,” the program said. Or perhaps one can call it an innovation, an improvisation. As with a jazz improvisation when a listener sometimes finds it difficult to follow the original tune in order to enjoy its many twists and turns, the piece just has to be enjoyed as it is.

I think this is what I seemed to be doing while I was watching. Still, I could not help thinking of “The Little Prince” as it was written and first published in 1945, and later translated from French into English and other languages. I could not help remembering the famous lines and the illustrations by the author himself.

In fact, before leaving the house and going to the theater, I looked for my old copy. It tumbled down from the book shelf along with the one beside it, one of my all-time favorites, “Wind, Sand and Stars,” also by Saint-Exupéry.

I leave the reviews to theater experts. Inquirer Lifestyle contributor Carlo Rivera IV has written about it (“Prinsipe Munti—ethereal and innovative but also simplistic”). He took it apart, layer by layer, character after character. He wrote: “There’s a lot of talent and potential here but the play needs to be as ambitious philosophically as it is visually. A play should not be afraid to go off-book but neither should it forget the source material’s central message. ‘The Little Prince’ isn’t a romance. It’s a story about cutting through the illusions of life—as its most famous line says—to see with the heart what is truly essential, what is invisible to the eye.”

I had watched a movie version (not the animation) on the big screen many years ago. Though the characters sang, it stuck to the letter of the book. Just now I revisited the movie on YouTube and there was Gene Wilder as the tamed fox leaving a secret to the Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Immortal words, those.

In the book, the narrator is the pilot whose plane crashed in the Sahara desert. There he meets the Little Prince, an intrastellar boy who reveals much about himself and the planet from which he came. In “Prinsipe” the narrator is Prinsipe Munti. The characters revolve around him, or even seem to overpower him.

Years ago, I wrote a column piece after the remains of the plane piloted by Saint-Exupéry was found almost 60 years after his disappearance. The mystery had been solved, but more than that, there was closure in the fascinating life of this remarkable Frenchman, wartime pilot, aristocrat, romantic, adventurer, writer. Saint-Ex’s life ended when he was only 44. Ah, but he lives on. Unlike

“The Little Prince” which is often described as a book for adults disguised as a children’s book, “Wind, Sand and Stars” is Saint-Ex in his own voice. It is a symphony, a meditation on life, spiced with true-to-life stories which are not of the chicken-soup variety. Saint-Ex writes about his flights and travels to fascinating places in the sky, and on land as well.

The sky is not simply a vast and empty space; it is a place where things happen to oneself and within oneself. The deserts and the fields aren’t simply there below to be viewed from the air; they are, many times for Saint-Ex, there to crash-land on, and there meet danger and beauty alone and know for the first time strange and wonderful people. After reading “Wind, Sand and Stars,” I understood the depth and beauty of “The Little Prince” even more. Why a pilot who crash-lands in the desert listens to a little boy’s story about his tiny planet, his volcanoes and a rose for which he was responsible.

“But by the grace of the aeroplane I have known a more extraordinary experience than this,” Saint-Ex wrote, “and have been made to ponder with even more bewilderment the fact that this earth that is our home is yet in truth a wandering star… I lingered there, startled by this silence that never had been broken. The first star began to shine, and I said to myself, that this pure surface had laid here thousands of years in sight only of the stars.”

Despite his posthumous fame, Saint-Ex’s fate remained unknown for a long time, until 2000 when a professional French diver found the remains of a P38 plane off Marseille. Two years earlier, a fisherman found in that area a bracelet with the words “Saint-Ex” inscribed on it. We are all stardust, Saint-Ex seemed to say. “Only the Spirit, if it breathe upon the clay, can create Man,” he wrote.

With sweet longing he ended “The Little Prince” with the pilot asking: “Send me word that he has come back.”

He comes, and comes back all the time. May your Advent waiting bring surprises. #

Monday, December 14, 2015

INC 'thinking' members to defy group's practice of block voting

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

SAYING they are “willing to break from tradition,” members of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) who call themselves the INC Thinking Voters have decided to defy the long-held bloc voting practice inside their church and vote in the 2016 national elections for the candidate who they feel “will stand for what is right.”

No longer observing “blind obedience to corrupt INC officials,” the INC Thinking Voters vowed to “speak loudly and clearly” during the elections. They also exposed the INC’s hand in the government bureaucracy while accusing previous presidents and administrations of “creating a monster.”

In a strongly worded letter to all presidential candidates dated Dec. 11, the INC Thinking Voters said it represented the majority of INC members “who are rebelling inside because we could no longer close our eyes to what is happening in our church.” INC is known for voting as a bloc that politicians eagerly woo during elections. But the INC Thinking Voters will no longer be silent and passive, the letter said. In other countries, such as the United States, INC members are not compelled to vote as a bloc, according to the group.

The group said it was looking for “a strong-willed President” whose platform would prioritize the eradication, among others, of three evils: bribery and corruption in government, endorsements by special interest groups of political appointees and the “padrino” culture.

‘Root of all evil’

Over the years, the INC Thinking Voters said, its church “has been allowed to grow in size and influence, but as proven by recent events, it now wields more power than the State. At the root of all EVIL is the precious BLOC VOTES (emphasis supplied). The monster is not INC per se but the people who now run our church. The INC doctrines remain pure; it is how they are used and abused by the current INC leadership that has destroyed what was once pristine.”

INC was founded in Manila in 1914, or 101 years ago by Felix Manalo. It is said to have 2 million members worldwide. The present executive minister, Eduardo Manalo, is Felix’s grandson.

Recently, INC was mired in controversy when Eduardo’s mother (wife of the late Eraño Manalo, who had served as INC’s second executive minister after Felix), brother and sister, along with several ministers, were expelled from INC for allegedly airing grievances and issuing pleas for help because of alleged danger to their lives. Several ministers have filed cases for abduction, illegal detention and harassment.

Members of the INC Sanggunian or executive council, headed by Eduardo Manalo, have also been accused of corruption and extravagant lifestyle. Some INC ministers in the United States have resigned to protest the arbitrary expulsions and alleged wrongdoing in the INC.

An INC blogger using the name Antonio Ebangelista is said to have begun the exposé on the alleged irregularities in the INC but his true identity has not been discovered.

The INC Thinking Voters stressed that the presidential candidate it would support was “one who will not kowtow to any religious organization by strictly enforcing the true separation of Church and State.” It criticized the wrong interpretation of this separation when INC members demanded that the State bend the law in favor of the church.

‘Shameless bully’

Criticizing INC for becoming a “powerful and shameless bully,” the group cited recent events to prove that INC has “no respect for the law, or the government whose arm it knows it can twist to get what it wants.”

It recalled the Aug. 28 to 31 rallies that paralyzed traffic, initially on several streets surrounding the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila, and later, along Edsa and Ortigas/Shaw. INC members, many of them bused from the provinces, protested the DOJ investigation of the alleged abduction and harassment of one of its expelled members, Bro. Isaias Samson Jr.

Instead of charging INC with public disturbance or sedition for inciting members to rebel, Malacañang “initiat(ed) a secret meeting with the INC leadership, while intentionally leaving out Bro. Samson’s lawyers,” the INC Thinking Voters said. “Speculations abounded as to nature of the agreement.”

It cited an Inquirer report saying said that to save face, both sides reached a compromise—for the DOJ to investigate Samson’s complaint then drop it for lack of probable cause. Two months later, that was exactly what happened, it said.

‘For the right price’

The INC Thinking Voters lamented that corruption had remained unchecked at every level and branch of government. “For the right price, or the right amount of pressure from special interest groups, especially those of the bloc-voting kind, people in government are more than willing to prostitute themselves and betray public trust by furthering the interests of the few instead of protecting the interest of the majority,” it said.

In an accusing tone but without naming names, the group pointed at politicians. “Some of you have openly sided with INC to ingratiate yourselves with the influential organization. While we think that closing one’s eyes to truth and justice in exchange for the priced bloc vote shows a major defect in character … especially in one running for the highest office in the land, we are willing to overlook that and start from ground zero right here and now.”

Though admitting not having direct evidence of collusion between INC and persons in Malacañang regarding the church’s arm-twisting in the Samson case, the INC Thinking Voters expressed fears “that maneuvers like this are a harbinger of things to come.”

It challenged the government: “Convince us otherwise. Sitting in our midst is a powerful organization, which unabashedly demands from those who owe them favors, appointment of INC loyalists, [lack of] qualifications notwithstanding.”

“Over time, INC has successfully seeded its own people in key positions, notably in various law enforcement agencies, judiciary, customs, immigration, labor… These are civil servants who are either indebted to INC, friends of INC or INC members whose loyalty to the INC executive ministers overrides everything else,” it said.

Scandal in BOC

In April 2015, the INC Thinking Voters said, a scandal rocked the Bureau of Customs (BOC) that resulted in “the resignation of a man with more integrity than most,” Commissioner John Sevilla. Quoting a news report, the group said, it was because of “certain appointments reportedly backed by powerful forces, including Iglesia Ni Cristo, ahead of the 2016 polls.”

“Sure enough, soon after Mr. Sevilla’s resignation, Teddy Sandy Raval was appointed head of BOC’s Enforcement and Security Services, an appointment INC put its mighty weight behind. Three months later, another controversial appointment in the person of Ricardo Marquez as Philippine National Police chief hit the news. INC lobbied very hard for his appointment. The day after Marquez’s appointment became official, coordinated kidnappings and illegal detention of INC ministers and workers took place, a day that will be forever etched in our minds—July 16, 2015.”

The INC Thinking Voters posed questions to the presidential aspirants, among them: “If push comes to shove, will you actually have the courage to slay the monster and cut off the Gorgon’s head? Let us be clear about this. We are not asking you to interfere with the INC’s bloc voting practice. We are asking you to stop its evil effects.

“Will you uphold the Constitution by strictly enforcing the true separation of Church and State?

“Will you stand firm against special interest groups who push for slotting certain people in key government positions?”

The group’s members said they “are prepared to vote contrary to the dictates of our church and are also prepared to abstain if, in our judgment, no candidate is worthy of our vote.”

They wanted it known that while they continued to believe in INC’s doctrine on unity, “we intend to vote with our conscience this coming election regardless of whom the INC leadership favors.” #

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Seized chainsaws now a Christmas tree

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

Chainsaws that were confiscated in Palawan’s forests have been transformed into a Christmas tree that stands all year round in front of the Palawan Environmental Enforcement Museum in Puerto Princesa.

Equipment that were used to kill trees and destroy virgin forests now reminds defenders of the environment not to let their guard down while evoking fear and awe among destroyers of the Philippines’ so-called Last Frontier.
Passersby would stop to gawk at the roof-high installation towering over other confiscated instruments of environmental destruction—jeeps, trucks and tricycles that used to ferry illegally felled timber, fishing boats (one Malaysian) that had engaged in illegal fishing or wildlife smuggling, and a collection of deadly weapons, including firearms, explosives and cyanide.

Palawan is the province with the most number of declared protected areas. It has its own special environmental laws. Considered as the country’s last ecological frontier, Palawan has a logging ban that is supposed to be strictly enforced. It goes without saying that a citizen’s arrest can be carried out against violators.

Paradox of a province

The confiscated chainsaws numbered much more than the 600 that could be accommodated to make the “deadly” Christmas tree. Many more ended up in the perimeter fence surrounding the museum.

According to the Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI), the museum “is a testament to a paradox of a province purported to be paradise yet terribly plagued with pillage and apathetic, if not corrupt, public officials.”

The museum is a showcase and proof of the organization’s unrelenting campaign to defend the environment. It is dedicated to PNNI’s band of para-enforcers—“men and women, young and old, poor but resilient.”

Showcase of violations

The museum collects an entrance fee of P20 which, with other fees and donations, goes to fund community enforcement efforts. A visit to the museum is included in the tour package of PNNI’s Pasyar Developmental Tourism program, an alternative approach to tourism that supports community-based development and conservation initiatives. “Travel with a cause” is Pasyar’s come-on line.

PNNI states its vision thus: “a frontier with forests …, a civil society not afraid to be a catalyst and a government that is God-fearing.”

PNNI is headed by Robert Chan, a law graduate of Ateneo de Manila University. When PNNI first started its campaign, it encountered some hostility, said Chan. “Enforcement is the banner of our program. This museum is a showcase of environmental violations,” he said.

Visitors are invited to sit on hardwood that PNNI had seized and turned into long benches and a mini-platform as the lawyer goes into a diatribe against the increase in illegal mining, illegal fishing and illegal logging in the country. “Lowest in priority,” he rues.

Chan’s vocabulary is peppered with references to board feet, square kilometers and the treasures of the earth, forest and seas that are lost as the clock ticks. He also names names, some of them of the biggest ones in business. But it is the poor that are made to do the dirty, illegal work, he says.

One of PNNI’s funders is the Philippine Foundation for the Environment. In the past, PNNI also received funding from Misereor of the Catholic bishops of Germany.

PNNI and its member organizations also provide legal muscle and assistance in environmental cases. Seized Malaysian boat

Wearing shorts and flip-flops, Chan points out certain items in the museum and tells the stories behind them, where they were seized, from whom (the operators’ names sound familiar) and the violators’ modus operandi. A stickler for procedure, he insists that when something is seized, a seizure receipt is issued. “The enforcers hate me,” he says with a laugh.

Also on exhibit are photographs of illegal items at the time they were seized, among them, tricycles loaded with timber. They are accompanied by brief narratives on the what, who, when and how. One caption says: “Tricycle logging in tribal areas.”

Chan recalls that after the huge blue-green Malaysian fishing boat was seized (for illegal fishing), it was towed in a truck through the city’s streets to the museum. It was a sight to behold—the boat is big enough to hold a small museum café. Another boat on display was involved in wildlife smuggling.

If undiscovered, where do some of the much-coveted, illegal hardwood timber end up? Resorts, is the terse reply.

70 stitches

When the Inquirer was at the museum, a PNNI para-enforcer arrived in a tricycle with a newly confiscated chainsaw. Felipe Ilustrisimo said the chainsaw was only one of many he has confiscated. The scars on Ilustrisimo’s arms are a testimony to his dedication to the defense of the forests.

“In all, 70 stitches,” he says. “I was confronting someone who was cutting a tree in the forest when he suddenly thrust the chainsaw at me.” The bloody encounter only emboldened the para-enforcer to do more. The museum is dedicated to people like him.#

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Poe's birth mom, come out if you can

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

Even Jesus had a birth mother. Believed by Christians worldwide to be the Son of God and redeemer, he went through the human process of being conceived and brought into the world through Mary some 2,015 years ago. This is the reason for this Christmas season’s celebrations.

Because Sen. Grace Poe is a foundling, there is no record of her actual birth, only stories on the where, when, how and who found her. At this time, when Poe badly needs to know who her birth mother is—if the woman is still alive—should she withhold the truth?

Surely she and/or someone else must know that the newborn they left in a church in Jaro, Iloilo, grew up to be Senator Poe. Is the personal privacy of Poe’s birth mom so important that she would jeopardize her daughter’s ambition to be president? Or might the truth hurt and create more wounds for many? This reminds me of the movie “Madame X,” but with a twist.

If Poe’s birth mom is dead, she had confidantes at the time she had Poe in her womb, and these persons might have known who the child’s father was. Is Poe a natural-born or naturalized citizen of the Philippines? The circumstances of her birth and as a foundling are factors in her qualification/disqualification as a presidential aspirant. With so many legal opinions, we end up even more befuddled.

Two major things are getting in the way of Poe’s aspiration to be president: 1) her citizenship at birth and as a foundling, and 2) the length of her residency prior to her running for the Senate in 2013 and now for the presidency. The second should take 10 fingers to count.

Poe renounced her Philippine citizenship during her early adulthood, acquired US citizenship and lived as an American citizen with her husband and children for many years. After the death of her adoptive father, the actor Fernando Poe Jr., in 2004, she lived here to be with her adoptive mom, actress Susan Roces. She also reacquired Philippine citizenship (only in 2012, a journalist recently discovered). Her adoptive parents are show biz royalty but her biological parents are still unknown to us, speculations notwithstanding.

What citizenship status Poe reacquired—natural-born or naturalized?—still begs an answer. The length of her residency prior to holding an elective position is another matter. So, the first question—is she natural-born or naturalized?—has to be settled. But nothing on foundlings is clearly stated in the Constitution. Philippine citizenship is established by blood, not by being born, in this country. Only the natural-born can aspire for the presidency.

Those who want to see Poe disqualified insist she cannot be presumed natural-born until it is proven that one of her parents is a Filipino citizen. Therefore, they say, she was naturalized when she got her Philippine passport. Those who defend her natural-born status say she can only be natural-born, because she never had to be naturalized. Applying for a Philippine passport is not an act of naturalization.

And there is the issue of who is to prove what—the complainants to prove that Poe is not natural-born, or Poe to prove that she is natural-born.

One other thing: If Poe is disqualified, meaning she is only naturalized, or if her residency is found to be short of what is required, what does that make of the Commission on Elections? Remiss in its duty in examining candidates’ qualifications? How much should the Comelec presume? Should it wait for a party to question and even go all the way to the Supreme Court?

The only thing that will settle Poe’s citizenship once and for all is for one of her biological parents to come forward, prove parentage by DNA testing, and show Philippine citizenship. This true-to-life telenovela still has no end in sight.

Rumors have been spread about Poe’s birth parents, but the story about certain persons who allegedly found her and gave her up to the Poes for adoption seems the official story for now. A photo proves that Jaime Cardinal Sin, then archbishop of Jaro, baptized her before she was adopted.

Poe is only in her 40s. Her biological parents are likely to be alive. While she says that she is trying to find her blood relatives, and even had an emotional meeting (with a photo to show) with the woman who briefly cared for her when she was an infant, there is one thing I noticed she has not done: openly and directly plead to her biological mother to come forward.

Most children who were born in homes for unwed mothers and who went through the legal adoption process have birth records—names of birth parents, dates, etc. They are more likely to track down their birth parents and vice versa through reunion programs. Poe will have a hard time.

The Heart of Mary Villa (HMV), a home for pregnant women and babies waiting to be adopted, has a “search and reunion” service. When I wrote about HMV some years ago, it was handling some 200 searches initiated by both offspring and biological parents.

I have written feature stories on adoption and adopted children. Not too long ago I received a letter from a young man looking for his birth mom through HMV, where he spent his infancy. He just wanted to let his birth mom know he was happy and well. I forwarded his letter to HMV. If it so happened that his birth mother was also looking for him, there would have been a “match.” But some reunions are not meant to be.

Does an adopted child have a legal right to demand access to official records to know who his/her birth mom is? In some countries, yes. Can institutions/persons with private (not legal) records invoke the vow of secrecy and respect for one party’s wish not to be found? Yes, a Good Shepherd nun, a veteran in the adoption process, told me.

Is Poe desperately seeking her birth mom? And is her birth mom inclined to come forward? #

Thursday, December 3, 2015


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

While many Filipinos are doing somersaults because of hot news simultaneously hurtling into our lives—the guilty verdict on US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton for killing a Filipino transgender woman, the disqualification of presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe by the Commission on Elections’ second division, the ongoing climate change conference in Paris, presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte cursing Pope Francis for his Philippine visit, etc.—the scandal of tanim/laglag-bala seems to have been forgotten.

Tanim/laglag-bala was on everyone’s lips just a week or so ago, the cause of departing airline passengers’ flight delays, distress and ire, the embarrassment of airport officials, the subject of puns and jokes, and considered another blot on the government for failure to arrest even petty corruption that are inconveniencing many. Tanim/laglag-bala refers to the alleged planting by airport personnel of a bullet/s in a passenger’s luggage; upon discovery during security inspection, the passenger is detained, interrogated and made to cough up money in order to be allowed to board his/her flight.

Video clips of passengers in tears and even fainting at the airport have been shown, causing us to hyperventilate and wonder how we have come to this. And the victims seem to be ordinary Filipino folk, except for the young American missionary whose case, now in court, is some kind of cause celebre because of its unlikelihood.

The domestic helper who had also been found with a bullet in her belongings was released, and in a dramatic twist, her Hong Kong employer who was at first hesitant to take her back has welcomed her. This left us wondering what it was all about. Did she or didn’t she actually but unknowingly have the bullet in her luggage, and who put it there? Did they or didn’t they—the airport personnel—plant the bullet for extortion purposes? Was there an extortion try?

The National Bureau of Investigation that was called in to make sense of the airport mess generated by cases of tanim/laglag-bala has yet to present its findings.

But cause for puzzlement is the fact that despite stories about tanim/laglag-bala victims who tearfully swear innocence, despite images of passengers lugging their plastic-wrapped suitcases with handwritten signs that these do not have bullets inside, passengers are still caught with bullets in their luggage. The recent ones didn’t cry harassment and extortion, they actually admitted carrying the ammo. Theirs is a case of dala-bala (bullet-carrying). If there is tanim/laglag-bala, there also is dala-bala by incorrigible (pasaway), superstitious, but not necessarily ignorant Filipinos. (The word pasaway, to describe those who habitually defy rules and norms, is now in frequent usage in Tagalog-speaking places, though it has always been commonly used in the Visayas and Bicol regions.)

I am inclined to think that this tanim/laglag-bala scheme came about when some corrupt airport inspection personnel noticed that some Filipino passengers indeed had bullets in their luggage. Knowing that this is forbidden, they thought they could make some money from the ignorant or superstitious passengers’ violation by confiscating the items and asking for money in exchange for letting them go. So which came first, the chicken or the egg? One could say the chicken that crossed the road and went to the airport with a bullet under its wing.

Making things complicated is this new scheme of rewarding personnel who detect and confiscate firearms, bullets and other ammunition. Wouldn’t this encourage more “planting”? The bigger the harvest, the bigger the reward?

I am not downplaying (as one letter-writer said I was, despite my sounding ballistic in a column piece on the matter some weeks back), the tanim-bala incidents and the extortion attempts. What is cause for additional infuriation is some Filipinos’ superstitious practice of carrying bullets as amulets or anting-anting in their travels despite recent warnings to leave these behind. A doctor had four in her luggage, another passenger had several. And they admitted to carrying the bullets. What is it about us Filipinos?

Indeed, what is it about a biker or tricycle driver who suddenly crosses the path of your car despite a red light shining brightly for him and those on his lane? What is it about bus drivers swerving left and right despite a dedicated lane for them? On any dark night, stand on Quezon Avenue (or any city road) and you will see that seven out of 10 jeepneys do not have their headlights on.

There are moves in the Senate to amend the firearms law in order to protect the innocent passengers from extortionists, to simply confiscate the bullets and allow the passengers caught with them to go on. For the pasaway types, I am tempted to wave them on with their bullets, to let them board their flights so that they get caught in their foreign destinations. But then, what would that say of security checks in the Philippines?

I have yet to see the airport extortionists tarred and feathered. Where are they, who are they? The focus seems to be more on the victims, not the victimizers. If extortion is the motive of bullet-planting, why does the airport drama end only with the passenger weeping or fainting when a bullet is found? Bitin. I’d like to see the drama completed, with a passenger face to face with an extortionist and shouting, “Extortion!”

I am not downplaying the extortion scheme. But how many passengers are true victims, and how many are true pasaway? How many airport personnel are true extortionists, and how many have had to bear the shame of something they did not do? #