Thursday, September 26, 2019

Teaching about martial law and its horrors

Holocaust survivor, eminent writer and humanist Elie Wiesel said: “How do you teach events that defy knowledge, experiences that go beyond imagination? How do you tell children, big and small, that society could lose its mind and start murdering its own soul and its own future? How do you unveil horrors without offering at the same time some measure of hope? Hope in what? In whom? In progress, in science and literature and God?”
I found that quote in “Teaching About the Holocaust:  Rationale, Content, Methodology and Resources” by Samuel Totten and Stephen Feinberg.
Yes, how do you teach about a horrible era so that we learn lessons from it?
Last Friday, Sept. 20, playwright and scriptwriter Bonifacio Ilagan and I spoke at the forum organized by the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Institute and the College of Mass Communication. The topic: “Media, Human Rights and Martial Law.”

The forum was preceded by the screening for a bigger audience of “Liway,” directed and co-written by Kip Oebanda. (His original name Dakip, which means capture, was later changed to Kip.) Kip grew up inside Camp Delgado in Iloilo where his parents were political detainees. The young audience gave a rousing applause at the end.
For a forum, we had a rather big audience of mostly students who were very attentive. The topic was serious. I was astounded by the questions they asked and the comments they made. I thought, this crop of students, mostly in their teens and 20s, were really interested in a dark era long gone but never to be forgotten.

Boni spoke about his experiences as a student activist and later as an underground operative that fought the Marcos dictatorship. He tried to elude arrest, but was captured, tortured and detained. His younger sister, Rizalina, also an activist, is among those considered disappeared.
What else could I talk about if not my own experiences as a journalist at that time: “Better Dead than Read: The Years of Writing Dangerously.” I brought a PowerPoint presentation to be clicked in succession while I spoke. Its lead slide showed me—in flak jacket,  with a camera—being dragged by the Metrocom.
Boni and I consider ourselves storytellers, so the better to regale the young audience with personal accounts, our own and those we knew about firsthand.
I have done this countless times, and I always begin with: … “speaking about it is not easy because … always, a flood of memories surges, tsunami-like. I would feel the warmth of triumph and of freedom long won, but I also feel sadness over the loss of those I had met and known and written about.”
Answering the students’ questions, I suddenly felt like a teacher before an audience of eager students. Oh my, I thought, they’re listening and they’re remembering stories they have heard or read. One young man stood up to say he never forgot a column piece that I wrote that had only the names of the disappeared, names etched on the black granite Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. (Goosebumps!)

I am so delighted to know that UP’s Philippine Studies would now be teaching martial law (as brutally imposed by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos) as a subject. (What about the College of Law?) UP Masscom also teaches it, and my book, “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship” (UP Press, 2019), is on the list of references.
A history teacher, Cristina Cristobal of the Philippine Science High School, has found a way to make her students learn about martial rule during the Marcos regime and counter historical “distortion” (“Martial law ‘good’? Teacher finds way to counter ‘distortion,’” Inquirer.net, 9/21/19).
One place to start is the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, with its soaring monument of a defiant mother holding a fallen son, and its Wall of Remembrance. And its archives and museum, of course.
Soon to rise is the Freedom Memorial Museum at the UP grounds and facing University Avenue as mandated in Republic Act No. 10368. The winning architects have been announced. Soon, the groundbreaking.
The memorial will not only be a place for remembering and honoring those who fought for freedom. It will also be a teaching and learning place. #


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Freedom, she wrote

Book Review: Press Freedom under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship. Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, editor
Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press
2019. 405 pp
What first fascinated me about this anthology is that the women journalists and opinion-writers far outnumbered the men. This discrepancy immediately suggested to me two things. First, despite only having broken ground in the late 1960s, women’s activism had already made its mark. Martial may have imprisoned many of these women activists, but it could not stop their march. Many of the authors were activists or sympathizers of the radical movement. In 1972, many of them were jailed or went underground. Upon surfacing, however, they immediately went back to what they were extremely good at -- writing. Then, a set of younger colleagues, inspired by what their predecessors were doing, earned their spurs and joined their elders.
And the productivity is quite amazing: 44 articles in Press Freedom under Siege were written by women, only 29 by men.
Second, these were pieces written under conditions that were not encouraging for women. Publishers consigned them to the “margins” and many of the pieces here were, as Sheila Coronel put it, “not for the front pages of the newspapers, but their opinion pages, lifestyle sections, and Sunday magazines.” Repression also forced them to be creative, using “allegory, metaphor, narrative techniques, and indirect language in order to evade censorship.” But as Mao said, one “can turn a bad thing into a good thing.” These women used their “weakness” (being ignored by men), becoming de facto ethnographers, delving into local and provincial lives, and turning these encounters into understated critiques of the dictatorship.
As expected, they were “first not taken seriously” (Coronel), but once stories about the Kalingas and dictatorship’s development dams came out of their pens, the dictatorship took notice, and went after them. The anthology includes stories of women writers being threatened, imprisoned, interrogated, sued for libel. There are also tales of publishers and editors being forced to resign by their publishers (The well-respected editors Letty Magsanoc and Ceres Doyo had to seek the help of human rights lawyers when the regime turned up the volume).
Yet, all this did not deter them from their vocation. In the 1980s and all throughout the 1990s, these women wrote about the trauma Filipinos had experienced under the dictatorship, the frailties of the post-Marcos political system, Catholic communists, “red” nuns, and people’s doctors, militarism and provincial and national corruption. They inspired a new generation of journalists, including the all-women editorial staff of Rodrigo Duterte’s media bĂȘte noir, Rappler.
Today, when someone asks me about the best works on Philippine politics, my instant advise is for them to ignore the country’s academic writings. I then point them to books and blogs of Filipina journalists, which I describe as path-breaking and carry more analytical and empirical weight than what the professoriate produces.
This is not to say that the 29 men’s contributions are not as notable as their female colleagues’ input. Rene Villanueva’s three-part series on Macliing Dulag, the Kalinga leader whose resistance to the regime’s planned dam led to his assassination, and Roberto Coloma’s pieces on the massacre of a village in northern Samar by a paramilitary “Lost Command” are moving and sharp. 
But, for me, this is mainly a book about women journalists.

Ma. Ceres P. Doyo at the book launch at
Bantayog ng mga  Bayani  on March 13, 2019.
Their writings set them up for careers in the industry where they shape public discourse to this very day.  Yet, all is not peachy keen. Their works had limited circulation. The “mosquito press’” readership was mainly in cosmopolitan cities, thinning out the farther one got from the capital.
This may partly explain why democracy, as envisioned by Filipino democrats, never sank its teeth in the probinsyas the way it did in Metropolitan Manila or Cebu. In the rural regions, Filipinos also might have heard of the fall of the dictator, but they have remained beholden to or oppressed by the local political clans. Investigative media recognized this problem, and some of the best works of institutions like the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism were directed at exposing the avarice and abuse of local satraps. Their effectiveness also seems limited. Even today, Filipinos in many towns and even small cities have never heard of Magsanoc, Doyo, Mayuga, et. al.
In short, the masses have remained for grabs even after 1986. The authors of the series are well aware of this, going by editor Ceres Doyo’s apprehensive note in closing her introduction. Doyo et al. republished these essays because the current president’s despotism reminded them of Marcos. It is also perhaps a subliminal admission that their works have yet to reach many Filipinos. The onus is now on UP Press to make sure those in Tawi-Tawi and the Batanes Islands get their copies of this fine book. #
Patricio N. Abinales teaches Philippine political history at the School of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Hawai`i-Manoa.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

For BuCor, a Kiran Bedi

1994 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service Kiran Peshawaria Bedi, a woman officer from the Indian Police Service, was cited for “building confidence in India’s police through dynamic leadership and effective innovations in crime control, drug rehabilitation, and human prison reform.”
I was lucky enough to meet her briefly when the RM Awards Foundation asked me to be in the panel of reactors at Bedi’s public lecture. What a woman! She knew whereof she spoke, and she spoke with authority, clarity and confidence. Unknown to most Filipinos, she was already quite a known public figure in India. A celebrity, if you may.

In 1993, when Bedi became inspector general of prisons in Delhi, she took charge of Tihar, India’s largest prison complex. She had already been in the service for 22 years and had served in various capacities.
Bedi spent her early years in a Catholic school in Amritsar, did excellently in school, breezed through college and a master’s degree. In 1972, she entered the police academy and became the first woman to join the elite Indian Police Service. She rose rapidly and won national acclaim and a presidential award when, as the RM citation says, in 1978 she “singlehandedly (drove) off a band of club-and-sword-wielding demonstrators with her police baton.”

The athletic and pixie-faced Kiran is married to Brij Bedi, whom she met at a tennis match. They have a daughter.
When Bedi became deputy commissioner of Delhi’s West and North Districts, she posted cops in blue-and-white “beat boxes,” where citizens could consult them. She gave friendly livelihood loans to former bootleggers, set up women’s committees and organized communities. Crimes fell.

She set up detoxification clinics, something she later applied when she became deputy director of the Narcotics Control Bureau.
But it was when she took charge of India’s largest prison complex in Tihar that Bedi was truly in her element. The complex had been described as a “brutally overcrowded purgatory” where more than 8,000 prisoners were kept, many of them unconvicted.
Bedi introduced reforms and created a regimen of work, study, play and even meditation. Illiterate prisoners were taught how to read and write, while others went for higher learning. Skills training for livelihood was part of the regimen, preparing prisoners for life outside the walls.
Even before she became inspector general of prisons, one could already see a pattern and method in her innovations: “Break(ing) down adversarial relations between the police and the community, and each one seeks to replace the hard hand of punishment with the healing hand of rehabilitation.”
In her RM Awards response, Bedi said that “when I decided to join the elite Indian Police Service, I saw in it a great potential for ‘the power to do, the power to get things done and the power to correct.’ I do firmly believe that the police in any country can be the greatest protector of human rights and the rule of law—as it can well be the greatest violator of both.” She explained those powers.

India and the world took notice and hailed her work. Bouyed by the RM Award, Bedi set up India Vision Foundation, her contribution, she says, to India’s future. The foundation has programs on drug abuse prevention, women empowerment, sports promotion, help for the mentally challenged and, most of all, prison reform.
In 2003, Kiran was appointed United Nations civilian police adviser. She was the first woman to hold the position in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
Bedi also believes in “the power of the team.” “Leaders of the police or government, if they want results, need to form teams and allow them initiatives, delegation, support, noninterference and training, with total emphasis on professional integrity. (Emphasis mine.) While personal example is crucial, sharing of achievements will lead to more results. This will lead to not only ‘keeping security’ but creating security.”
There’s more about Bedi in the RM Awards website and in the foundation’s “Great Men and Women of Asia” series, edited by Lorna Kalaw Tirol. (I have some of my stories there, too.) The story on Bedi (“The Cop Who Made a Difference”) was written by Angelina G. Goloy. #


Thursday, September 12, 2019

'U.G.' redux

Just out is the second edition of Benjamin Pimentel’s “U.G. An Underground Tale: The Life and Struggle of Edgar Jopson” (Anvil Publishing). The previous edition had a different subtitle: “The Journey of Edgar Jopson and the First Quarter Storm Generation” (2006).
This new edition is obviously for millennials and younger, but also still for everybody, among them the “millenniors” of the generation of Edjop (as he was known) who fought the Marcos dictatorship, survived and recognize in Edjop’s story strands of their own.
Edjop was 34 when he succumbed to a hail of military bullets on Sept. 21, 1982, in Davao City. He was in the leftist underground (U.G.) movement.

What makes this thicker new edition different? It now has introductory pieces by Edjop’s grown-up daughters Joyette Jopson (“What my father, Edjop, taught me about heroism”) and Teresa Lorena Jopson (“How I met my father, Edgar Jopson”); plus, a letter to Joyette, “Gusto kong sabihin sa ’yo na idol ko ang tatay mo,” by Rey Agapay; and “Would Marcos have forced  me to go underground?,” by lawyer Oscar Franklin Tan.
It still has the afterwords by Edjop’s widow and mother of their three children, Gloria “Joy” A. Jopson-Kintanar, and the late Sen. Jovito Salonga.

In his new author’s note (“Edgar Jopson’s story still inspires”), Pimentel states the importance of the retelling of Edjop’s story, especially if read in a new light:
“Once again, the Philippines is in darkness, reeling from repression, abuse and fear. In 2017, the dictator Edjop sacrificed everything to defeat was proclaimed a hero. This disgraceful act was endorsed by a leader who has inspired a horrifying mass slaughter, who routinely bullies his opponents, and who has shown brazen disrespect for women, the poor, for anyone who dares to criticize and oppose the bloodbath he unleashed.” He is referring to current President Rodrigo Duterte.

“In 2018, the dictator’s daughter, Imee Marcos declared, ‘The millennials have moved on, and I think people at my age should also move on as well.’ Translation: forget the past, forget the plunder, the torture, the murder and the abuse.”
For political innocents past and present, U.G. is short for underground, or that political movement, armed or unarmed, that operated clandestinely at that time (and even now), and worked toward revolutionary change in society, and were/are therefore considered threats to the status quo. They were/are called subversives and hunted by the establishment. That is my loose definition of it.
“U.G.” tells the story of a young man from a relatively well-to-do family, educated at the Ateneo de Manila University, who gave up his life of privilege in order to pursue his dream of helping the poor and the powerless by working to change the oppressive structures in society.
The book is instructive for both political virgins and diehard ideologues as it traces Edjop’s transformation from being a student activist to a communist cadre and revolutionary. But this is not just one person’s story. As Jose “Pete” Lacaba notes in one of the afterwords, “This is not just the biography of one person; it is the history of a generation.”
Indeed, as one follows the personal journey of Edjop, one also reads about political developments, debates, skirmishes, decisions and movements around him and in the underground that make their impact above ground. As these are played out, characters take on real faces and personalities, and as Pimentel said, he was able to give real names.

Pimentel deftly tells the story and keeps it moving with incidents, dialogues and debates between persons. He also does not fail to tell humorous and touching anecdotes that say a lot about the characters, Edjop especially. I wish I could tell even just one here. Not enough space, folks.
It is Edjop’s killing and the manner it was carried out that is gripping, even cinematic.
I have not been informed of a launch date.
Author Pimentel is a graduate of the Ateneo, the University of the Philippines and the University of California at Berkeley. He has authored four books in all. He was a reporter for several US publications and writes a column for Inquirer.net. He lives in San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Mara Torres, and their sons, Paolo Lean and Anton Diego. #