Thursday, May 25, 2017

90 metric tons of dates

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

On the lighter side of foreign aid, especially after last week’s “We don’t need you, EU” outburst of the Philippines’ quarrelsome President, here’s something from the desert to chew on.

As a non-Muslim, I feel some kind of discrimination because the 80 metric tons of dates from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were meant as food aid only for Muslim Filipinos, and not for members of other faiths. Food aid, meaning for the needy. On the other hand, when the Catholic-run global charitable institution Caritas Internationalis sends aid, it never specifies particular faith groups as beneficiaries.

This is just an observation, not a judgment. As Filipinos are wont to exclaim with a wince and a smile when they are left out, “Paano naman kami?” (What about us?)

A news story in the Inquirer (and other media outfits, too) said: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) turned over on Thursday at least 50 metric tons of pressed dates to the Philippine government as part of food aid to Muslim Filipinos. “At a press conference, Ambassador Abdullah N.A. Al Bussairy said ties between the KSA and the Philippines were strengthened further by President Duterte’s visit to Saudi recently. “The 50 metric tons of dates turned over last May 18 are in addition to 30 tons which were officially turned over last week to the World Food Programme for distribution to Filipinos.”

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud also donated 50 metric tons to the Maldives. Call it dates diplomacy.

I love dates, pitted or not. They are not cheap and not easily available in regular supermarkets, not even in the halal section. When I have the chance, I buy them from stores selling Middle Eastern and Indian stuff along UN Avenue. The yummiest Food for the Gods has chopped dates and walnuts in it.

What do 80 metric tons (80,000 kilograms) of dates look like? I googled and learned that 25,000 kg of the stuff would fit into a 20-foot shipping container, the lumbering kind you see on the road. So make it three or four containers for the KSA’s donated dates then.

Dates usually come in individual rectangular boxes or plastic packs. A photo of the turnover shows big cartons. I do not know how the dates from KSA were distributed and received by Muslim Filipinos. I know that in Muslim countries they are a favorite repast at the end of Ramadan. This year, Ramadan begins tomorrow, May 26, and ends on June 24.

I read up on the cultivation of date palm trees, the work of cross-pollinating (there are female and male trees) to make them bear fruit, the stages of ripening, and finally, the harvesting. These trees will not thrive in the Philippines where there is too much moisture. Would they thrive in desert-like, mined-over areas? T

he Koran tells the story about Mary giving birth to Jesus, not in a stable, but beside the trunk of a date palm. Famished and in pain, Mary heard a voice telling her to shake the tree, whereupon ripe dates fell on her. Dates are a good postpartum repast, I suppose. It is said (and research is being done on this) that pregnant women who eat dates regularly have a shorter period of labor.

When I wrote about this Nativity account years ago, I received nice letters from Muslims, one of them from the Middle East. Dates ripen around summer, which means that, if we go by the Koran account, Mary gave birth to Jesus, not in December, but around July or August. Not that dates (times of year) matter now.

As the Marian month of May closes, we note the centennial celebration of the first of the series of Marian apparitions that occurred in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal. On May 13, Pope Francis flew to Fatima and officially proclaimed the canonization of two of the three visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta, who died a year or so after the apparitions. Lucia, the keeper of the so-called “third secret of Fatima,” died only in 2005 at the age of 97.

Fatima takes its name from a Moorish princess who is the namesake of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima.#

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Said the Spider to the Fly'

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

Like the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales of our childhood that warn of cunning and deception, the poem/fable “The Spider and the Fly” (1829) by Mary Howitt also serves notice that not every sweet-talking entity offering gifts or a good time is to be believed or trusted.

I still remember the poem’s opening lines: “‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the Spider to the Fly.” Oh, you do remember well if you had recited it as a child. Not to demonize spiders, which are really shy creatures, and as there is such a thing as a pecking order in the natural world. But after much cajoling on the part of the crawler and much hemming and hawing on the part of the fly, the latter walks into the silky web, gets trapped, and becomes a meal.

Such, too, is the modus operandi of the budol-budol operatives who, by sweet talk, con unsuspecting persons, usually the elderly walking alone, to clean out their bank accounts or hand over their life savings and jewelry without protest.

The cautionary poem for children came to mind with China’s just-ended Silk Road Summit that showcased its ambitious plans to bring back to life the ancient trade routes, this time again spanning continents, from Asia to Europe and Africa. Attending the summit were heads of states and representatives of 30 countries that could be brought into this physical worldwide web.

An Inquirer report said that China vowed $890 billion for 900 infrastructure projects worldwide and gave a preview of the massive undertaking dubbed as the “Belt and Road Initiative.”

Massive is truly the word. Railways that cross national borders, sea ports, international airports, industrial parks, name it, some of which are already ongoing. China’s President Xi Jinping said his government has “no desire to impose our will on others.” But remember, too, that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

While the Philippine delegation probably came home moist-eyed because of the hefty pledges (and, hopefully, not because of too much MSG), India’s officialdom crafted a no-holds-barred statement on the “Belt and Road Initiative” that other nations should mull over. It should:

be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality.

follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create an unsustainable debt burden for communities.

uphold balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards. conduct transparent assessment of project costs.

conduct skill and technology transfer to help long-term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities.

be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The last one obviously refers to a contested area in Kashmir, a source of tension between India and Pakistan, but on which China state-owned companies have already set foot.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has just come out with a two-part series, “Romancing China Under Du30.” It lists the “abject lessons,” two failed and foiled China-funded projects approved by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a close ally of both President Duterte and China:

“The $330-million NBN-ZTE national broadband project that was aborted in 2006 amid allegations of kickbacks sought and received by certain senior officials close to Arroyo; and

“The $400-million loan from China Export-Import Bank for the 32-kilometer first section of the North Luzon Railways Corp. (Northrail) project that the Arroyo administration awarded in 2003 to a subsidiary of a China state-owned enterprise. Hailed then as China’s biggest loan ever extended to the Philippines, the second section of the Northrail project was to have been funded by another $500 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim).

“In 2012, because of supposed project revisions and delays, the Aquino administration cancelled the supply contract for the Northrail project. In a decision dated Feb. 7, 2012, the Philippine Supreme Court en banc declared the contract invalid because it had been awarded without public bidding. The total loan value for Northrail’s Section 1 component came up to $503 million in combined principal and interest payments.”

The title of the second part of PCIJ’s series by Malou Mangahas asks: “Who is the screwer, screwed?”

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reparation is recognition

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

blogslider4.jpgIt is true. Unspeakable horrors happened during the martial law years under the Marcos dictatorship more than 30 years ago. Let no one weave a contrary tale.

The summary killings of human beings. The involuntary disappearances. The arbitrary arrests and detention. The rape, torture and mutilation. The massacres. The forcible seizure and destruction of properties. The uprooting of families. The suppression of freedom of speech and of the press. These happened.
Call it a historic Monday, the 8th of May 2017. On that day, the Philippine government released partial monetary reparation to the first 4,000 (of the tens of thousands) who filed claims with the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB). This is provided for in Republic Act No. 10368, signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III in 2013, “an act providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, documentation of said violations, appropriating funds therefor and other purposes.”

The funds (P10 billion) will come from a Marcos hidden deposit returned by the Swiss government.

It is partial reparation because the adjudication process of all claims has not been completed and the total monetary reparation for each claimant has yet to be computed and finalized. President Duterte wants a speedier process. But it would be good for him to know that the HRVCB paralegals and lawyers working on the bloody cases are themselves being vicariously traumatized.

I do not want to dwell on the point system as provided for in RA 10368 because it quantifies and somewhat diminishes the sufferings of the victims.

But may I note that the almost 7,000 claimants in the Hawaii class action suit (Ferdinand E. Marcos Human Rights Litigation, MDL No. 840) have been awarded $2 billion and are getting equal shares (so far in trickles, though) whenever a hidden Marcos stash (cash, art, real property, etc.) is discovered and successfully claimed. But this groundbreaking, world-class suit against a dictator and plunderer was altogether a different procedure.

Last Monday, many of us strode into the HRVCB offices with brisk steps and wildly beating hearts, but a good many—mostly parents of the deceased and the disappeared—walked in with slow, feeble steps. A few were in wheelchairs. The release of Land Bank cash cards to the victims-survivors would have been a cause for merriment (the HRVCB served a filling merienda) but the mood in the hall was far from party-like. Conversations were mostly serious, thoughtful, intimate. But warm greetings were aplenty.

Suddenly before me was Trining Herrera, who headed the Zone One Tondo Organization (or Zoto) and was a firebrand in those days—a thorn in Marcos’ side. I had not seen Trining in decades and I could sense that the years have slowed her down a lot.

Trining was tortured while in detention. I was with a group of human rights workers and nuns who regularly attended the military hearing against the military officer (I remember the name) accused of torturing her. It was a test case, sort of, and Trining lost. She was on the run after that, and at one time I drove her to a hiding place in the Malabon-Navotas area. I was steady behind the wheel because on the front seat beside me was a Good Shepherd nun (either Sr. Angge Sanchez or Sr. Joan Salamanca).

A conversation around our table was about reparation and recognition: that with the monetary reparation comes recognition that there was suffering inflicted—and endured. But also material to this recognition is the building of the memorial museum where many of the accounts and proofs of tyrannical rule will be displayed and, even more important, where the bravery of Filipinos who fought and fell in the night as well as those who survived, albeit with scars, will be enshrined. Tarry not, National Historical Commission of the Philippines and Commission on Human Rights.

The horrors of martial law under the Marcos dictatorship is not fiction. Let no one weave a tale of denial, like the attempt to deny Hitler’s holocaust that sent millions of Jews to their deaths in Europe during World War II, or to deny that humans landed on the moon in 1969.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A world of 'hibakusha'

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

It is not the movies, folks, and there certainly are nuclear scenarios of the apocalyptic kind in the realm of the possible. News report after news report describe one rogue leader’s attempt to flaunt his country’s nuclear arsenal, his way of serving notice to his perceived enemies. It has made three missile tests that, fortunately for the jittery, all went pffft shortly after lift-off.

Duds, yes, or umido (Spanish for wet), the Ilonggos would say about firecrackers that fail to explode. But those rockets weren’t firecrackers and there’s more where those duds came from.

The Associated Press reported the other day how Japan is bracing itself in case of a nuclear attack from North Korea with residents near the US base receiving instructions on what to do. Drills have been held in some prefectures, but skeptics think the concern is overblown and that Kim Jong-un is bluffing. But who knows?

AP reported, “A possible missile strike and what to do about it have dominated TV talk shows and other media in Japan in recent weeks as regional tension spiked, with the North Korean regime continuing to test-fire rockets and US President Donald Trump sending an aircraft carrier to nearby waters in a show of force.”

Japan, now a US ally and host to US military presence, is the country that has experienced two nuclear strikes in succession from the United States during World War II, the population of its two cities decimated and the survivors becoming the walking wounded, near-dead and disfigured—the “hibakusha,” as they came to be known.

The postwar demilitarization of Japan did not last all that long, the hibakusha’s hope for long-lasting peace dashed when Japan remilitarized and was swept into the arms of its former enemy. I first met some hibakusha in the 1980s. A handful of hibakusha (survivors of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) came here to lend support to the antinuke campaign. They had with them not only their experiences but also scientific findings on the effects of radiation on hundreds of thousands of lives, including theirs.

I sat in lectures, hearings and symposia on the nuke issue. I watched documentaries and went to photo exhibits. I learned nuke jargon. I wrote articles on the hibakusha. At that time the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was rising in what was supposed to be an earthquake fault and was a stone’s throw from two US military bases. Hibakusha originally referred only to A-bomb victims.

Later, H-bomb victims were included. In 1954, a Japanese fishing vessel called Fifth Lucky Dragon was at point 91 nautical miles east of the Bikini-Eniwetok Atolls when it was overcome by nuclear fallout from the Castle Tests in the area. The ship returned to Japan and was found to have radioactive particles. The crew of 26 suffered from radioactive sickness and one eventually died.

Although many hibakusha are now in their twilight years or have died, there still are survivors who can recall what it was like or can show proofs of that nuclear nightmare that are etched on their bodies and which, through their genes, future generations might have to bear.

North Korea had already landed four ballistic missiles a few hundred kilometers off the coast of Japan, a way, AP said, to simulate a nuclear strike on US troops stationed there. Here are some simple instructions given the Japanese people in case of a nuclear attack, and for us Filipinos to take note of: If you are outdoors, take refuge in strong buildings or underground shopping arcades and if no such facilities are nearby, drop to the ground and cover your head. A chemical attack is possible, so cover your nose and mouth with a cloth and shut doors and windows.

Will we see a 21st-century world of walking hibakusha? The Philippines is also within striking distance, but we are not being prepared for that kind of unnatural disaster. We have enough natural disasters to prepare for—earthquakes, supertyphoons, volcanic eruptions—and man-made ones such as mudslides, toxic spills and bomb explosions. Some days we don’t know what hit us. Filipinos live from one disaster to another, and we think the world of ourselves.