Thursday, April 25, 2019

The silence of the clams


Tridacna derasa 5/84 (33 yrs old) - Taken at the UP MSI Bolinao Marine Laboratory during their Open House last April 21. Photo by: Willie Lomibao / Inquirer Northern Luzon

From the movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” one learns the meaning of the title as the slaughter of the innocents. But lambs aren’t really all that silent; they bleat when frightened or when they sense danger.
Not so with clams. Unable to raise a howl, clams simply clam up. As when Chinese poachers steal them from Philippine waters, where Filipino marine scientists and other protectors of marine life had so painstakingly placed them to make them grow into giant sea creatures.

When news broke that Chinese poachers have harvested Filipino-reared giant clams (so like Chinese predators swooping down on Philippine-owned territories) and there were cries for the government to file a protest, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. so crassly shrugged off the clams issue as “fucking food” and that he wouldn’t want to be known as a defender of clams. He also didn’t know there were giant clams (known in Filipino as taklobo) being raised there.
I conjured images of sea gods and goddesses of mythology armed with their pitchforks rising angrily from the deep blue undersea. Aquaman among them.

Locsin has since changed his stance, but his “I am not going down in history as a clam defender” protestation still rankles.
 On Monday, a team of scientists and graduate students from the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) and experts from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources went on a research expedition in the West Philippine Sea in the area of the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

 The Kalayaan Group of Islands includes Pag-asa, the biggest island in the group, claimed by the Philippines as it does the rest in the group. I had been there when only soldiers and a lone weatherman inhabited and guarded the island and its surroundings. That was in 1991.
According to a report by Chito Gaston of GMA News TV, the team sailed on board government research vessels to study marine biodiversity in the area and collect genetic samples. And, of course, to study the adverse effects on the marine ecosystem of China’s questionable reclamation activities in the area.
On the “fucking food” aspect: Well, Filipino fishermen have already noticed negative impacts on their sea catch, not including the giant clams being nurtured as those are not for harvesting, selling and eating, but of fish that means food and livelihood for them.
I was able to visit the UP-MSI’s Marine Laboratory in Bolinao, Pangasinan, years ago when the Bolinao townsfolk were protesting the entry of a Taiwanese corporation that would excavate and exploit the town’s limestone deposits and build a cement factory. I was doing a series on the issue then. To make a long story short, the Taiwanese firm and their Filipino would-be coinvestors backed off, but only after the locals put up a really, really good fight. I was glad to be of help.
While there, I was able to join UP’s marine scientists when they sailed out to sea to visit and examine the growing giant clams they had placed on the seabed. I also got to see the nursery where the baby clams were being nurtured. Credits go to UP-MSI founder and former director Dr. Edgardo Gomez who launched the giant clam project.
Cape Bolinao is like any other besides its being a beach destination. I am no marine archaeologist, but I surmise the place must have been part of the sea eons ago because of the limestone and corals found even on high ground and, of course, the fossilized shells of giant clams that have been excavated from the earth. I saw lots of them lying around, and how I wished I could take one home.
Well, one day, someone knocked on my gate with two of those, one rather fossilized, the other one less so, but good enough to serve as a baptismal font. They were dug out from the ground, I was assured. They have beautified my garden.
The foreign secretary might want to read Inquirer Northern Luzon correspondent Gabriel Cardinoza’s feature story on the would-be giant clams’ journey from the UP-MSI nursery to the open sea (https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/playground-of-giant-clams). #



Thursday, April 18, 2019

Psalms for the West Philippine Sea


As we Filipinos observe and ponder the meaning of Holy Week and make our own distinct commemoration of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, I take liberty in drawing from the psalms in the Bible some lines and themes that resonate with our own cries, the Filipino fishermen’s particularly, as they navigate with trepidation the West Philippine Sea now being claimed by Goliath. I also take liberty in paraphrasing some lines to echo our own common lamentations—with apologies to Bible scholars.

In this photo taken on March 28, some of the Chinese fishing vessels loiter near the Philippine-occupied Kota Island in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Contributed photo
Psalm 104:25-35 “Here is the ocean, vast and wide, teeming with life of every kind, both large and small./See the ships sailing along, and Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea./They all depend on you to give them food as they need it./

"When you supply it, they gather it. You open your hand to feed them, and they are richly satisfied./ “But if you turn away from them, they panic./When you take away their breath, they die and turn again to dust…/…let the wicked disappear forever.”

Psalm 7 (paraphrased) O Lord, my God, I come to you for protection; rescue us and save us from the Chinese vessels that pursue us,/like sea monsters they will carry us off where no one can save us, and tear us to pieces./O Lord, my God, we have wronged no one or without cause done violence to those who seize what are ours, our harvest from the sea./Rise in your anger, O Lord! Stand up against the greed and power of our enemies, rouse yourself and help us!/Justice is what you demand,/so bring together all the peoples around you, and rule over them from above./


You are the judge of all people. Judge in our favor, O Lord; you know what we need… you know our thoughts and desires./Stop the wickedness of evildoers and reward those who are good./ God, you are our protector, save those who obey you./You are a righteous judge and always condemn the wicked./If they do not change their ways, God, sharpen your sword. Bend your bow and make it ready/ take up your deadly weapons and aim your burning arrows./
See how wicked people think up evil; they plan trouble and practice deception./
But in the traps they set for others, they themselves get caught./So they are punished by their own evil and are hurt by their own violence./I thank the Lord for his justice; I sing praises to the Lord, the Most High.
Psalm 27 (paraphrased) The Lord is our light and our salvation; we will fear no one. The Lord protects us from foreign sea vessels that drive us away from our fishing grounds. We will never be afraid./When evil people attack us, they will drown in deep waters./Even if a whole army surrounds us, we will not be afraid./In times of trouble, God will protect us and keep us safe in his temple,/and make us secure on a high rock in the sea./
Do not turn your servants away. You have been our help, do not abandon us, our God, our savior./Do not hide yourself from us! Teach us, Lord, what you want us to do, and lead us along a safe path in the sea, because we have many enemies who attack us with guns and threats./We will not despair, we will trust you, Lord, always.

Make us triumph over our oppressors. With shouts of joy we will offer sacrifices in your temple overlooking the vast ocean./We will sing, we will praise the Lord!
I conjure up a Via Dolorosa, Stations of the Cross dotting the howling West Philippine Sea, and on a craggy hill a lighthouse ablaze against the darkening sky.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Rural Missionaries of the Philippines denounces 'red-tagging'

Global Sisters Report/FEATURES/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is present in many places in the Philippines where communist rebels operate and where poverty is prevalent. The communist insurgency in the Philippines, considered to be the longest-running in Asia, has lasted for almost 50 years.
Rural Missionaries of the Philippines workers helped evacuate schoolchildren from lumad schools in Mindanao threatened with military attack. The military suspects that advocacy groups set up these schools as "breeding grounds" for rebels.
Plans to bring back the lumad students and teachers to their villages are underway.

Student evacuees from Mindanao receive certificates at the March 29 Lumad Bakwit School Moving Up ceremonies at the University of the Philippines. (Courtesy of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines)
'Preposterous accusations'
Belardo called the military's accusation "a desperate move to vilify us."
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, she said, has been "effective in raising people's awareness on the plight and demands of our farmers, fisher folk, and indigenous peoples and in exposing the grave abuses of human rights in the country."
She described the complaint as "cowardice."
The filing of the report is alarming, Belardo said, "as it can be used as justification to go after rural missionaries, priests, sisters and lay workers, and so we urge our fellow Christians to condemn these preposterous accusations and echo the call to end the attack against rural poor and peace advocates."
In a Feb. 23 statement, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines gave proof of harassment. On Feb. 22, the Hustisya-Northern Mindanao assembly of human rights advocates that included members of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines was going on in a hotel in Cagayan de Oro City. "A suspected military agent approached the security guard of the hotel and handed him two brown envelopes." Each envelope contained flyers that listed organizations, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines among them, labeled "terrorist members of the New People's Army (NPA) and Communist Party of the Philippines." The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines was described as "communist sisters/nuns who finance the NPA."
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines said it is being targeted "because we are vocal against martial law in Mindanao that has resulted in widespread displacement of rural communities, extrajudicial killings, and other forms of harassments ... to sow fear and terror among us."
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines cited the Feb. 11 arrest of lay worker Gleceria Balangiao, 38, and harassment through threatening text messages of another lay worker of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines' Northern Mindanao Region.

Sr. Elenita Belardo, Religious of the Good Shepherd, national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (Ma. Ceres P. Doyo)
The southern island of Mindanao is composed of 25 provinces, some of which are part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Mindanao is home to many lumad communities.
Duterte placed the whole of Mindanao under martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in May 2017 at the beginning of the siege of Marawi City by local groups connected to the Islamic State that lasted five months.
Blocking EU funding
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines also recently found itself in the list of nongovernmental organizations and advocacy groups the government wants blocked from European Union funding because they were allegedly funneling money to the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
"We welcome the audit," she said.
Belardo said the Northern Mindanao Region branch is the only Rural Missionaries of the Philippines chapter that receives EU funding.

Sr. Emma Cupin of the Missionary Sisters of Mary joins an action in solidarity with Lumad evacuees in Misamis Oriental province, the Philippines. (Courtesy of RMP-NMR)
In an April 8 statement, Cupin said Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been trying to "peddle lies against our organization and other human rights advocates."
"Speaking at the Milipol Asia-Pacific 2019 Conference in Singapore in April, Parlade claims success in the European Union's statement to audit the funds they have donated to non-government organizations," Cupin's statement said.
The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, which represents 327 religious congregations, has "strongly condemn[ed] the continuous barrage of malicious allegations" against the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. The association said red-tagging, accusations that the group is communist-influenced, is "inimical to democracy" and "in its most extreme ... can lead to warrantless arrest, detention without charges, torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings."
Fifty years of missionary work speaks for the integrity of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Moreover, fifty years of continued presence in the most forgotten places in the Philippines, to accompany the marginalized and poorest farmers and indigenous peoples, is by itself a testimony of the fervent commitment of the religious and the Catholic Church to be living witnesses to the good news of just peace and equity.#