Friday, September 30, 2022



Sierra Madre, mother mountain

 / 05:16 AM September 30, 2022

The Spaniards called her Mother mountain, this vast range stretching down the northeastern flank of the island of Luzon like the heaving backs of massive whales. Through the years, the trees and slopes of the Sierra Madre, acting like giant windbreaks, broke the backs of tropical cyclones swirling in from the West Pacific. She was also a weather maker. Her peaks and lonely upland valleys, blanketed with great sweeps of rainforest, were magnets for moisture, constantly building towering stacks of cumulus clouds, and rain. Bringing precious water to the rivers and rice fields of the thirsty lowlands…”


That is from the ode-like introduction of the book “The Last Great Forest: Luzon’s Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park” (Bookmark, 2000) by Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. (The author headed World Wildlife Fund-Philippines for many years.) It is a book like no other because of the way the author presented it—with illustrations, photos, and highlighted texts that make the book look like a field guide that makes readers want to head for that “last great forest” and experience for themselves what a living mother it is. My signed copy has Lory’s handwritten words: “Forests=Water=Rice=Development. The Formula!”

Why the Sierra Madre? Because after Supertyphoon “Karding” hit Luzon last Sunday, the Inquirer had a page one story with the headline “Netizens hail Sierra Madre for ‘taming’ typhoon” (9/27/2022) by Frances Mangosing and Jeannette I. Andrade. A mountain as story maker, not just a where in the what-where-when-why-how-how much, but a how. How did she do it? Also a what. What did many people think she did?

The lead paragraph: “Sierra Madre … became a trending topic on Twitter during the onslaught of Supertyphoon ‘Karding’ (international name: Noru) as netizens called attention to how it protected Metro Manila and several provinces from calamities.”

Netizens, the story said, reminded their followers of its important role as an effective barrier against storms coming from the Pacific Ocean. As of Monday morning, the topic had 78,000 tweets. What a welcome change from all the toxic, hateful posts on social media directed at persons who do good, while those who promote and defend evil are extolled.

An online petition, “Save Sierra Madre,” emphasizes that the mountain range is truly the longest mountain range in the Philippines. “It covers 10 provinces and stands proudly at 6,069 feet. It contains the largest remaining tract of old-growth tropical rainforest … which is about 1.4 million hectares of forest, representing 40 percent of the country’s forest cover…

“(It is) home to hundreds of wildlife species, many of which are unique to the Philippines, including the Philippine eagle and the golden crowned flying fox.”

Facebook friends Monette and Darwin Flores posted that they have checked with their Dumagat friends, who live in the higher areas of the Sierra Madre, and learned that the indigenous community there has lost all their rice that was supposed to be harvested in two weeks. “Each family consumes 15 to 18 sacks per year for their high-energy requirement. They walk up and down high mountains and work fields in steep inclines. We will have conversations with the Dumagats on how they wish to be assisted and what they, too, wish to share…” You may contact Monette or Darwin at 0920-923-2327.

Typhoon Karding versus the Sierra Madre became like an allegorical tale about might versus might. I found a folktale about the Sierra Madre in Tatler magazine (“Magical Paradise,” March 14, 2016) where other tales about Philippine must-visit places were featured. Let me tell it briefly in my own words.

Long ago, in the coastline of what is now Luzon, there lived a dedicated mother named Sierra and her two sons, Iloco and Tagalo. Bugsong Hangin, the king of the mighty easterly winds, often visited and brought destruction to the place. The king had always been jealous of Sierra’s husband, Lusong, a warrior who lost his life during one of the king’s destructive visits.


To put an end to Bugsong Hangin’s wrath, Sierra lied down on the coastline, her arms shielding her two sons, while howling winds and torrents of rain buffeted them. Sierra lost her life, but her sons survived. The story of Sierra’s sacrifice lives on, her spirit felt by those who honor her and live in her protective embrace.

Prayers and praise for the five Bulacan rescuers who lost their lives during the typhoon. May your families draw strength from your courage.


Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/157445/sierra-madre-mother-mountain#ixzz7s2shhZ7g
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Friday, September 23, 2022



Remembering (2): Hearken to the 11,103+

 / 05:05 AM September 23, 2022

These days, I ponder the freedom we had lost 50 years ago and the struggle to win it back. I express my profound gratitude to those who fought and perished in the night. Eternal rest be yours in the valley of the brave.


Last Wednesday, Sept. 21, was the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law during the Marcos dictatorship that lasted from 1972 to 1986. In activities nationwide, many wore black to signify mourning and the resounding resolve in four words: Never again, never forget.

11,103 is the number of victims-survivors of the martial law regime (1972-1986) of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos that have been recognized by the Philippine government to receive compensation for their sufferings and losses. But there were more. The monetary compensation came from the $2 billion that the Swiss government sourced from the secret Marcos stash in Swiss banks and returned on condition that the amount would be used to compensate the victims-survivors.

Republic Act No. 10368 passed by Congress and signed by President Benigno Aquino III made this possible. A memorial archives-museum is provided in the law, and barring blocks from the present government, the long-awaited structure should be up soon if not sooner.

Note that the claims granted the 11,103 are different from what a Hawaii court granted the more than 6,000 victims-survivors who filed a class suit against the Marcos estate in the 1990s. The court granted $1.2 billion in compensation but, in this case, the claimants and their lawyers will have to search for the hidden wealth themselves while the Philippine government is also on the hunt. Finders keepers, you know. In the Hawaii case, the victims-survivors’ compensation has trickled in only two tranches until more hidden wealth is discovered.

These two different and separate landmark rulings to compensate victims-survivors—RA 10368 and the Hawaii court decision—prove and confirm that there were indeed abuses committed and there were victims during the martial law years.

Two days ago, on Sept. 21, the 50th anniversary of the imposition of martial law that marked the beginning of the dark years that many Filipinos endured, the documentary “11,103” was premiered at the UP Film Center and the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. I was familiar with four of the seven cases featured in the documentary. More on this another time. (What do you know, I had a two-second appearance in the documentary.)

Here is the statement from martial law victims-survivors. In places where the date was solemnly and tearfully remembered, many wore black to signify mourning.

“We, the survivors and victims of the Marcos dictatorship, on the 50th year of the 1972 declaration of martial law and in the face of attempts by Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s forces to distort Philippine history, hereby attest:

“That we bear personal witness to the abuses and atrocities committed by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. against the Filipino people, including the brutal suppression of dissent, the epic plunder of the nation’s resources, and the perpetuation of a culture of authoritarianism;


“That we reject and denounce any attempt to represent that darkest of periods in our modern history as any kind of golden age.

“We, therefore, demand:

“That the incumbent President acknowledge the torture, illegal imprisonment, enforced disappearance, and other human rights violations that took place between 1972 and 1986;

“That the long delayed, non-monetary reparations due martial law victims be given at the soonest possible time;

“That an immediate stop be put to the Red-tagging, so clearly reminiscent of martial law years, of political and social thinkers and activists, and;

“That the Marcos heirs continue to be accountable for the Marcos family debts to the Filipino people, whose present and succeeding generations they have impoverished, not alone by the remaining P126 billion in ill-gotten wealth they have not returned and the P203 billion in estate taxes they have not paid.

“National unity can be based only on truth, justice, and the free exercise of civil liberties and human rights.

“Thus, we swear once more to dedicate the remainder of our lives to bearing the torch of freedom under the threat of renewed repression, to cast the light of truth on our past and present, and to ensure that justice comes to those who struggled and bore witness before us.

“We, the survivors of martial law, will not have a single victim of the dictator die in vain.”

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/157234/remembering-2-hearken-to-the-11103#ixzz7s2t7DBCD
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Friday, September 16, 2022



Remembering (1): Las Navas massacre

 / 05:05 AM September 16, 2022

Marela looked around and saw an infant who had been grabbed by an SF man and then flung to the ground. She tried to nurse the crying baby, whose elder sister Elsa came and told Marela to put the baby down for it was already dying.” —from “The Las Navas Incident: A Village Weeps for Its Dead as the Government Prepares for Its Defense” by Roberto Z. Coloma (WHO Magazine, Dec. 5, 1982)

Many events are going on for the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21. There is no forgetting for many victims and survivors of that dark era. One of the events was the launching of the book that I edited and cowrote, “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship” (University of the Philippines Press, 2019), in Toronto, Canada three days ago. It was organized by Filipino-Canadian advocacy groups. The book received the 39th National Book Award, Journalism category, from the National Book Development Board and the Manila Critics Circle this year. UP Press is now preparing a second edition.


The Las Navas massacre is among the stories in the book. I remember the blood-curdling accounts that came in at that time. Here again, if you can take it, are excerpts from Coloma’s story that happened 40 years ago almost to the day:

“There was a cool drizzle in the early morning hours of September 15, when Marela and other sleeping inhabitants of Barrio Sag-od, Las Navas, Northern Samar were jolted awake by automatic rifle fire. The peasants heard men ordering them to get down from their huts and assemble in front of the barrio captain’s house for a meeting. Two lines were formed, one for the men and the other for the women and children.

“The barrio folk recognized the eighteen armed intruders as members of the Special Forces (SF) of the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force, a paramilitary group of the armed forces. Their leader, who called himself Commander Brown, was allegedly the infamous Col. Charlie Lademora of the so-called Lost Command, which has been blamed for the grenade massacre at the San Pedro Cathedral in Davao last April 19, Easter Sunday…

“Some seventy SF men were reportedly brought to Samar in July 1980 by a timber corporation to enforce order in an area marked by the strong presence of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“Two of the SF men led the women and children toward the Malapanit stream outside the barrio. After fording the river, the women and children were made to sit for a while before being ordered to march again. A short distance out of Sag-od, they heard a burst of gunfire from the direction of the barrio.

“Reynalda Durian, 25, thinking that they were being shot at, tried to run away with her one-year-old son but fell on a mud puddle. One of the armed caught up with her and threatened to shoot her if she tried to escape a second time.

“The march continued even as the gunfire went on and off for some twenty minutes. When the firing stopped, Reynalda recalled later, one of the SF men winked at his partner and said, ‘Tapos na ang lahat’ (It’s all over.) Both of them tied red kerchiefs around their heads. Soon, the other SF men joined the marchers and went in front of the group. When the women and children were slowed down by a stream, Reynalda and two other mothers quietly slipped out of the formation with their children and ran until they reached an upland farm owned by the barrio captain.

“The remaining women and children were told to stop and sit on the ground in a forested area about a kilometer from Sag-od. They were divided into two lines facing each other and questioned about the whereabouts of a certain Kumander Racel, a supposed NPA guerilla. After the women denied having any knowledge of him, they were ordered separated from their children, some of whom had to be dragged away. Marela and a few other children clung firmly to their mothers.

“Then the shooting began.


“Marela’s mother, Aurora, five months pregnant and carrying her four-year-old son, Jumar, was one of the first casualties. (Eight-year-old) Marela was pinned down by her mother’s body and lay still, pretending she was dead until she was sure the soldiers were gone. When she got up, she saw blood oozing down her neck—and her mother’s brains splattered on her hair. She realized she had been grazed by a bullet on the top of her head. Marela also discovered that her brother Jumar’s body had almost been halved by Armalite bullets that ripped a hole across his belly….”

That is only the first part of the article. It is a story that cries out to the heavens for justice. A total of 45 men, women, and children died in the Las Navas/Sag-od massacre.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/157044/remembering-1-las-navas-massacre#ixzz7s2tlEWYM
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Friday, September 9, 2022



Reinventing teaching of reading and writing

 / 05:06 AM September 09, 2022

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions.” (Anonymous)


National Teachers’ Month began on Monday, Sept. 5, and ends on Oct. 5, which is National Teachers’ Day and World Teachers’ Day. Those directly connected to schools—teachers, students, parents, school administrators—are figuring out how this new school year will unfold, given the various ways of learning, teaching, and coping with new challenges that confront each one of them. COVID-19 is still very much around despite the vaccinations. The so-called “new normal” can still yield to “newer normals,” depending on the situation ahead.

Some days ago, I was with friends who had spent most of their lives teaching students and teaching teachers how to teach effectively. Though they have all retired from the academe, they—with their years of teaching experience and Ph.D.s in tow—continue to teach and mentor teachers when called upon. For more than a decade, they were the indefatigables of the Mentoring the Mentors Program (MMP), a brainchild of Inquirer founding chair Eugenia Apostol through her Education Revolution, and Chinit Rufino of the Marie Eugenie Institute of Assumption College. The two women had merged their respective visions to form MMP and snared in veterans from the teaching field.

I was often invited to MMP’s yearend gatherings as if I were part of the program. I think it was because I was present at its conception and I fired the first salvo in media when MMP was off and running. I wrote about MMP’s feats. Alas, after more than 15 years of mentoring teachers, MMP ceased operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But note that on their own, MMP’s tried and tested mentors are still at it when the need arises.

The highlight of our lunch meeting was Leticia Martin’s presentation of her three “Learn to Write” and “Learn to Read 1 and 2” ring-bound guide books (illustrated by Germinia Vecino) for the primary grades. These were initially printed by a foundation for the use of their adopted schools. Martin owns the copyright, but these can be available to interested publishers. Martin disclosed that one interested party wanted to buy the copyright. “No!” I interjected, “your opus might lie there and die there.”

Martin has done some pilot testing of her work, one with school teachers in Southern Luzon where MMP had often been invited by a corporation (with CSR or corporate social responsibility in its DNA) that helps schools in surrounding communities. I had heard stories about how MMP mentors had been treated generously and how teachers responded so well in that part of the woods.

Martin showed the result of her recent mentoring foray in that area—a well-collated output of teaching materials done by the seminar attendees themselves, with colored illustrations, graphics and all, downloaded from the internet. Whoa! Awesome is the word for what the teachers could do! The teachers only had to have their laptops. Internet, paper, and printers were provided for their use at the seminar. Talk of CSR at work, indeed.

“See how the teachers can produce their own teaching materials!” Martin exclaimed. The teachers had Martin’s “Writing and Reading Readiness Program Handbook” for their use and to tap into their creative juices.

The downside to all these, the mentors bewailed, is that public school teachers are so overloaded with work, they have so many papers to submit to their superiors, so many extra tasks awaiting them, not to mention the poor teaching environments that they find themselves in.

It is always, if not often, the schoolchildren that are placed at the center stage of education programs and research. Their learning skills are tested, computed, and judged. Statistics establish their level of proficiency in reading, writing, and comprehension. What about their teachers? How to increase their level of competency and their zeal? How do we reward them for their backbreaking work?


It was during our lunch meeting that I learned from these grizzled teaching veterans that teaching reading and writing to first graders do not necessarily begin with the first letters of the alphabet A, B, and C, but with letters M, S, A, E, I, and O. It is called the Marungko approach that originated in the University of the Philippines.

At our meetings’ end, we all agreed that Martin’s groundbreaking effort should be named, if it has to be named: “Alternative Approaches for Teaching Reading and Writing in the Early Grades.” (If interested in the books and seminar, call 0905-2605391 or 02-799-6681.)

Hail, teachers! I think teaching is the oldest profession.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/156819/reinventing-teaching-of-reading-and-writing#ixzz7s2u7mXHs
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Friday, September 2, 2022



Salt in our tears and other thoughts

 / 05:11 AM September 02, 2022

Pan de sal, the Filipino breakfast and merienda staple—with palaman or without—was the first to pop up in my mind. (Sal is Spanish for salt.) Next was the biblical saying on becoming “the salt of the earth” and what that entailed. Then the saying “back to the salt mines.”


Troubled by recent reports that our archipelagic home floating between azure sky and azure sea, the so-called Pearl of the Orient, could soon be short of salt (sodium chloride or NaCl), I posted on a chat group that I was writing this column titled the above—salt in our tears. I was just heaving a sigh of disbelief.

A friend of gentle spirit sent a swift reply aimed at the solar plexus: “How do we extract salt from our tears? If we can do that, perhaps there will be sufficient salt because of the amount of tears that have flowed from the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the Red-tagged, and from those who’ve had untimely deaths among them. We have so much sea water around us and we’re running out of salt? Totoo ’yan, yung iba nga naubos na ang luha (It is true that some have no more tears.)”

Indeed, it is the irony of ironies. Some years back, it was garlic, then rice and galunggong fish, and recently, white onions, then sugar, and now salt that will be hard to come by if not more expensive. Often, the knee-jerk reaction is to import. (Haven’t we learned from imported cheap rice and the tariffication move that would drive farmers to penury?)

But sadly, the Philippines has been importing staples for our tables, rice specifically, which had been this country’s main produce in centuries past. Decades ago, so many Thais were studying here to become top-notch agriculturists in their home country. Now, Thailand is one of our sources of imported rice, while Vietnam, whose countryside had been practically rendered infertile with napalm bombs and Agent Orange by US forces, has risen from the ashes of war to become a rice-exporting country.

Our agricultural country now imports food that we ourselves could grow or produce. Why? While salt is not food per se, it is a food additive and preservative, an ingredient for many purposes, among them culinary, industrial, agricultural, even medical and pharmaceutical. It is even used for cloud seeding to make rain.

On the culinary side, less salt could mean healthier eating for the hypertensive, which is the same in the case of sugar for the diabetics. But that is another story.

So while the Senate was investigating whether or not the importation order for sugar was official and legit, and whether or not there is a real sugar shortage, salt suddenly dashed from behind to call attention.

If ours is indeed a valley of tears, as my friend imagines our country to be, then we should figuratively be swimming in salt. Tears are salty because salt, in some form, is present in our tears. Any ophthalmologist will tell you that. That is as far as the metaphor goes. Not to forget that we are physically and literally right smack in the Pacific Ocean, where our tears from the valley blend with the wide blue expanse from which we can extract mountains of salt to flavor our lives without importing.

There are fancily named imported salt in select groceries. “Artisanal,” they are called—pink Himalayan, kosher, etc. While ours are simply labeled “Fidel-ized,” meaning iodized. Fidel stands for “fighting iodine deficiency law.” I am told that this was a setback for some small salt producers who did not have the iodizing know-how and gave up their backyard livelihood for something else.


When I visited Pangasinan months ago, I went to the market (as I am wont to do when I go places) to buy takal salt, un-iodized. So did my friends. Most backyard salt making in Pangasinan are done by boiling sea water, which has natural iodine in it.

By the way, the famous Salt Spring of Nueva Viscaya of Geography class is no more, the result of geological changes. I was a child when I saw for the first time a rock of mineral salt called tultul which, I was told, flavored the rice when food was scarce during the Japanese occupation. I remember seeing from the car window the wide expanse of white gleaming in the sun like snow, the small human figures with wooden rakes slowly disappearing from view. Those were the salt beds and salt makers of yesteryears.


Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/156607/salt-in-our-tears-and-other-thoughts#ixzz7s2uZuA3u
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