Thursday, November 23, 2017

The backhoe

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

2009 rally of media workers after the Ampatuan massacre.
I found the black T-shirt among my rarely used clothes and was about to send it away to Segunda Mana of Caritas Manila but, I thought, who would want to use a T-shirt with something about a massacre? I then decided that I would keep it until justice has been fully achieved, with the guilty sentenced and committed to the slammer, there to grovel for the rest of their lives like Charles Manson before he died in his sleep.
The black T-shirt has a red silhouette of a backhoe and the words “58 dead, 5 years, 0 justice. Ampatuan massacre 11.23.09.” It was given to us journalists to wear at a rally in 2012, the fifth death anniversary of the 58 persons, 30 media workers among them, who were murdered in one massive strike, a massacre of innocents that blows the imagination for its premeditation, mercilessness, heinousness, and the shocking attempt to hide the crime Nazi-style.
I just went over the nine-hour timeline written for inquirer.net by Matikas Santos on the Ampatuan massacre (“Maguindanao Massacre–How it happened” Nov. 21, 2014). Ampatuan is the town in Maguindanao where the powerful Ampatuan clan ruled with impunity.

On Nov. 23, 2009, Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu’s wife Genalin, accompanied by supporters, lawyers and a horde of media workers, were in a convoy on the way to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor that would challenge the powerful warlord Ampatuan clan. They were coming from Buluan, the capital town of Maguindanao, and heading to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak. Mangudadatu himself stayed behind. On the way, armed men stopped the convoy, herded the passengers to a grassy area, and shot them dead. Even two passing vehicles, mistaken as part of the convoy, were stopped and the drivers and passengers also killed. Just like that.

The yellow Komatsu backhoe on standby was the piece of machinery used to dig the mass grave even before the massacre was committed, and to cover the corpses and vehicles as soon as the evil deed was accomplished. With its claw, this earth mover or excavator can dig and move dirt. It is a familiar workhorse in construction sites and garbage dumps. A backhoe is similar to but smaller than a payloader.

I saw backhoes (or were they payloaders?) at work at the Payatas dump soon after the 2000 garbage landslide that buried some 200 trash pickers. In the Payatas tragedy, these heavy equipment were used to extricate the dead and the near dead. They might have been lifesavers, too. In the Ampatuan massacre, the backhoe was used as an instrument to commit a crime, a massive, premeditated, politically motivated crime unmatched in this country’s election history. If you want to read about the backhoe driver’s blood-curdling account of the massacre, go to http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/437157/backhoe-driver-describes-maguindanao-massacre-burial.

On the lighter side, I actually have a photo of myself with friends riding on the upturned claw or bucket of a moving payloader, taken on a fun day decades ago in a construction site. Now, every time I see a payloader or backhoe, I am reminded, not of fun and frolic, but of the fate of those buried in cascading garbage and the victims of powerful and evil men on that fateful day which we now refer to as 11/23.

I often see backhoes at work on the road these days because of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program. I avoid them while I drive and get out of their way fast for fear their long arms and buckets might swing in my direction and smash me to smithereens.

Today, the eighth death anniversary of the 58 victims, as in previous years, we again lament the slowness of the justice system. The Ampatuans’ lawyer then, Salvador Panelo, now President Duterte’s chief legal counsel, had said that the Ampatuans were framed. I leave it to readers to roll their eyes.

Journalists are sometimes thought to be intrepid survivors, the last ones left standing. Many have died in a crossfire, in which they were not the targets. In the Ampatuan massacre, the killers made sure no one, the media workers especially, would live to tell the story. #

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Shocking truth or shocking lie?

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

He stabbed someone dead when he was 16 years old, President Duterte told his Filipino audience in Da Nang, Vietnam, a week ago when he was there for the Apec conference.

His words in the raw: “At the age of 16, may pinatay na ako eh. Tao talaga. Rumble. Saksak. Noon 16 years old yun. Nagkatinginan lang. Eh lalo na ngayon presidente ako.” English translation: “At the age of 16 I already killed. A human being. Rumble. By stabbing. I was 16 years old then. Our eyes merely met. How much more now that I am president.”
The President did not say that he killed for self-defense.

This was not the first time that he bragged about his violent streak. He had openly confessed that he shot a fellow San Beda student when he was in college. The President ranted some more “You f*ck with my countrymen, I will not let that pass. Who cares about human rights? My issue is, at least we’ve killed them and that would lessen our problem. I will really kill you. That’s true. Let it be announced to the world.”

The newly appointed presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, promptly performed damage control the way his predecessor from the “Department of Interpretation, Explanation and Translation” was wont to do.

“I think it was in jest. The President uses colorful language when with Pinoys overseas,” Roque said. Well, how many times in the past did Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson have to find explanations for his utterances that were either sexist, insensitive, insulting, or outright rude and unbecoming of a head of state?

This brag about having killed someone at the young age of 16—a crime of homicide — has yet to be proven true. But why dispute the President’s own words, Mr. Roque? If true, then he had indeed killed a human being as a teenager. Who did he kill? What became of the case? Was there a record of it?

If it was just a “jest” about something so serious, then it was no jest at all. It was a fabrication, a lie. The President therefore lied, and a person who lies is a liar. No one will not dare call him that but he made himself one by making up a story. If indeed he made up that story about himself — lied, that is — might he not be prone to doing the same about others? I shudder to think so.

You either did it or didn’t. To call a shocking statement mere hyperbole — as the President’s apologists are wont to do — is to miss its meaning. Hyperbole is “a figure of speech that involves an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis.” But it is based on something that is true. When a “Yolanda” typhoon survivor says that the waves are as big as mountains, there is basis for saying so. This is not a fabrication. But to state something as fact from out of nowhere, even if self-deprecating or especially to impress, is telling a lie. We don’t like liars.

Confessing (to simply impress or to sow fear) to killing at 16 CANNOT be a joke. It is either a shocking truth or a shocking lie. Either way, the speaker — proud, unrepentant and unpunished — is a walking peril.

While mulling these, I remember the long feature story about a crime that I wrote in the Inquirer on May 14 and 15, 1995. It was about the killing of Oliver Ong, 14, a scholar at the Philippine Science High School. Oliver had just stepped out of a fast-food place at SM City when Teddy Bernardo, 17, and Cesar Rivera, 20, took him at knife point and led him to Edsa. They wanted Oliver’s cash and when he refused to give it up they stabbed him six times and left him bleeding on the sidewalk.

I did a walk-through in the area in order to picture how it happened. I did a long interview with the young killers at the Quezon City Jail and their jailers as well. I also searched for Teddy’s mother in the San Roque slums and found her.

I am trying to find out where Teddy and Cesar are now, what they have become after 22 years. As to the Davaoeño who bragged that he killed someone when he was 16, he is, at 72, now president of this republic. #

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Red Wednesday for world's persecuted Christians

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

Westminster Cathedral in red on Red Wednesday 2016
Nov. 22 is “Red Wednesday,” when the world’s persecuted Christians will be remembered and prayed for in a special way. It is also a call for action. The Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Philippines has called for the illumination or floodlighting in red of the facades of churches and other buildings on this day. ACN has also issued the call in other parts of the world.

Illuminating iconic structures in certain colors has become a practice to call attention to important issues, to denounce tragic events, or to simply celebrate.

Although the Red Wednesday Campaign is a Catholic Church initiative, it does not focus entirely on persecuted Christians who are Catholics but on all others of the Christian faith. And, more broadly, the call should equally apply to believers of other faiths who are persecuted because of their religion.

The Red Wednesday Campaign’s call is “Stand up for Faith and Freedom.” Red is the color of blood and martyrdom.

ACN was founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and was elevated as a papal foundation in 2011. It is “dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or suffering material need.” ACN publishes and disseminates the Religious Freedom Report.

The Red Wednesday Campaign began in 2016 as an ACN-United Kingdom initiative. Lit in red were the Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, Houses of Parliament and Oxford University. Also lit up were the Fontana de Trevi in Italy, Sacred Heart Basilica in France, and Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.

According to ACN-Philippines, numerous studies consistently show that Christians are the most persecuted faith group in the world. Filipino Christians do not feel this because they are the majority. But unknown to many, there are areas in the Philippines where practicing the Christian faith is not easy.

ACN cites a study by Christian advocacy group Open Doors revealing that the global persecution of Christians has risen in the past four years. ACN also cites the findings of the Center for New Religions that over 90,000 Christians were murdered in 2016 and that half a billion Christians are unable to freely express their faith. The details are heartbreaking. These findings, ACN says, affirm Pope Francis’ statement that there are more Christians suffering today than there were in the early years of Christianity. Percentage-wise, that is.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has endorsed the Red Wednesday Campaign. To light up in red on Nov. 22 are 41 cathedrals (including the Manila and Davao cathedrals), 21 basilicas and national shrines (Quiapo, Baclaran and Edsa, among them) and three Catholic universities in the Philippines. Feel free to join. Christians are enjoined to make a statement by wearing red on that day.

ACN-Philippines’ call: “Let Red Wednesday be the start for Filipinos to lend their voice to the global call to uphold religious freedom and advocate for interfaith harmony. As one global Christian family, may our expression of solidarity be a witness to the power of love over hate and be a source of strength and comfort for Christians all over the world by sending a message that they are not alone and we are one with them in fighting for a better world where acceptance, love and respect for each other is the ultimate expression of faith in God.”

Cynics may say that Christians, at some point many centuries ago, were also persecutors. Well, we are now in the age of ecumenism, when religious freedom, not only in the name of grim tolerance but also out of genuine respect and appreciation for the diversity of faiths, should be — to borrow a millennial catchphrase — the “new normal.” Sadly, this is not so.

The Red Wednesday Campaign is only one of ACN’s projects. ACN-Philippines’ office is in the CBCP compound in Intramuros, Manila. Those who wish to help endangered Christians in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and other troubled spots may do so through ACN. For info, visit https://acnuk.org/about/ or https://www.facebook.com/acnphilippines.org/.

Controversial theologian Hans Kung said it succinctly many years ago: “There can be no peace between nations if there is no peace between religions.” #

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Endangered wildlife,endangered humans

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

Five months of being barraged by scenes of war, death and destruction in Marawi City initiated by terrorists, a year and a half of groans and lamentations caused by thousands of drug-related killings, a scenario of a nuclear Armageddon from an Asian neighbor — and we cannot help wondering if we have perhaps become a nation of terrorized Filipinos, an endangered species. We have a front-seat view of — to borrow a movie title — a series of unfortunate events.

Preservation of human life has been uppermost in our minds. But even with all these, Manila hosted the United Nations conference of state parties to the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), a five-day gathering of some 500 delegates. It was the first time it was held in Asia, and we knew little about it while it was going on. CMS is short for the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. It is also known as the Bonn Convention because it was in Bonn, Germany, that the Convention was negotiated in 1979.

Only after the meeting ended last week did we know more about it, and that 34 endangered species, among them the whale shark — the biggest fish in the world that also thrives and makes a home in the Philippines — were selected for stronger conservation efforts.

What is a migratory species? The Convention defines it as “one that cyclically and predictably crosses one or more national jurisdictional boundaries.” (So our endangered Philippine eagle—one of the three largest in the world—is not a migratory species.) Covered by the CMS are “mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and one insect… including many whales and dolphins, bats, gorillas, antelopes, albatrosses, raptors, waterbirds, sharks, sturgeons, marine turtles and the Monarch Butterfly.”

Some might wonder about all the fuss over migratory wildlife species while human lives are being decimated, exterminated, annihilated by their own species. Well, there is a science to it (ecology) and a spirituality to it (creation spirituality). By now we know what the so-called “web of life” or ecosystem is all about, our interconnectedness as citizens of Planet Earth (magkakadugtong ang bituka). As singer-composer Joey Ayala keeps belting out, “Ang lahat ay magkaugnay, magkaugnay ang lahat.”

I never get tired of correcting those who demonize certain animals and make them represent the worst of human behaviors. Vultures are good: They clean out rotting carcasses that could spawn harmful diseases. Important, too, are the nonhuggable crocodiles, snakes and bees. When bees begin to disappear, this planet is in trouble.

So working to preserve endangered wildlife vis-à-vis preserving human life is a nonissue. The Manila conference theme was “Their Future is Our Future: Sustainable Development for Wildlife and People.” The meeting in Manila was the largest in the 38-year history of the Convention. Going over the list of newbies on the CMS protective list is a treat for the imagination, with names such as Steppe Eagle, Asian Vulture, Sub-Saharan Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Christmas Frigatebird, Black Noddy, Yellow Bunting, Lesser and Great Grey Shrike.

The Giraffe, Leopard and Lion are on the protective list, so is “humans’ closest relative,” the Chimpanzee, the near-extinct Gobi Bear of China and Mongolia, the Caspian Seal, and so on.

“In total, 12 mammals were afforded greater protection under CMS, 16 birds and 6 species of fish. Listing on Appendix I requires governments of Parties to protect the species while Appendix II calls for international cooperation to ensure that the conservation status of a species is favorable.”

Yes, all these while humans — because of war, terrorism ethnic cleansing and political and ideological strife — are being driven out of their habitats, their lives threatened. But why not?

As Chief Seattle said: “Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every deer and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family.”