Thursday, July 28, 2016

The photograph

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

The banner photograph of the Inquirer last Sunday drew a negative off-the-cuff remark from President Duterte. He showed he was pissed off when he ditched the teleprompter and ad-libbed during his first State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday and dwelled on his favorite subject: his war on drugs that, during his 25 days in office, has seen more than 100—and counting—blown to kingdom come.

Many were reportedly killed during shoot-outs and drug busts, while the rest were killed by unknown persons, their bullet-riddled bodies dumped on the wayside. Others were found wrapped in plastic or inside sacks, head and arms tightly taped. Some were found with a sign bearing a message: drug pusher, huwag tularan (do not be like them). The Commission on Human Rights is very busy indeed, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism that is following up the cases.
During his Sona Duterte said a newspaper had come out with a photo of a woman and a corpse made to look like Mother Mary cradling the dead Jesus Christ. He must have been thinking of Michelangelo’s “Pieta.” It was as if this broadsheet was calling for sympathy for what he considered the scum of society that needed to be eliminated through fair means or foul—and why should anyone care?

His words: “Eh tapos nandiyan ka nakabulagta and you are portrayed in a broadsheet na parang Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. Eh yan yang mga yan magda-dramahan tayo dito.”

The photo was taken by Inquirer photographer Raffy Lerma. It is a captivating image to behold, especially if one withholds judgment and simply looks at it without bias. Near the feet of the victim and the weeping woman is a piece of cardboard with the words “drug pusher.”

The caption was simple: “Lamentation: A weeping Jennelyn Olaires hugs partner Michael Siaron, 30, a pedicab driver and alleged drug pusher, who was shot and killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen near Pasay Rotonda on Edsa. He was one of six killed in drug-related incidents in Pasay and Manila yesterday. (Story on Page A8.)”

Below that banner photo is the Sunday issue’s banner headline “Church: Thou shall not kill” with the subhead “Message to Duterte to coincide with Sona.” Well, Mr. Duterte was certainly pissed off. As always, with the Catholic Church.

The Philippine Sunday Inquirer (the word Sunday written in lovely font) front page is usually dedicated to good news and inspiring stories to give readers a breather, except when very important breaking news are anything but, and grim images that land on the news desk are so irresistible because they speak loudly.

Lerma’s photograph silently speaks. Luck, pluck, vigilance, readiness and talent synchronized to spring that photo opportunity that comes once in a rare while to a photojournalist who is constantly on the run. The photograph almost looks like an oil painting—with a burnished look of a Rembrandt, if I may say so. I don’t know how much, if at all, our art department enhanced the photo, but this “Pieta” certainly evokes thoughts and feelings.

The two figures look illumined in the middle of the blackness. While examining the image, I found interesting details: the word “drug” very small (I had to use a magnifying glass) and “pusher” big, the intricate tattoo on the weeping woman’s upper arm, her blue nail polish, the colorful fabric strewn on the concrete. The two figures have no footwear. I could not make out the signage behind. The face of the victim is not seen, only the back of his head. No blood is seen, only the sorrow on the face of the woman, Jennelyn.

What’s with that name? Years ago I did a piece (“Sad photograph”) on a photo of a teenage girl, an armed fighter of the New People’s Army who had survived an encounter with the military. (It was a front-page banner photo captioned “Still Life by a Soldier.”) A soldier found her wounded, all alone and seated among the ferns in the wilderness, and took her photo. Her name was Jenalyn. All her comrades in arms had died.

I have not spoken with Lerma about the what, where, when and how of his photograph and to congratulate him. But here is Lynett Villariba of the Inquirer’s art department and her post on Facebook: “The final layout is a conspiracy of the universe. We have this banner story. The pic by Raffy Lerma lands on the news desk like it is beamed from heaven. No argument. No doubt. No-brainer. Even the printing cooperates. [News editor] Jun Engracia braces for the Pieta effect. And this is it.”

Chelo Banal-Formoso posted on Facebook: “‘Positive Sunday’ would have been a big lie if the Inquirer didn’t use this heart-wrenching photograph taken by Raffy Lerma… For many years now, ‘Positive Sunday’ has been the guiding light for the editorial team that works on the Sunday issue of the Inquirer, to make reading the newspaper a pleasant or more pleasant experience if only for a day. All week the team sets aside the positive news and feel-good features turned in by reporters and contributors for publication on Sunday.

“But the reality of Bloody Sunday was too compelling to ignore, as we can see in this photo and the story on the indiscriminate killings going on in our country.”

When US-based photographer Rick Rocamora gifted me with the huge book, “In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers,” he included a copy of a letter of photojournalist and Magnum founder George Rodger to his son Jonathan: “You look into the viewfinder and what you see there may be pretty and gay or it may be sad. Your heart may stand still for the horror of it or your eyes dim in pity or in shame. But it is all a reality and you must know what to do with it.” #

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Meeting Inanna et al. under the tree

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

Two weeks ago, while the police and media were (as they still are) busy counting corpses of suspected drug pushers, a hundred or so people from different sectors, with varied interests, affiliations, careers and goals in life—myself included—were “somewhere out there” exploring the Jungian depths, so to speak, getting deep into our selves (two words, those)—and our Earth.

I put aside my media hat for the nonce and went back to my original field of training—psychology. It was good to be with my Ateneo graduate school classmates from way back: Rose Yenko and Dido Gustilo-Villasor with whom I had sat in classes under Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ.

Rose and Dido are among the prime movers of the Carl Jung Circle Center (CJCC) which, together with the California-based Pacifica Graduate Institute, organized this year’s “Salubungan on Depth Psychology: Our Psyche, Our Earth.” Salubungan means a meeting or encounter, and the natural process used during this particular gathering was “Ang Kwentuhan sa Ilalim ng Punongkahoy” or storytelling under the tree.

The conference, like the previous ones, hoped to bring to a wider public the understanding of depth psychology which Carl Gustav Jung espoused. Depth psychology is an approach to therapy that explores the subtle and unconscious aspects of the human experience. CJCC uses a multidisciplinary approach that draws on literature, philosophy, mythology and the arts; “moving towards wholeness is seen as the process of bringing to light what has been unknown in one’s personality—thoughts, feelings, memories, archetypal projections—so that the person can understand and integrate them, allowing for a transformation in consciousness. Depth psychology also looks at the ways the unconscious expresses itself in society and culture, and how culture affects the psyche.”

That last sentence should give us pause, especially these days as earthshaking global and local events unfold and we end up discombobulated.

CJCC and Pacifica Institute’s Salubungan was a fruit of their shared mission of “animae mundi colendae gratia,” Latin for “tending soul of and in the world.” So they served up an array of persons engaged in depth psychology turned storytellers. Sharing their knowledge and experiences were psychologists and psychotherapists, social scientists, dream tenders, myth experts, artists, filmmakers, musicians, environmentalists, peace workers, academics, healers, poets, and a babaylan’s great grandson who showed a captivating documentary on his ancestor. The participants came from varied disciplines and involvements— seekers, sojourners in the heart of the world.

And so, who is Inanna? At a book sale, I happened to find a book titled “Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer” by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer. I bought the book, hoping to learn about this woman in ancient myth and her stories that, I thought, must form part of feminist literature. I was also attracted by the book design and the photographs of clay tablets that date back to 2000 BC. Well, I did not begin to read it until the Salubungan conference where her story was told and interpreted to us by a Pacifica professor who had the same book that I had.

Dr. Maren Tonder Hansen, whose area is “psychological uses of myth, women’s spirituality, psychological play, and dream analysis,” told the story of Inanna, the liberating goddess of Sumer. An ordained minister, mother of three and wife to Pacifica founding president and chancellor Steve Aizenstat (psychotherapist, dream tender), Hansen spoke about how, even after 4,000 years, Inanna continues to inspire and be a model not only to women but also to men “with her soulful quest for wholeness, authentic power, and depth of experience, how her various experiences evolved into her embodied understanding of the sacred mysteries of life.”

Like the Roman myth of Ceres and the Greek myth of Demeter who bravely descended into the underworld to seek justice and deliverance for their respective captive daughters, so did Inanna as part of her spiritual initiation, to test her feminine powers. It is an amazing story that is echoed in myths and nonmyths (even in biblical stories) with archetypal characters that inhabit our collective unconscious.

While writing this piece, I reached out for Jungian-trained psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola-Estes’ book, “The Gift of Story” (she wrote “Women Who Run with the Wolves”) where she says: “Stories that instruct, renew and heal provide a vital nourishment to the psyche that cannot be obtained in any other way. Stories reveal over and over again the precious and peculiar knack that humans have for triumph over travail. They provide all the vital instructions we need to live a useful, necessary and unbounded life—a life of meaning, a life worth remembering.”

The salubungan/encounter theme brought a smile on my face because one of my books has the title “Human Face: A Journalist’s Encounters and Awakenings.” And I couldn’t help thinking that I have not really strayed far from my original field of discipline which is psychology, but as a journalist-storyteller I have journeyed on, on roads both well and less travelled. And was the richer for the encounters or salubungan along the way.

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Yesterday, AdvoCafe opened its latest branch (main) on Mendiola-Concepcion Aguila St., beside College of the Holy Spirit. Founded by Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and Assisi Development Foundation president Ben Abadiano, AdvoCafe is a social enterprise that supports indigenous peoples’ (IP) projects for sustainable living. Fair trade is its operating principle. All profits go to IP initiatives. AdvoCafe is an effort toward Zero Extreme Poverty in the Philippines by 2030. Come, have a cup.#

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Landing on the Spratlys 25 years ago

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

I  put aside the piece I have written for today to give way to another, to celebrate the positive ruling two days ago of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague on the Philippines’ complaint, junking China’s intrusion and claim over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). I jumped for joy when I heard the news announced by the grim-faced acting Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay of the Duterte administration.

But thank you, former president Benigno S. Aquino, former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and the legal team, for bravely pursuing the case against a bully nation.

Throwback Thursday. I am resurrecting a piece I wrote 25 years ago in this space. I also wrote a long, two-part series for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. I was one of the first two journalists to have stepped on the disputed Spratlys in June 1991.

SPRATLY GROUP OF ISLANDS—Suddenly there it was, Pag-asa, a little green island floating on a sea of turquoise blue. Our small plane felt like a feather floating in that windy vastness. And I remembered the famous pilot-philosopher Antoine de Saint Exupery’s words: “Below the sea of clouds lies eternity.”

The Air Force’s 10-seater Nomad plane circled just a little longer to allow us to feast our eyes on the proverbial emerald isle and then came down with a light thud on a runway abloom with dandelions. Spratly, at last, after three years of waiting. Spratly, at last, after some two hours of eternal sea and sky.

Figuratively, we were in the middle of nowhere. More accurately, we were far into the South China Sea, 278 nautical miles off Puerto Princesa, Palawan, far enough for us to say we were no longer on the regular map of the Philippines. But make no mistake, we were definitely still on Philippine soil. (The volcanic ash from the June Mount Pinatubo eruption has travelled up to here.)

We stepped out into the open and were met by men wearing deep brown faces. If not for their snappy salutes and weather-beaten uniforms, they could have come straight out of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Loven Abadia was on his first visit here as commanding general and we were invited to come along. Among those with him were Brig. Gen. Ciriaco Reconquista, commander of the Palawan-based 570th Composite Tactical Wing, and Col. Felix Duenas Jr., the Air Force’s chief for planning. Theirs was no after-thought visit. Talk of timing … I will be writing an extensive feature (with photographs) on the Spratly Islands sometime in July in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, my home base.

In the recent weeks, the issue about the Spratly Islands (Kalayaan or Freedom Group of Islands to us Filipino claimants) was again in the international news. Time magazine had three pages on it. “A flash-point” is how these islands are always called, and this gives a sudden cold flash in the spine considering that there are six other formidable Asian nations (Vietnam, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and recently Brunei) making claims to the rest of the 53 islands rumored to be floating on oil.

“Occupancy is possession,” says Abadia. That seems to be the law of the sea in these parts. Since the 1950s when the Philippines took over nine islands, Philippine troops have always been stationed here. We now have only eight islands, fewer than some countries have. When the Philippines abandoned Pugad island eight years ago, Vietnam right away took over and has since held on to it. There are always takers.

Pag-asa, the main and biggest Philippine-owned island (32.6 hectares), is where most of the Air Force and Navy troops are stationed. There is a weather station here manned by a civilian. The seven other islands have men watching over them, too. Security prevents me from divulging how many men are stationed on every island. But this I can say —the other nations have more resources with which to protect their island-gems. “We either take care of these islands or give them up,” Abadia says.

In the 1970s there were more soldiers stationed on the islands. Not anymore. “Somewhere along the way, this place was forsaken.” Why? “Ask the politicians,” Abadia snaps. It’s no joke being assigned to the Spratlys or Kalayaan, unless one has the predisposition of a monk or a hermit. The next Navy ship will come probably in January of next year. Only light planes can land and they come every few months.

Occasionally big fishing boats come and the soldiers are happy to see new faces. After several months, the men have to be replaced with a fresh batch because the solitude and desolation during the monsoon months turn some soldiers into overnight poets and they are moved to write lachrymose verses on walls and bathrooms. (We copied some of them.) There are some resilient mainstays though (maybe the hazard pay is an incentive) and one wonders how they are able to stay sane. The piles of gin bottles say it all. There are no women there except “Gina.”

Of course there have been tales about men talking to the waves. But with the advent of VCRs the loneliness has become bearable. And what sort of shows do they watch? “Mostly bold,” says a junior grade Navy lieutenant. “And war movies starring Telly Savalas.” 

 The men in other foreign-occupied islands must be just as lonely. So why should there be fear of war on these islands? “It is a historical fact that people and nations fight over resources,” Abadia serves a reminder. “In the next generation the area of conflict will be the sea because it is the source of food. If there are resources in Kalayaan we have to defend them.”

Before leaving, Abadia gave a pep talk and promised to send as many tapes as he could find. Also a freezer. The men had stars in their eyes.

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The three-day 3rd Philippine Conference on New Evangelization starts tomorrow at the UST Millennium Hall, hosted by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.