Friday, December 30, 2022



‘Chasing Windmills’

 / 05:06 AM December 30, 2022

Eyes are on the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands, where Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) founder Jose Ma. Sison died on Dec. 16 after his almost four decades in the land of windmills. Utrecht is where a group of Filipinos is on self-exile, working for decades to promote the fulfillment of the CPP’s ideological and political agenda in the Philippines. They belong to the so-called RAs (reaffirmist wing) of the CPP and its National Democratic Front of the Philippines-New People’s Army allied with Sison that remain after the RJs (the rejectionists) broke away. The latter have since created their own paths individually or as political groups in mainstream Philippine society.

What now? is the question in the minds of both the pro-Sison and not-so-pro-Sison who had once worked together to fight the Marcos dictatorship. That was long before so-called people’s revolt emerged from left field, so to speak, to steal the thunder and ousted the dictator and his helmsmen/women who had plundered this country and brought it to its knees.

Those are the big stories. But forming the warps and woofs of the antidictatorship movement were lives under the radar, some lived outside the home country and in the service of the ideology they believed in and fought for.

Such was the life of Maya Butalid, a political activist who was sent to and worked as a CPP functionary in the Netherlands from 1983 until 1993—a good 10 years—after which the CPP split into the so-called RAs and RJs, and the leadership descended into a bloody purge that saw comrades killing fellow comrades. When the smoke had cleared, persons essential to the hierarchy abroad, like Butalid, had to make decisions for themselves, their families, and their future.

The book “Chasing Windmills” (Olympia Publishers, London, 2022) tells Butalid’s story of leaving the home country in service of a political ideology, and staying for good in a foreign land that she and her family embraced as their own. That is, despite her break from those who brought her to the land of windmills, symbols of quixotic pursuits. But that is going ahead of the story.

“My windmills,” writes Butalid, “[were] the challenges that I successfully faced during the various phases of my life.” She describes her written work as “conversations with my soul.”

The book’s chapters do not necessarily follow a timeline, but one can see a first half and a second half—life as a CPP functionary abroad while doing so-called solidarity work, and life after—with flashbacks set in the homeland.

Born in 1957, in Cebu City, Butalid studied at the University of the Philippines, where she developed into a political activist. Butalid recounts her search for God while in the university (a whole chapter), and how it led her to the oppressed sectors of society. To make a long story very short, Butalid found answers in political activism. One thing led to another, and before long, she was holding important positions (as political officer, among them) in the underground movement.

“Chasing Windmills” is a collection of no-frills stories about Butalid’s journey mainly in the Netherlands, raising a family abroad, working with the CPP hierarchy in exile, and breaking away, integrating, and immersing herself in Dutch society as an immigrant, pursuing higher studies (a master’s degree from the University of Tilburg), building a career, serving as a civil servant. She even went through a bout with cancer.

I was looking for juicy bits about the CPP characters in Utrecht, her bosses, the cabal that gave directives to the underground movement in the Philippines, but they were few and far between. Those in the know might be able to tell whereof Butalid speaks, the whys, the wherefores. These could have been instructive. There was much that was left unsaid. “Chasing Windmills” is not a tell-all.

The instructive parts, especially for immigrants in Europe, are Butalid’s observations, reflections, and the lessons she learned that could benefit those caught in a cultural maelstrom, while pursuing a meaningful life for one’s growing family, details about day-to-day life, decision-making, seeking new avenues to be of service, etc.

From 2003 to 2010, Butalid served as Tilburg city councilor. She now works with the Netherlands Council for Refugees and, since 2012, with Pasali, a development nongovernment organization in Mindanao. Butalid and husband Carlo have two daughters and four grandchildren.

As it was in the beginning of the book when Butalid wrote about her search for God in her youth, so does she end with the chapter “About God,” the constant one while she chased her windmills.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/159926/chasing-windmills#ixzz7s2ktw9HV
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Friday, December 23, 2022



Flashback: Ceasefire 1986

05:05 AM December 23, 2022

With the death on Dec. 16 in the Netherlands of Jose Maria Sison, 83, founding head of the Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front/New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA), speculations are rife on what’s ahead for the world’s longest running insurgency which is in the Philippines. No peace talks or ceasefire in the horizon.


Sison was still in prison when I made him tell his story in a two-part series in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine (“Joma tells all,” April 6 and 13, 1986). In December 1986, when the CPP-NDF-NPA and the Cory Aquino government were to hold the first peace talks ever, I wrote the magazine’s Sunday editorial (“Ceasefire: Media’s suckling child,” Dec. 7, 1986). Here are excerpts with some rewrites from 36 years ago:

Imagine yourself waiting on a wharf on a cold morning for a figure to emerge from the mist. Or bathing in a freezing river to wash off mud just before a press conference in the mountain fastness. Or backriding on the wheels of a member of the deadly Sparrow Unit. Or waiting by a doughnut stand where, after half a doughnut, somebody comes to haul you off to an “undisclosed place.” (Eyes down, you are told, so that even if torturers threaten to gouge your eyes, you will never be able to reveal which way you went.)

For journalists who covered the underground, it’s always been a waiting, a leap in the dark, or to borrow more mystical language, an entering into the “cloud of unknowing” from where you emerge later with a story with the whats, wheres, whos, and hows but without the wheres. And if your editor insisted on a place, you had to come up with “the suburbs of Manila” or the “forest primeval.”

Journalists who have been through this since the martial law era and, more recently, during the ceasefire negotiations will hopefully no longer play hide and seek with imagined or real stalkers in military uniforms for a period of 60 days starting Dec. 10 (Human Rights Day) when the ceasefire agreement between the government and communist rebels takes effect.

The ceasefire document signed on Nov. 27, 1986 lists surveillance as one of the “hostile acts” that the two signing parties may not indulge in during the ceasefire period. We, in the media, may sound presumptuous or paranoid in thinking that we are of any consequence, but surveillance was indeed one of the threats reporters feared. Try following a reporter. Where their roads end could be a story and more.

Putting possible stalkers off track was therefore one of those dizzying games reporters played when getting to underground sources. It was fun and exciting only because we psyched ourselves to believe it was so. But it could sometimes be perilous and torturous. For some, it was a death-defying act, especially when they came under heavy mortar fire. One of our photographer-friends recalls how he suddenly froze during one of those, and recovered only when a guerrilla shook his shoulders and said, “Pare, okay lang, walang mangyayari sa iyo!”

Climbing mountains to get “there” was exciting only after, when we regaled friends with jungle stories, close brushes, or how we covered our tracks to protect our news sources and, of course, ourselves. But some colleagues have died in an armed encounter as in the case of the late ace Vietnam war photographer Willy Vicoy and reporter Pete Mabazza. Some of us have been accused of “giving comfort to the enemy” or “writing propaganda” in favor of one side.

The night before the signing of the pact, journalists waiting for NDF negotiators to break the news about the agreement, drank and toasted the ceasefire’s imminent success, stopping only when they thought the heady brew might affect the next day’s headlines.

We will miss those days of living dangerously, and we hope 60 days will be forever. Surely, it is not presumptuous for us to say that somehow, media, despite its faults, played a part in the forging of the peace pact. We would like to think that even in a very small way, we played midwives to this suckling child called ceasefire.


It is the season of Advent. For us, the irreverent lot, here are some Advent lines from Isaiah, the prophet and writer who knows what ceasefire is all about.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb

And the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

And the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

And a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall feed,

Their young shall lie down together

And the lions shall eat straw like the ox

The suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp

And the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 

They do not hurt nor harm on all my holy mountain,

For the country is filled with the knowledge of Yahweh

As the waters swell the sea.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=159753#ixzz7s2mX7Sbf
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Friday, December 16, 2022



‘Christmask’ and other thoughts

 / 05:05 AM December 16, 2022

It has been all of three years. How time moved exceedingly slow during the three years of the COVID-19 pandemic that the world went through, that you and I endured and survived, but which millions did not. How the world stood still and was shuttered. Although not totally because there were the frenzied race to discover a vaccine, if not a cure, and those in the health care sector who were up on their feet day and night to attend to the sick, the dying, and the dead.

With the national electoral race providing surreal moments and a quickening pace, we cast caution to the wind, still with our protective masks on, to make our hopes within reach. Alas, for the many who braved the tsunami of lies, disinformation, trolls, and everything that money could make happen, it was not to be.

During this Advent season of looking back and prayerful waiting, I recalled all the longing that quivered with hope, dashed and flung to the ground. Our hopes in tatters? No. Venceremos.

With the year drawing to a close, I went over the pieces I wrote in this space and elsewhere in the last three years that were related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was surprised to count 53 in all. No, they were not medical treatises for scientific journals, but commentaries and observations on what was going on in our daily lives and in the government that was supposed to care for the governed. They were about the heroes who quietly but bravely went about doing their sworn duty to serve and go even beyond what was expected of them. They were also about the heels, the antiheroes, the scoundrels who made hay while we were on lockdown and in fear.

Christmas week 2020 and the first week of 2021 could have been a quiet time for me to do anything within the imposed health protocols. Then I was assigned to write the banner story on the 2020 Filipino of the Year (FOTY) chosen by the Inquirer editors—the Filipino health care workers. The call did not allow room for refusal. Arrrgh! There goes my quiet vacay, I thought, but who was I to refuse the privilege? (But no privilege of a byline for this kind of piece that reflects the newspaper’s official choice.)

And then, another phone call—a separate piece, a side bar, on the essential workers who kept us alive, fed, moving, and sane—from the security guards to the food delivery guys to the law enforcers. Another arrrgh, but they, too, deserved the honor.

For the FOTY, there was the research department that provided a pile of information. I had to read up, think, and even meditate on the profound meaning of the story I was to write, face the computer, and let it all spill out. Words, images, thoughts, ideas, and whatever else crowd the mind, but writing, in the end, is a very solitary exercise.

A foreign church-related online magazine asked me to write a long feature on the community pantry begun by Ana Patricia Non that caught fire and inspired countless Filipinos to do the same. Non would later be voted the Inquirer’s 2021 FOTY, along with Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz. Non and those she inspired could have secluded themselves in the safety of their abodes, but did not. They thought outside the box and worked out concrete ways to help others.

Now, still with our masks on, we plod through this “Christmask” season in hopes that the mask—the reminder that the deadly virus is still with us and still claims lives—would soon be a thing of the past. Remember how that required extra layer of protection, the face shield, got in the way of our vision, voices, head movements, and already labored breathing caused by the masks? Thank heavens they are now in the landfills.

What we still have in many nooks and crannies of our homes are face masks used and unused, in a variety of colors and designs, and even with messages crying out to be read and heeded.

Christmas 2022 is the third Christmas that we find ourselves still being required to wear face masks in certain places. We hope we can shuck them soon like so many bad memories caused by those who ruled over us and who could have done better. The fancy, nondisposable ones I will keep to remind me of the anni horribiles that we survived.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/159570/christmask-and-other-thoughts#ixzz7s2lj3rzV
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Friday, December 9, 2022



Object of ridicule, suspicion, derision

 / 05:06 AM December 09, 2022

Many Filipinos, when faced with something against them that seems insurmountable, go into the “if you can’t lick them, laugh at them” mode. And not just laugh, but ridicule their adversaries till the carabaos come home. They hurl satires, caricatures, jingles, and memes in the hope that they could bring the monster to its knees. (Remember the Pharmally anomaly jingle sung to the tune of Yoyoy Villame’s “Buchikik”?)

And so we’re back at creating eye- and ear-catching scenarios in hopes that our worst fears will not come to be. Bring it on!


I leave it to the legal and financial experts to eloquently question and argue against the Maharlika Wealth Fund bill that, if passed, would dig into the pension funds of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Social Security System (SSS), and invest them in foreign corporate bonds or wherever. Whosever’s brainchild it is—and there is a cabal of them—it was like a piece of (…) that hit the ceiling fan. The fallout was immediate, triggering reactions from GSIS and SSS contributors, pensioners, and the militant subspecies of suspicious doubters, bless them.

Government funds of whatever name have been equated with plunder and, thankfully, with prison time for the guilty. But the guilty are back in power in no time, grinning at you from ear to ear. The word “plunder” has an onomatopoeic ring to it because it rhymes with thunder. Alas, the plunderers must have such insatiable appetites that they never learn from the thunderous boos that booted them out of power. They come back. For more?

And that is what many are afraid of. The ghost of the multibillion coco levy fund coughed up by millions of coconut farmers during the Marcos dictatorship that haunts us to this day. Not a single centavo had gone back to individual farmers in some shape or form long after the culprits had scampered away and, later, while the legal debate was raging on whether it was a private or public fund. Many coconut farmers hobbled to their graves in a state of penury. Not even the spirit of tuba could ease their distress. And now, pray tell, what is the state of our coconut industry?

Oft quoted in social media is the succinct argument of former Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio on the Maharlika fund: “The SSS and GSIS funds are personal contributions of their respective members who own the funds. Even the employers’ contributions in effect form part of the compensation of the employees. Thus, the income of SSS and GSIS investible funds must benefit only their respective members. The income of the Maharlika Sovereign Wealth Fund is for the benefit of all Filipinos, including non-SSS and non-GSIS members. The law cannot give the income from SSS and GSIS funds to non-members who did not contribute to the funds. This is taking of private property for a public purpose without just compensation, which is unconstitutional.”

Others who went through the bill word for word saw red flags in it, saying in conclusion that “the bill is authored by at least two legislators connected to the plunderous dynasty that the Filipino people ousted in 1986. We don’t want the fox to guard the chicken coop.” There’s more.

The bill has no solid provision for the contributors to be represented. You don’t put up a fund for whatever purpose from funds that belong to individual contributors but who have no say in it. And like in the case of the coco levy fund, will there be a legal debate later on whether the Maharlika fund is public or private? One cannot help conjuring images of Maharlika as becoming a milking cow, as in Maharlicow. Whoever thought of using the ancient word for something questionable must have thought it was cool.

Think of the bureaucrats who will manage the funds, the perks, the allowances, etc., while the hard-working contributors brave traffic, typhoons, sickness, and old age. Think of the high risks that come with investments. And the profits, if at all, will not be channeled back to the source of the funds and their owners.

Exhale. We have our suspicions about so-called confidential funds and intelligence funds that are granted those who hold high positions, who think transparency could be a hindrance to their mandate. How and why, they do not explain. Their gain, our loss.

Today is the 37th anniversary of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I celebrate my almost 37 years (starting as a magazine feature writer) in this paper and its various platforms. More power to the word!

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/159402/object-of-ridicule-suspicion-derision#ixzz7s2nAkYjE
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Friday, December 2, 2022



End violence vs women, De Lima

 / 05:05 AM December 02, 2022

Launched in 2008 under the United Nations, the UNITE to End Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) initiative is “a multiyear effort to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world.” It was initiated to support the civil society-led 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign around the world.


UNITE exhorts governments, civil society, women’s groups, the private sector, media, and the UN system to join forces to address the global pandemic—yes, it is a pandemic—of violence against women and girls.

This year’s campaign runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10 (Human Rights Day). UNITE gives notice that “VAWG remains the most widespread and pervasive human rights violation worldwide affecting more than an estimated one in three women, a figure that has remained largely unchanged over the last decade.” It adds that the most recent global estimates show that, on average, more than five women or girls are killed every hour by someone in their own family.

Initiatives, no matter how small, have a way of creating sparks that become flames, like the #MeToo movement that called attention to long-kept women’s experiences of sexual abuse. There has been progress in this area, but there have also been roadblocks.

According to the special rapporteur on human rights defenders, “women defenders are facing increased repression, violence, and impunity, despite formal state commitments to fulfill their legal human rights obligations without discrimination.” Front Line Defenders reveal that “the killings of women human rights defenders is on the rise; women are routinely targeted with online violence to silence their public participation in social media.”

Hereabouts, women who support former senator Leila de Lima, who has been in detention for more than five years despite the recantation of witnesses against her, are calling for her immediate release so that she could be home for Christmas. Women are posting photographs and images of flowers (mostly by them) on social media with the hashtag #FreeLeilaDeLimaNow. I am doing my part with chosen photographs from my own camera. (It is also my way of exhibiting results of a hobby that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, posts approved by Birdwatch Philippines of which I am a member, albeit an amateur birder.)

Here is EveryWoman’s statement to End Violence Against Leila de Lima issued on Nov. 25, 2022:

“#EveryWoman joins the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women with Free Leila as the central theme. For what violence is greater than the state’s use of its entire coercive apparatus against a woman who dared speak truth to power in defense of human rights violated by the Duterte government’s horrific drug war?

“Detained the past five years and a half for trumped up drug trafficking charges, the prosecution has used false testimonies of witnesses extracted through coercion, threats, and intimidation. Four witnesses have since recanted, leaving no legal leg for the case to stand on. This is evidently a political case, the revenge of the powers whom former senator De Lima exposed for their criminal acts.

“We call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to be true to his human rights pronouncements and turn words into action! We appeal to Secretary Jesus Remulla to order the Department of Justice to review the case and immediately drop all the fake charges against Senator De Lima. We request the prosecutors to stop delaying the case with their repetitive, lengthy, circuitous cross-examination of defense witnesses.


“We count on the judges to exercise their independence and impartiality in promptly rendering their decision, and release Senator De Lima before Christmas. Every single day she is kept in detention compromises her safety and puts her life at risk.

“We applaud the brilliant legal defense team of Senator De Lima, which has consistently stood by her and presented incontrovertible, strong evidence of her innocence.

“We ask schools, churches, parishes, communities to launch the Innocence Campaign for Senator De Lima during the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women!

“We call on all freedom-loving Filipino women and men to rally behind Senator De Lima’s fight for us, for our human rights, for our democracy! #FreeLeiladeLimaNow #EveryWoman”

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/159228/end-violence-vs-women-de-lima#ixzz7s2nWzuN0
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