Friday, February 3, 2023



From freezer to fire in Kuwait

 / 05:11 AM February 03, 2023

In 2018, the corpse of a Filipino overseas worker (OFW) who was a domestic helper in Kuwait was found in a freezer. Joanna Demafelis’ employers, a Syrian-Lebanese couple living in Kuwait (and possibly with a Kuwaiti mindset), left their rented domicile with the freezer still on, and in it the body of Demafelis frozen for a year before it was discovered.

Two weeks ago, the burned corpse of an OFW-domestic helper, Jullebee Ranara, was found in a Kuwait desert, thrown there for predators to devour, by her alleged killer, a teenage son of her employers.


The manner in which they were killed is one thing, but the ways their bodies were disposed of or hidden are so sickening they should belong to the encyclopedia of crimes of the vilest kind against OFWs for future generations to read.

These two crimes alone are stranger than the US crime series on cable TV and Netflix, where the cases almost always end up solved and the perpetrators brought to justice. Enough for you to believe that there is justice in this world.

OFWs in the Middle East have had it bad, and if their tales of woe would be compiled, it would be voluminous. I have written a good number myself, some so bloody and tragic (and heartwarming ones, too) they cry to heaven for vengeance, but more importantly, they raise the question: How have our compatriots come to this?

For decades, nay, almost half a century, many OFWs have been carrying the burden their host countries would rather not carry, housework foremost among them, because they have the money to pay those they look upon as slaves. These slaves might have had higher education than some members of their wealthy employers’ families. Their maids could have been school teachers/principals back in their homeland. So do these employers resent it or do they resent it?

And there are other factors besides. Namely that these employers might have had little or no values education enough to make them realize that outside of their cultural and religious circles are human beings who have the same rights as they have. Yet we worship the same God we call by different names.

And, oh, remember OFW in Kuwait Luzviminda Siapo (“No name for her pain,” my April 13, 2017 column)? Her son, Raymart, who had a club foot, was running for his life when he was shot dead, one of the thousands of casualties of President Duterte’s dirty war on drugs. Siapo, whose given name Luzviminda is the representation of the Philippine islands, had to kiss the feet of her Kuwaiti employer three times, so she would be allowed to go home and bury her son. Mater dolorosa personified.

Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David to Luzviminda: “My heart was crushed when I read the news. I could not swallow the bread I was eating, so I decided to tell you that we are here for you.”

So what is it about them? And what is it about us? It is high time to again rethink why we keep sending our people to the slaughter, to cultures where domestic helpers are looked upon as slaves. Why can’t we just strike them off—Kuwait, particularly—from the list of OFW destinations? Even if only for a while till their culture of cruelty stares them in the face and they become cultural pariahs and the laughingstock of the world. As in, they put maids in the freezer, don’t they? They burn and throw maids in the desert, don’t they?

I remember how I closely followed the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces with their flying scud missiles seen on TV. Brought to us by journalists in the war zone, mind you. I remember US Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s Operation Desert Storm, an extensive air campaign along with international forces, driving out Saddam Hussein’s forces. It was like a movie playing out to save Kuwaitis and their oil fields. But do ordinary Kuwaitis remember and pay back with compassion? I am speaking as a resentful Filipino citizen. I. Am. Not. Sorry.


And so dispatching more OFWs to Kuwait need not be stopped, the Department of Migrant Workers tells us. The silence of the lambs. Where is the fierceness?

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/160800/from-freezer-to-fire-in-kuwait#ixzz7sDKhwQT9
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Friday, January 27, 2023

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

Woman condemning a woman

Condemning a penitent or nonpenitent to hellfire is a no-no, with or without biblical admonitions from the sanctimonious and the pure of heart, but verily it is right and just to condemn the evil deed itself for which a penitent is asking for forgiveness.

More than relief (because what else is new after a series of recantations by witnesses?), it was disgust. It was my reaction upon learning of the acquittal for a murder case of self-styled whistleblower Sandra Cam and, more importantly, her admission that she had wrongly implicated former justice secretary and former senator Leila de Lima in drug and corruption cases. Cam’s admission and recantation, though too late in the series, was the breaking news of the day, not so much her acquittal, if you ask me. She had wronged someone.

How I wish I could say, another one bites the dust. With Cam’s acquittal came her penitential confession of having added to the weight of the case against De Lima, that is, adding manufactured tales to the bombshell that belongs to the “sex, lies, and videotapes” movie genre.

A couple of weeks from now, Feb. 24 to be exact, De Lima would have been six years in detention. Well, unless in the coming days some miracle happens in the legal conundrum that set her up to be behind bars for crimes she has belied in court. These were crimes she had allegedly committed as secretary of justice during the Aquino administration, trumped-up charges the succeeding president Duterte and his minions pinned on her to make her suffer.

As a senator during the Duterte reign, De Lima had exposed what she thought needed to be exposed, namely what was wrong with the so-called Duterte drug war and whatever else she had perceived to be a travesty of justice. Could Cam’s admission of having lied (or to have been forcibly made to lie, as she said she was) be the last nail to be removed from the door of De Lima’s prison cell? After all, Cam had also driven a nail herself.

De Lima has become a poster girl for those deprived of liberty for a considerable stretch of time, even while witnesses against her were recanting one by one. With the release on bail of Gigi Reyes, chief of staff of former senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, after nine years in detention for a plunder case, comes a sliver of hope for De Lima. No similarities whatsoever in their cases, except for their prolonged detention while their cases drag on. Justice delayed is justice denied. But that is another story.

The case of De Lima is one where so-called macho men ganged up on her, from the past president, to his underlings in the justice system, to the inmates of the national penitentiary, drug traffickers in their own right, who implicated De Lima for whatever promise they might have been offered. The last group of men are euphemized as PDLs or persons deprived of liberty, but who ain’t deprived at all. Again, that is another story.

Added to this bunch of men is one controversial woman (on and off the media limelight) named Sandra Cam, who also wanted to see De Lima in irons. She was forced to, is her story now. Whatever and whoever pushed her is the story we need to know. I have always thought that women should stand up for fellow women who are oppressed, unjustly accused, with added sexist and sexual ingredients to titillate the public and the fornicators in suits.

Publicly admitting guilt and repentance are not enough; it should not free the penitent from responsibilities to help restore justice. True, Cam said she has asked De Lima for forgiveness that the latter freely gave. Should it stop there? The penitent evildoer has to make some kind of atonement, which can take many forms. I leave it to Cam to be creative, but not to exclude standing with a megaphone on a busy sidewalk. Walking on one’s knees in Baclaran Church is forbidden. Seriously, Ms. Cam, sign a sworn statement before a lawyer, that way, your traitorous act of perfidy against a fellow woman—done under threat perhaps?—is on record. I would appreciate a copy.

I had a barrage of invectives held back inside me for the likes of Cam, who had stepped out of the line to join a cabal of men to unjustly persecute a fellow woman. Dare me and say that this is not a woman issue. It is, too, and shouldn’t we want to know from the penitent how this came to be? I am eager to know.

Friday, January 20, 2023


Onion suicides

 / 05:11 AM January 20, 2023

I have in my head a story scenario—dystopian, fictional—where poor Filipino onion farmers who are heavily in debt rise up in revolt because of the neglect and shabby treatment they get from government officials who choose to hobnob with the world’s wealthiest and wallow in food porn, instead of addressing problems of starvation on the ground. I have it all written out in my mind, except for the details on how it would end—perhaps a bloody denouement for the protagonists and the antagonists that would spark a national revolt worthy of world attention. Think Basi Revolt of 1807 or something like that, but with media coverage.

But before I could finish the story in my cinematic imagination, here comes this newspaper’s headline story where cases of suicide by distressed onion farmers are cited, because of their desperation over their debts, loss of joy and purpose in life, the dark scenario ahead, the burden that is too heavy to bear.

I assume that the farmers’ despair and hopelessness are unlike those of the differently situated suicidals who are also experiencing extreme emotional pain and hopelessness—results of many factors—that are nevertheless just as legit. In comparison, farmers who till the soil are a hardy breed physically and emotionally, or so we think.

Many of our farmers are still into so-called subsistence agriculture for their own survival, lucky if they have surplus to sell. But I think of them as so much better situated than those who had moved to the cities and live under bridges and beside garbage-filled creeks. Alas, farmers who stay and endeavor to produce cash crops later realize that the big world out there is one sinister, dog-eat-dog world where predators hold sway.

Whenever farmers raise an outcry (as in the case of the rice tariffication law that was detrimental to them), I think of French artist Jean-François Millet’s painting that inspired American poet Edwin Markham’s “The Man with the Hoe” that we had to memorize and recite in class. It is an ekphrasis or poem that describes a piece of art, a protest poem that deals with social injustice.

Straight from memory, here goes: “Down by the centuries he leans/ Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,/ The emptiness of ages in his face,/ And on his back the burden of the world./ Who made him dead to rapture and despair,/ A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,/ Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?”

Google the entire poem and the painting which is not, by any standard, Amorsolo-esque.

Last Tuesdays’ banner story (“Losses driving onion farmers to desperation,” by Melvin Gascon, Jordeene B. Lagare, and Marlon Ramos) said: “Merlita Gallardo of Bayambang, Pangasinan, the widow of an onion farmer who killed himself in January 2021, recounted to the Senate committee hearing on agriculture how their sustained losses beginning with the pandemic year worsened their anxieties.

“‘He went far away from the farm to kill himself. Because our debts were piling up, and he didn’t want to borrow [money] anymore.’” Her husband, Roger, was 49.

“Elvin Jerome Laceda, president of nongovernmental organization Young Farmers’ Challenge Club of the Philippines, said his group has learned about four other farmers in Bayambang who were also driven to suicide because of debt.”

That, while the President of this republic and himself as (his self-appointed) secretary of agriculture and his coterie of 70 or so (as reported) how-do-you-call-them are in snowy Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. While airline personnel who bring home a few kilos of onions as tacky pasalubong are threatened with smuggling charges, and the big-time onion smugglers are smug and happy.

From Leonardo Montemayor, chair of the Federation of Free Farmers: “If there had to be importation, it could have been done earlier. It should not coincide with the harvest period. It is painful for farmers who toiled in the face of typhoons, pests, high prices of fertilizers and pesticides, and then at harvest time, when they expect to recoup their expenses, imported onions would arrive.” (A translation from Tagalog.)

In some parts of the world, India among them, the farming sector has some of the highest number of suicides. Even the US farming sector has a noticeable high rate of suicide.

In this country, farming as a livelihood—not as a hobby or pastime—could drain the life out of those who till the land, an irony because it is the farming sector that nourishes us to life. How is it that the life-giving land has become a curse, a graveyard for their dreams?

Friday, January 13, 2023



 / 05:11 AM January 13, 2023

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=160279#ixzz7s2XxYcyw
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 In the end, it was a triumph for those wrongly accused of perjury, a triumph for the 10 human rights defenders whose only intention or fault, if you may, was to seek protection for themselves and their fellow human rights workers but who, as a result, were accused as liars, perjurers. They may have had disruptions in their everyday lives while the case was going on, they may have had sleepless nights and worry days, but after what they had gone through—going to trial and all—they became the poster people for those who suffer harassment from those who wield power. A double win, I must say.

Oh, but their main accuser and the prosecutors who lost the case could claim triumph, too—because they had successfully, if unwittingly (?), caused fear, worry, and anxiety among the accused, their families, and communities. The case was a warning—clear, dangerous, fearsome. Unprecedented even. A lesson, too.

For how is it that a group of people who seek succor from the Supreme Court by filing a petition for a writ of amparo and habeas data would be slapped with a perjury case by a high-ranking government official on account of a slight error in their petition? Unbeknownst to the petitioners, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), to which a petitioner belongs, was no longer registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). “Slight” to me, because the petitioners were mostly human rights workers, not corporate types with hired corporate lawyers who look after their papers.

And so they are liars, perjurers who must be haled to court, a nun among them, Sister Elenita Belardo of the Religious of the Good Shepherd, former chair of the RMP? So is Edita Burgos, widow of press freedom icon Jose Burgos who belongs to the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites? (Her son Jonas is a desaparecido who was allegedly abducted by military men.)

From the decision penned by Judge Aimee Marie B. Alcera of the Metropolitan Trial Court (Branch 139) of Quezon City:

“In sum, for failure of the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that all accused made a willful and deliberate assertion of a falsehood, all accused must perforce be acquitted.

“WHEREFORE, in light of the foregoing,” Sister Elenita Belardo, RGS, Elisa Tita Lubi, Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Edita Burgos, Jose Mari Callueng, Wilfredo Ruazol, Joan May Salvador, Gertrudes R. Libang “are ALL hereby ACQUITTED of the charge of perjury, all on the ground of REASONABLE DOUBT.

“SO ORDERED. 09 January 2023, Quezon City.”

What a relief for the 10 accused who, for more than three years since 2019, had to endure anxiety and worry, not to mention disruptions in their everyday lives, simply because of an erroneous entry in their 2019 petition for a writ of amparo and habeas data.

The RMP, founded some 50 years ago, is a mission partner of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. It has been tagged by the military as a communist-terrorist front. Red-tagged. The perjury case against the 10 accused was an effort of Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, National Security Adviser and vice chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict during the Duterte administration.

I have a copy of the decision of Judge Alcera and the trial memorandum “for accused Belardo,” which I found a bit entertaining, if not instructive. There it was argued that the SEC registration is not even material to the amparo petition. The prosecution also failed to discredit Belardo’s invocation of good faith. In her judicial affidavit, Belardo stated: “I am at peace because I did not lie.”

And when asked about the group’s petition for a writ of amparo and habeas data, Belardo answered: “The writ of amparo will protect us from respondents’ acts of Red-tagging and harassment that threaten our security and safety. Personally, it was my hope and prayer that with the filing of the petition, the respondents would relent from committing further acts of Red-tagging and harassing RMP and its members.”

That is where it all started. But even before the petition of amparo was filed with the Supreme Court on May 6, 2019, Esperon already had the goods on RMP. “One curious fact,” the memorandum called it. But that, folks, is called “intelligence.”

With all due respect to those in power who are into intelligence work and, uh, oodles of so-called “intelligence funds” that citizens of this country may not be privy to, use the funds intelligently.

Words of triumph from Burgos: “This acquittal is a downpour on parched land!”

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=160279#ixzz7s2XYr1CB
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Friday, January 6, 2023



Scrollback: ‘Ein Papst aus Deutschland’

 / 05:11 AM January 06, 2023

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger, German) died on Dec. 31, 2022 at the age of 95 and was laid to rest yesterday amid solemn rites at the Vatican City. As we all know, he resigned from the papacy in 2013 for health reasons and was succeeded by Pope Francis (Jorge Bergoglio, Argentinian).

Here are excerpts from my piece on his election as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. He succeeded the charismatic Pope St. John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła of Poland).

2005: I kept switching to Deutsche Welle (DW), the German channel on cable TV, right after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope last week. What was it like for the Germans, the predominantly Catholic Bavarians especially, to have one of them become Papst Benedikt XVI? The crawler on the TV screen said “Ein Papst aus Deutschland” (the Pope from Germany).

DW had first crack at the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, so to speak, in Ratzinger’s hometown in Bavaria. Now, cookies and bread are being named after him.

DW showed tabloids with screaming headlines saying “Papa Ratzi,” “German Shepherd,” “God’s Rottweiler,” and something about the Hitlerjugend, to which Ratzinger was conscripted in his youth.

Bavarians are supposed to be warmer in disposition compared with Germans from the north. Several of my mentors in college were German Benedictine nuns who hailed mostly from Bavaria. I can name all of them, with their family names.

Shock, joy, acceptance. These were some reactions I solicited in the aftermath of Ratzinger’s election.

“When I heard his name mentioned, my heart sank,” said American Maryknoll sister and theology professor Helen Graham the morning after the announcement. She’s had little sleep since the news broke the night before, she confided.

To console those who felt the same way, Graham reminded: “Ratzinger’s role in the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith differed from this new role as Pope which is to focus on unity.”

Ratzinger was the late Pope John Paul II’s enforcer of orthodoxy, the one who cracked the whip on doctrinal matters. He authored the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World” which was hugely criticized by women’s rights advocates. Rep. Risa Hontiveros’ maiden speech in Congress last year was a stinging criticism of Ratzinger’s letter.


Graham was not entirely distraught. “I have some hope that this new role would take him in new directions. Now he has a different agenda, a different job, which is to be a symbol of unity.”

Interviewed by the Inquirer just before the conclave, Graham had said she “was saddened by the opposition to even discussing the issue of women’s ordination, the stifling of imaginative theological thinking, and the inability to make any change whatsoever in reproductive issues that profoundly affect the lives of women.’” Graham is a proponent of the use of inclusive language in the liturgy.

I noticed that John Paul II’s funeral and Benedict XVI’s installation liturgies were grandly, hugely, almost entirely all-male. Even the choir was all-boys.

“I was very happy,” Bishop Rolando Tria-Tirona of the recently devastated Prelature of Infanta told the Inquirer. “I hope to see him put back moral, spiritual, and pastoral sense in Western Europe where the church is dwindling. There has been too much relativism, a kind of wishy-washiness there.”

In his homily before the conclave, Ratzinger had warned about relativism. Tirona added the new pope might leave his old public persona behind. “When you are in another position, you will shed your old role. You have greater perspective.” Tirona and Ratzinger had met briefly in the past, and Tirona was impressed by Ratzinger’s aura of humility.

And what does Sister Mary John Mananzan, Germany-educated prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in the Philippines, known feminist and women’s rights advocate here and abroad, founder of the Institute of Women’s Studies of St. Scholastica’s College, and one of the driving spirits behind the Ecumenical Association of Third World Women Theologians? “The only thing I want to say is: I believe in the Holy Spirit more than I believe in my human judgment. That is why I am accepting Pope Benedict XVI in faith. I have nothing more to add.”

Interviewed some years ago on Bavarian TV, Ratzinger was asked if he really believed the Holy Spirit plays a role in the election of the Pope. His answer: “I would not say so in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope, because there are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked. I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us … Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.” I agree. Only I refer to the Holy Spirit as a she.

2023: And may it be so when the time comes for Pope Francis’ successor to be elected.

ead more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/160106/scrollback-ein-papst-aus-deutschland#ixzz7s2YqhnpL

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