Sunday, February 26, 2017

Saying 'no' to 'Darkness Descending'

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

She deserves a room of her own, this woman who resisted the coming of darkness during the martial law years and became an inspiration in that time of untruth, lawlessness and injustice.

Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma already has a government building and a public school named after her, but the eponymous museum opened last week at the mezzanine floor of the Quezon City Hall complex may yet be the best tribute to this magistrate who dared defy former strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.
Occupying a whole wall in the museum is a black-and-white mural depicting the excesses wrought by martial law and captioned “Darkness descending (Pagsapit ng Karimlan),” around which are memorable quotes from Palma and other brave souls from that period.
Palma’s dissenting opinion—prominently displayed in a bound copy of similar decisions—on the habeas corpus case of Sen. Jose W. Diokno prompted the release of the human rights lawyer who had been detained for years without charges.
Palma also ordered the case of jailed Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.  transferred from a military to a civilian court to ensure a  fair trial.
For such defiant moves, this Marcos appointee was called ingrata (ingrate) by a colleague, a description she wore like a badge of courage.
Her retort: “When I took my oath of office, I said to  myself that my loyalty is not to the appointing power but to the Constitution, to justice and to the Filipino people.”
Indeed, the museum holds historic documents, photographs, video documentaries, artifacts and other memorabilia that bear witness to this woman’s contribution not only  to law and justice, which was her field of expertise but more importantly, to the country’s awakening in its darkest hour.
Assorted memorabilia —PHOTOS BY CERES DOYO
Assorted memorabilia —PHOTOS BY CERES DOYO
Tribute to excellence
The museum occupies some 140 square meters, a compact easy to navigate space with items curated by Philippine culture expert Marian Pastor Roces.
The museum too might well be a tribute to excellence, as Palma was a woman of many firsts: the Philippines’ first woman prosecutor, first woman district judge, first woman in the Supreme Court, and “the first woman in the world assigned to lead the creation of a constitution,” in reference to the 1987 Constitution.
Just as prominent in the museum’s timeline about her life was how Palma stepped prominently into the scene in 1973 when martial rule heralded a difficult chapter in Philippine history.
The timeline near the museum’s entrance is delicately embossed on glass and shows the life and times of this Batangueña and her family, her early schooling at St. Bridget’s College in Batangas and at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila where she graduated high school valedictorian.
She was also college valedictorian at the University of the Philippines College of Law, where she met fellow law student Rodolfo Palma who became her husband. They raised three children.
Palma topped the bar exams in 1937 with a grade of 92.6 percent.
The photographs in her timeline highlight the seasons in her life: the child Celing in an angel costume and in gowns as she approached maidenhood. They also celebrate her many roles as wife, mother, judge, Supreme Court Associate Justice, assemblywoman, constitutionalist, God’s faithful servant.
1987 Constitution
At the center of the museum is a copy of the 1987 Constitution crafted by a constitutional commission presided by Palma as its president, which museum guests can peruse freely.
A life-size plaster bust of Justice Palma by sculptor Julie Lluch stands in a corner beside the words, “Idealism, Spiritualism, Patriotism.” The words are described as panindigang buhay, (principles that) Palma lived by. A weighing scale representing justice rounds up the display.
Standing silently in its own corner is Palma’s electric organ, on which she had played many musical pieces when she was not busy in court. Her mother had hoped she would be a pianist, but the mischievous girl in blue convent school uniform proceeded to law school instead. The music never left her.
Also displayed are Palma’s written works, among them  “Mirror of My Soul,” a collection of speeches and decisions she had penned; personal items such as the toga she wore when she was Supreme Court justice,  as well as paintings, letters and articles about her.
Distinct among these items is an illustrated children’s storybook on her titled “A Life Well Lived.”
Museum visitors may also choose to watch several video documentaries—on Palma’s personal life, the martial law years, and the constitutional assembly.
Before the museum was set up, the building that houses the prosecutor’s and the Public Attorney’s Offices and the space that the museum now occupies was already called the Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma Hall. By its entrance is her image mounted on a pedestal, around which people happily snap selfies.
Such public admiration and the museum itself affirm Justice Palma’s prescient reminder: “We shall be judged by history, not by what we want to do and can’t, but by what we ought to do and don’t.” #

Thursday, February 23, 2017


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

In the hot seat at the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum last week was the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan.
The discussion revolved around the extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and the Duterte administration’s move to revive the death penalty. In other words, about killings in the streets and alleys, hovels and homes any time of the day and night. By policemen with shoot-to-kill orders for the “nanlaban” (those who resisted or “fought back,” even while, uh, asleep) and by unidentified armed persons, vigilantes and highly motivated gun-for-hires in what they call buy-bust and “tokhang” operations.
One of the questions I asked the archbishop was: If someone who engaged in EJKs came to him for confession, what would he do? I meant either sacramental confession or simply seeking advice in relation to one’s grievous act.

The background of this is the confessed EJ killer Edgar Matobato, who came out publicly several months ago to reveal at a Senate hearing that the President, when he was mayor of Davao City, was the brains behind the so-called fearsome Davao Death Squad (DDS). Matobato had said that he first went to a churchman before he came out publicly.

Archbishop Villegas’ answer (slightly edited for clarity): “My first concern is to put the person in the grace of God. Because I am a priest. If the person is not yet ready for confession, I will introduce him to the love of God. I will introduce him to the seriousness of sin. I will introduce him to the mercy of the Lord. I will introduce him to the harm he has done to another fellow human being and, hopefully, upon introducing him to such, conscience will be enlightened and if he or she seeks pardon, then I will lead him or her to confession.

“Always, my primary purpose, my first concern, is to make [the person] reconciled with God through confession, the sacrament. If he does not like to confess to me, I will lead him to another priest.

“After that is done, as the situation necessitates, then we can move, if he so desires, to move into public confession to repair the damage he has done. But there is no obligation whatsoever to [go public]. Because if he chooses to remain anonymous, I will also die with the seal of the sacrament.

“So I say, my first step is to bring him to God, bring him to a state of grace. Second step, to let him receive the mercy of God in the sacrament of reconciliation. Once that is done, all the others will follow from there.”

Forum moderator and Inquirer.net editor John Nery’s follow-up question: Was Matobato’s public admission then the result of that confession? Recall that Matobato was said to have first sought the advice of a church person somewhere in Pangasinan. It took several seconds for Villegas to answer: “I am not in touch with him.”

I wanted to blurt out, “But were you?” But I held my tongue.

Last Monday, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV brought out in a press conference retired police officer Arthur Lascañas, who confessed that he was the lead executioner of the DDS. Trillanes said Church persons had brought Lascañas to him. Recall that at a Senate hearing last year Lascañas denounced Matobato’s confession about killing for then Mayor Duterte with Lascañas in the lead.

Flanked by three FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group) lawyers, Lascañas dramatically turned around from his denials and dropped a bombshell. Yes, he admitted, he was indeed part of the DDS, giving credence to Matobato’s own confession. We could only hold our breath.

While waiting to exhale, we heard Lascañas tearfully speak about his loyalty to Mr. Duterte, how intense his loyalty was that he had his own two brothers—both drug users—killed. He admitted having a hand in the killing of radio broadcaster Jun Pala, Mr. Duterte’s nemesis. After several attempts, that is.

Because of last weekend’s early-morning Walk for Life—and against the death penalty that is being revived—led by the Catholic laity and supported by the hierarchy, will we see more executioners and terminators turning penitent? In the run-up to the Lenten season, who knows? #

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Common ground for Church and Du30?

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Photo by Lyn Rillon

At the Meet the Inquirer multimedia forum last Monday, the guest in the hot seat was the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese. The forum focused on the strongly worded CBCP pastoral letter on the drug killings that was read Feb. 5 in parishes that received it on time.

In the backdrop was President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs that has resulted in daily body counts that now total more than 7,000, and counting. This unrelenting war and the so-called extrajudicial killings (EJKs) have earned international attention and rebuke.

Expletive after expletive was Du30’s reaction to critics. To those concerned about how the pastoral letter might intensify the President’s regular tirades against the Catholic hierarchy and clergy, the archbishop made it clear that it was not—repeat, not—addressed to Mr. Duterte or Malacañang but to the Catholic faithful in general. It was not a call to arms.

The archbishop made it clear that the CBCP was not at war with Malacañang despite the President’s contemptuous regard for the Church and his regular sweeping statements about the sins of Church leaders. Listen to how Du30 taunts, sneers, jeers. One can’t help thinking that the Church’s good works in many fields, the heroic and saintly deeds of its members in remote and dangerous places where the government is practically absent, are simply spat upon, unappreciated.

Is the Church simply turning the other cheek for more slapping and cursing? Are the bishops afraid of President Duterte? The archbishop’s answer: “No.” What we should be afraid of, he stressed, is sin. If I may paraphrase his reply: We should be afraid of the evil that is abroad in the land, the wrongs we commit against one another.

The archbishop’s reaction to Du30’s tirades: “If you are telling us that we are a bunch of sinners, hypocrites and shameless followers of Jesus Christ, the answer is yes. We churchmen and women are imperfect; we struggle, we fall, we rise again… The Church’s moral ascendancy does not depend on the people who lead it but on God.”

Being the protégé of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, the 56-year-old, articulate CBCP president referred to the outspoken cardinal’s own “critical collaboration” stance during the martial law years when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos ruled with an iron hand. Sin walked the tightrope, did a balancing act. Well, in the end, he roused the country to go out there and face armored tanks. The rest is history.

Already, some bishops (Archbishop Villegas would not name them) are reaching out to the former seminarians in the Cabinet, among them Cabinet secretary, Leoncio Evasco, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno. Evasco is, in fact, an ordained diocesan-priest-turned-communist-rebel, tortured and imprisoned during the Marcos years. When Mr. Duterte was mayor of Davao City, Evasco was his chief of staff. Evasco later became the town mayor of Maribojoc in Bohol.

The bishops are trying to find common ground with this administration—this strange administration, if I may say so. For starters, might the mining issue be common ground? When Pope Francis came to visit in 2015, the CBCP-National Secretariat of Social Action and the Alyansa Tigil Mina issued a joint statement on mining. It referred to the 1995 CBCP call for the repeal of the Philippine Mining Act (Republic Act No. 7942), citing the “devastating effects and the adverse social impacts of mining that will destroy both environment and people that will lead to social unrest.”

On Wednesday Inquirer’s banner story said: “Gina kills 75 mine deals” and called her move a “Valentine’s Day massacre.” The subhead read: “Environment Secretary Gina Lopez cancels 75 mining contracts as a ‘gift of love’ to the Filipino people, drawing protests and threats of legal action from the mining industry.”

But it seems Lopez has the President’s ear. Yet, her confirmation as environment secretary could be massacred.

The devastated vastness wrought by irresponsible mining is a curse on the Filipino people. Here, on the wounded landscape, the Church and the Duterte administration could find common ground.#

Thursday, February 9, 2017

'Buwan at Baril': déjà vu.

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

Was “Buwan at Baril sa Eb major” difficult to watch? No and yes.

No, because everything was so clear and real to me—the stories, the characters, the acting, the emotions, the sounds, the faces, the voices, the words spoken and unspoken. I couldn’t ask for more.

Yes, because a tsunami of memories came surging at me with the force of 14 years under a cruel dictatorship. Yes because in those two hours in the darkened theater at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani where martyrdom and heroism are enshrined, something so real suddenly leapt and came alive with so much force. Call it déjà vu.

So it was a welcome difficult, if I may call it that, especially because the bunch of us who survived martial rule under the Marcos dictatorship—scathed but unbowed—and who were reliving the dark years scene after scene after scene last Sunday, were seated among young people, a number of them familiar faces in show biz who needed to know what it was like then. And, God forbid, what it might be like if ever it happens again.

Go catch “Buwan at Baril” in the last days of its two-week run: Feb. 9 (today), 10, 11 and 12 at 3 and 8 p.m. in the Yuchengco Auditorium, Salonga Building, at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani on Quezon Avenue, Quezon City. First-timers might want to come early and stroll around to behold the almost 300 names of martyrs and heroes engraved on the black granite wall or gaze at the Castrillo monument depicting a defiant mother holding a fallen son.

“Necessary” theater is how a critic called the restaging of “Buwan at Baril.” Portable, too. The play is lean and mean, with only eight actors in all. Props are kept to a minimum, but vintage images are flashed on screen. A guitarist and a cellist provide live music.

The initial offering of the Sugid artists’ collective comes in five parts that form a whole. To call them vignettes might make them seem trivial. The first one is straight out of Lakbayan, the 1985 protest march of farmers and workers from Central Luzon to Metro Manila. Long-lost brothers, one a farmer, the other a factory worker, meet and talk about their struggles. (I covered that event and walked from Angeles to Bulacan until I got leg cramps. I have photographs.)

The next scene is a heartrending one; you can’t have enough tears for the Itawes woman (played by Angeli Bayani) who lost family and home. She bears cigarette burns on her shoulders and wounds in her soul. The young, bewildered priest helps her tell her story to the media. There is the widow who must retrieve her husband’s body. Her grief turns to rage. How many women like them have I listened to in real life? I remember Purificacion Viernes…)

Jackie Lou Blanco is a scream as the socialite-turned-activist. (The Rotonda rally she plans to attend was a real one. There, a friend’s son got a bullet in the back. I heard the shot.)

Joel Saracho is the devil incarnate as a former activist-turned-cop/interrogator (“dapat praktikal lang”) of a student caught with subversive stuff. (Ouch. I had gone through something similar and traumatic, but without the kicks and punches. I had been under surveillance. Then while driving at night straight from the printing press with a car full of subversive materials… Guns were poked in my face… I have written about that experience.)

Written in 1984 by Chris Millado (after he survived arrest) and first staged in 1985, the play is directed by Andoy Ranay. It gets its title from the children’s rhyme “Buwan, buwan, hulugan mo ako ng sundang.” E flat major is a “heroic” key, used by Beethoven for his major works. I don’t know if that is the reason Millado used it in the title.

But heroic indeed are the characters in “Buwan at Baril” for telling it like it is—the cruelty inflicted and received, the pain, the loss, the confusion and bewilderment, and, finally, the resolve. This play is unforgiving; it goes straight to the gut, then to the heart, the mind and finally the cells of your body. You ask yourself: Where was I in it? #

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Beauty and the bees

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

When, in the past, many beauty pageant contestants almost always mentioned care for the environment as their advocacy, this time there was none of that. Not in the 65th Miss Universe pageant held in the Philippines last week, which was hard to beat in its pomp and pageantry.

Held here for the third time, the pageant put the Philippines on the world’s tourism map as intended, with the beautiful spots highlighted, the people’s warmth on full display.

But the issue of the environment was sidelined. Had it been so overused? Is it no longer a sexy advocacy that would make the judges and the crowd sit up and listen? Mother Nature statements might no longer work, so on with new advocacies, the more daring and unheard of the better.

The thing about celebrities turned ambassadors of goodwill is that the advocacies they pick might become mere objects of lip service because these are difficult to accomplish. What we really need to hear is something more specific and workable.

What about Mother Nature’s woes that we want addressed in very specific ways? Is it polluted rivers, endangered polar bears, the destruction of forests, the vanishing indigenous tree species? And how does, say, a beauty queen proceed to do something concrete about it?

Which brings me to the latest news about very important members of the so-called web of life: bees. The latest news on bees is that a species of bumblebee is now on the endangered list, or is in “a race against extinction,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced two weeks ago. The population of the rusty patched bumblebee has dramatically declined by 87 percent in the past 20 years. There have been other bad news on bees before this.

We know by now that when the bee population is in trouble, Planet Earth is in trouble. No bees, not enough food on the planet. Bees help plants that need insect intervention by pollination to produce fruits, seeds, nuts and flowers. We learned this fact in grade school but took it for granted. We thought bees are forever. We equate them only with honey—honey for our pancakes and waffles, and for some, their beauty regimen or as a medicinal agent.

Some time back the Food and Agriculture Organization issued the reminder: “Bees are bellwethers for the healthy agricultural ecosystems they help create.”

I am part of a Facebook group concerned with Philippine native bees and the indigenous people who make sure that bees thrive in our forests. The group is Blessed Bees and Forest Discussion Group (Bee-yaya ng Gubat). We have been invited to this group because of our interest in pure, wild, raw honey.

But the more important thing about this is how to contribute in making wild honey hunting in the Philippines sustainable. And what species of bees are we referring to here? They are the native giant bees or apis dorsata. They thrive in the south Sierra Madre, in the forest triboundary of Rizal, Quezon and Bulacan.

Darwin Flores of Smart Communications Inc. has been providing technical support (part of Smart’s corporate social responsibility) to indigenous groups including the Dumagat of Sierra Madre. The “honey advocacy” resulted in better harvesting conditions and handling of the honey. Transporters have been provided with back frames so that carrying their load across rugged trails and rivers would not be so difficult. We pay a little more for this golden sweetness that, or so it is said, has an eternal shelf life.

The giant apis cordata are stinging bees but the indigenous folk have a way of “taming” them. Honey supply is not limitless; much has to be left for the honeybees that produce them. The Dumagat themselves declare the beginning and end of the harvesting season. The next honey-gathering season starts again this March. The Dumagat have constructed a Bahay Bubuyog in the mountains of Rizal. The specs are based on the University of the Philippines-Los Banos beekeeping training.

Last year Darwin sent an advisory that the intense El Niño heat had affected the flowering of the forest trees that supply the nectar and pollen. He had to equitably allocate the honey among those who ordered. I must say I had my fill and with enough to share contained in mason jars.

I have been advised not to advertise the where, how and how much lest profiteers find their way into the forest primeval. #