Friday, November 16, 2007

The Rape of Mariannet Amper

Mariannet Amper is raped!
She was raped when she was alive, she is raped when she is dead.
Based on the findings of the medico-legal officer of the Regional Crime Laboratory, who did a less-than-two-hours autopsy on the exhumed body of the 12-year-old suicide, there were lacerations on the girl’s private parts that could have suggested rape.
The tough talking mayor Rodrigo Duterte called a criminal investigation on the girl’s death. The police invited the girl’s father and elder brothers for questioning and will subject them to a drug test.
But everybody knows who raped Mariannet Amper.
She was the girl whose suicide rocked the nation because it had put a face to the poverty experienced by the whole country amidst the series of bribery scandals faced by the Arroyo administration. Because her death has become a metaphor, it had not only captured the imagination of people but had turned her into a debate and her body into a battlefield.
The media raped Mariannet Amper. Armed with their camera, they reduced her once quiet life into a commodity for people to consume. Like vultures, they feasted on Mariannet Amper’s death. They came to her house to see how much it has decayed, how its sawali walls crumble at the slightest touch, turning the family’s life, inside out.
By portraying the scandalous image of her poverty on television and forgetting to relate it to the extravagance of the government that should have protected a child like Mariannet, the family of Mariannet Amper was robbed of dignity and humiliated in public.
In life, Mariannet Amper’s illegitimate government raped her.
Mariannet live in a period, when government's penchant to protect foreign interest and the interest of the few had robbed her of her right to a decent life and a secure childhood. Her parents had to eke out a living for the family to survive, leaving Mariannet to confront her own demons alone.
Her government, preoccupied with political survival because of questions of legitimacy, had no time to take into account the conditions of its people, much more of children like Mariannet Amper.
Yes, Mariannet Amper was raped—and the mayor does not have to look very far for the suspects!
He does not have to invite Mariannet’s family, who is still in a state of shock and mourning at the shape that the turn of events has taken. He does not have to exhume the girl’s body from the grave, five days after she was buried; nor invite Mariannet’s father to explain, why it took him five days to tell the police what happened. The medico legal does not have to perform the autopsy in a hurry and become defensive in the eyes of the media, just to get to the bottom of the rape.
For everybody knows who raped Mariannet Amper.
Everyone is guilty of that rape.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reflections

Once in a while, I get a glimpse of some dark abyss impossible to fathom. The awesome sight gets darker and deeper as the years go by but beholding it only serves to deepen my respect for people who have the courage to make the final plunge and those who choose to remain. It doesn't matter, really, which choice one happens to make because one choice is always as good as the other. In this world of binary opposites, life is almost interchangeable with death, beauty with ugliness, light with darkness, and so on; depending on where you happen to be standing at the moment.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Blogging Mindanao!

I often think of a blog as a kind of a mirror. We see in it our very own reflections, the images we allow the world to see, so that we tend to be fidgety and choosy about it, revealing only parts, instead prying open entire lives, to tell our stories. So, it's not surprising, then, that an online diary often comes out embellished, sanitized, when posted on the worldwide web, so different from those diaries we lock up in our closets at home, those keepers of our most deadly, unhappy secrets; because whether we like it or not, there is still that part of us we hold back; that part of us that remained locked up, that part of us we do not want the world to see.
In the end, I could not help wondering whether that virtual reality we have created in our blogs and in the blogs that we read, is nothing but a mirage.
So, I decided to join the first Mindanao bloggers' summit to find out if the Mindanao bloggers I only meet on cyberspace are also people of flesh and blood, and not made entirely of words. I'd be glad to hear them laugh, talk, chatter, argue, fight each other while we eat, drink, meet new friends, fall in and out of love as fast as we can, get hurt, go home bruised, bloodied and happy, because these are stuffs that real life is made of, the life where the virtual world springs from. I'd like to hear the speakers talk about both the technology and the joys of blogging, the economics of this joy, the identity and identities of this imagined community of bloggers, who seem to closely identify themselves with this hotly-contested geography and political arena called Mindanao.
Thanks to the usual suspects who organize the event and the sponsors:
Join the DigitalFilipino.com Club!, Dimsum Diner,Councilor Peter LaviƱa, NoKiAHOST.COM P5/day webhosting , BisayaBloggers.com, Davao Food Huntress, Globe Broadband, Act for Peace, Web Design Philippines, Lane Systems, Snap Graphics and Sign, Orange Country, Web Developer Philippines, Eric Clark Su, Swiss Deli Fwendz Diner, Artcom Printing Services and Cubepixels Design Studio. So, see you all at the summit!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Lovers of Light

What's Wrong with the Devil?!

I chanced upon the Devil one day, talking about "the environment" inside an air-conditioned room full of people and I thought he made some sense.
He said something like if the law only worsened the human condition, then we have to ask why that law had been there, in the first place.
He kicked off his slippers under his chair and because I was at his back, I marveled at his unwashed soles as he kept crossing and uncrossing his feet while making his point. Right there and then, I began to like the Devil.
When the talk was over, it was lunch. I happened to fall in line next to the Devil, who turned around half way when he got his plate and saw the identification card on my chest. “Are you from the Philippine Daily Inquirer?” he asked, surprised.
I nodded.
“So, are you going to write about this?” he motioned to the hall where we just came from. “Maybe, yes,” I said, and was about to ask him why but he already turned away, mumbling something I could not make out.
The Devil was very tall, and surprisingly, a Caucasian, but the way his face flushed, I suspected, he must be saying something like, “Be sure you understand what you’re writing about,” or, “I hope you won’t add something to what I said,” or, “Don’t you misquote me, you should not be allowed to write anything here,” or, “No media is supposed to be here!”
Things I used to hear from other similar gatherings before.
It was such a pity that he was already moving away and I could not make out exactly what he said.
I was already seated at the table when a servant sent by the Devil told me to get out because the event was not supposed to be for the media.
So, I got up feeling so stupid, lost my way trying to find the elevator, then, heartily took the stairs down seven floors as I pondered upon the power that betrayed the basic fear and weakness of the Devil! He had the maze of structures to surround him, he had the power to employ (and exploit) people and control their minds—and yet, how pathetically insecure the Devil was! [Anyway, why would someone wall himself up behind horrendous physical and psychological structures if he were not afraid and needed to feel protected, in the first place?]
I came up with several hilarious conclusions about the Devil as I finally reached the last flight of stairs:
The Devil was paranoid.
The Devil was afraid of the media!
Because he was afraid fo the media, the Devil must be very obsessed with his image.
I conjure an image of the Devil looking at himself in the mirror, worrying about his looks! Something must be terribly wrong with the Devil!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Bad Karma

This morning, I set aside my unfinished stories on Ramadan, the Human Security Act, (and many more that I could not mention for fear that doing so might stop me from writing them); I’ve foregone the pleasure of re-reading Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Zahir,” and “The Aleph” (which in the past few days have intoxicated me) or Edwin Mullins’ “The Pilgrimage to Santiago,” which I had started and abandoned a few months ago, or, Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance,” which I found switched in between the rotten copy of Hendrik Willem Van Loon's "The Life and Times of Rembrandt Van Rijn" and Italo Calvino's "Difficult Loves" on the shelf of an obscure bookshop!
Worst of all, I turned down Dasia’s invitation for coffee--which is very rare, it happens only once in a hundred years!---because I had earlier promised Mandy I will attend that forum for her.
Only to be told---after half a day of listening to the speakers masticate about mining inside an air-conditioned room---that I did not have any business to be in that forum. They invited Mandaya, not me.
I was kicked out, so to speak, by people who did not even bother to explain why my name (instead of Mandy's) appeared on the attendance sheet (and it was not Dava Maguinda, I swear!) and why I had to waste precious hours before they could tell me I was not wanted in the first place!
But okay, it was over and I'm not going to wallow into it!
I was only there “to fulfill an obligation” and did not want to engage in any sort of “intellectual masturbation” about mining and the “indigenous peoples,” anyway, when the “indigenous peoples”(except one) were not even around.
Besides, I don’t really believe that there is some kind of a middle ground on such issues as mining. If you talk about mining and you tell me, we can just pose questions without making any strong statement for or against it--I’d surely feel very uneasy just sitting there, keeping my seat extra-warm without even bothering to ask: Are you deluding yourself? Are you pulling my leg? Or are you fooling the people?
So, I was just too glad to get out of there as fast as I can. They also told me I could not write anything about that forum, something that I never dream of doing so in the first place. For, except perhaps, for lawyer Marvic Leonen, who made perfect sense to me, are they really worth writing about?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chat with Wahyu

With the recent unrest in Burma and the Burmese military junta's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Wahyu, the journalist fellow from Jakarta I wrote about here last year, was all agog.
"Burma monks are now on fire for democracy," Wahyu wrote, obviously agitated, when I chanced upon him in my monitor.
"Yes, I read about it!" I replied.
"You don't want to go there?" he asked.
"No one will pay for my plane ticket," I lied.
"How do you look at the move of Burma monks?" he asked again.
"Will they succeed the way Cardinal Sin succeeded in leading the people power in the Philippines?"
"Sure!" I said. "To speak up against oppression is in keeping with their role as keepers of the soul of Burma! But don't talk to me about Cardinal Sin, Wahyu! He was such a disappointment! The Philippine people power at Edsa was a big disappointment," I said.
"Filipinos want real change, Wahyu, not a show!" I continued. "People power at Edsa was a fake revolution!"
Wahyu was silent for six minutes, so, it was my turn to be agitated. It was also my turn to seethe with fury. Then, all of a sudden, he scribbled again onscreen. "Hahaha!" he laughed, "I don't know why you are very pessimistic! I think the Filipino people power was an inspiring thing for peoples in other Asian countries struggling for democracy."
"Inspiring?!" I asked. "At the moment that it was happening, yes, it was really very inspiring! We looked up to Cory Aquino. We believed in her initial moves to broaden "democratic space." But what's happening now?
Where is the so-called "democratic space?" What happened to Hacienda Luisita, the big landholdings owned by Cory's Cojuangco clan, supposed to be subjected to her most touted land reform program? What happened to the farm workers there? Have the lives of the people improved after democracy was restored? How about the number of journalists and political activists getting killed everyday? How about the silent Martial Law in our midst, the Human Security Act--the law that allows the arrest without warrant of anyone suspected of being a terrorist? Edsa was really a disappointment, Wahyu. Please don't talk to me about it. People around the world who love the idea of the people power that happened in the Philippines more than two decades ago should not only praise and "get inspired" by it but should also study why it failed."
"Well," Wahyu replied, "We always get disappointed by things but I think the Philippines is still the most democratic country in Southeast Asia."
("Democracy, my foot!" I was about to say but I restrained myself!)
"So, what really is democracy, Wahyu?" I asked, instead. "Is it democracy when you are starving because the few who control the country's wealth are enjoying the fruits of your toil and selling your country to foreigners? Is it democracy when you get killed when you ask for a raise in wages because your pay is no longer enough to feed your family? Is it democracy when you'd rather brave being a truck driver and get killed in Iraq than die of starvation at home? Is it democracy when women have to leave their children at home to take care of the children of other people abroad? Is it democracy when you get raped in your own country by a US serviceman, get blamed for it and wake up the next day to find your own government scuttling the condemned criminal out of jail unscathed just to please the US government?!
What really is democracy, Wahyu? Please tell me, Wahyu, please tell me!"

(NOTE: The above photo was sent by Myo Zaw at the height of the September protests that rocked Burma while the Shwe Dagun temple (below it), still looked deserted when Wahyu took this photo during his Burma visit as a Seapa journalist fellow in 2006. Recently, the beautiful temple has turned into a site of riots and protests.

Lost in the Labyrinth

Everything is turning out to be a labyrinth for me these days. I enter and have trouble getting out of conversations, books, journals, blogs, youtube, magazines, diaries, dreams. The world in here is simply too exciting, too beautiful to ignore. I don't mind getting lost in this glorious maze even as another part of me is pulling me out of here, depriving me of the pleasure!

Monday, September 24, 2007

State of Blindness

Just a few weeks ago, on research assignment for Newsbreak magazine, the editors texted that I needed to send my picture while doing the interviews in the remote Davao del Norte town of San Isidro. This request somehow bothered me but I managed to say, yes, and sent them the picture of me with my back to the camera, revealing only a portion of my face. “How can we introduce you to our readers that way?” the editors complained. So, I sent some images of the unphotographable me and shrugged off the uneasiness that I felt. Then, going through the last debris of our home that disintegrated early this year, I came upon what I had written many years ago:

State of Blindness
"May 27, 2004---I consider myself the prodigal daughter of the Light. I am the one who could not be photographed, whose face light could not capture because, as a perennial outcast, I've always been condemned in the dark.
That’s why, I also call myself Zmira al-Zuddah---'al-Zuddah’ was the goddess banned by the Prophet because the Prophet said she meant trouble—-to remind me that long before the male Gods ruled, the Goddesses were already here. But it was in Davao that I first became aware that despite my having been raised in Mindanao, I didn’t know anything about the place and its people. Which could also mean I did not know anything about myself.
I was asked to take a trip to Iligan to interview a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (whom I wanted to think was a warrior woman), and was slightly shocked (and embarrassed) that the women only stared at me when I said, “Hello.”
Later, while we were talking, a young Maranao guy opened the door and seeing that the woman had a visitor, greeted me, “Assalamu Alaikum.” It was only a year after that I learned about the right reply, so, right there and then, in the face of that young man, I was stunned and didn’t know what to say. I only stared at him---a dark, shockingly handsome young man, so tall that he had to duck his head as he entered the door. I even failed to say “hello.”
On the bus on my way home, I realized that the women who only stared in reply to my greetings did not mean to be rude at all just as I did not mean to be rude to the man who opened the door. Probably, (like me), they just didn’t know what to say.
That day opened my eyes to the gap---the line that divided "them" and "us"---among the people/s in Mindanao. It was eloquently shown by a man, a Christian, I met on the road when he said, “Mag-unsa diay ka sa ilaha, Day? (So, what’s your business with them?)” I was amazed how the man came to recognize me as a "Christian."
The experience left me so shaken that at first, I didn’t want to remember it. Later, in Davao, I found myself riding a jeepney, and sticking my head out to look around, wondered if I can find mosques along the way. I was surprised to see a number of them, sticking out of the shanties near Bankerohan bridge, a grander one at the mini forest Boulevard and a white one in Sirawan. I was puzzled. How come I never saw them before? What kind of eyes did I have?
Then, the realization struck me. I was suffering from what VS Naipaul called---“a state of Un-seeing.” I only see things that my eyes were taught to see—-a mental blindness brought about not only by 400-year colonial rule but also by the kind of education that I had, a paralysis preventing me from seeing my own people.
Another thought struck me: If I failed to see the mosques, which are in themselves, architectural feats, how could I ever see the trees, caves and mountains that are the sacred temples of Mindanao’s non-Islamic tribes?
Thus, started my fascination for the different cultures of Mindanao, which, up to that time, remained invisible to me. Since then, I discovered many things. Leaving behind a loathesome eight-to-five job, I found myself in the midst of a dance of sagayan, a healing ritual performed in one of the war-ravaged communities in Maguindanao, and gradually found myself healed. One day, I found myself talking to a balyan--a woman! a priestess!--and got a glimpse of how she had kept alive her natural spirituality in her dance amidst the stringent Catholicism imposed on her by the Church.
Among the images of beauty I’m beginning to collect in my mind is a white onion-domed mosque in the midst of a green rice-field on the way to Sultan Kudarat. But because of the rampaging war in our midst, these images oftentimes get mixed up with the disturbing sight of military boots trampling down an open mosque in Buliok, Maguindanao and someone sneaking away the sacred Arabic texts inside.
Now, I find it funny to hear people complaining about the absence of ‘colonial Churches’ in Mindanao because (except perhaps for the coastlines of Caraga) this island is perhaps, one of the few places in the country where the Spaniards failed to leave their mark. "

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What could not hurt?!

I've been going over and over this disturbing short film "Ignorante" by independent filmmaker Jon Red posted on davaotoday website after it was earlier banned by government censors.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Collecting Ethel?!


"To collect photographs is to collect the world. Movies and television programs light up walls, flicker, and go out; but with still photographs the image is also an object, lightweight, cheap to produce, easy to carry about, accumulate, store."
--from Susan Sontag On Photography

The Sadness of Deers

On the walls of Marco Polo hotel's Eagle Bar are petrified figures of deers. Below the one nearest the glass window are the words in bronze: Sable (Hippotragus Niger) taken by Xavier A. Dominguez on 21 August 2005 in Usangu, Tanzania using a Weatherby Mark V bolt action rifle caliber .378 WBY magazine. The window looks out to the driveway that curves towards the hotel entrance. Another one, on the wall near the door, is a Fallow Buck (Dama Dama) taken by Carlos C. Dominguez on 9 March 2006 at the Manuka Point in New Zealand using a Winchester model 70 bolt action 308 caliber. This shot won the hunter a gold award in the European Fallow Deer Estate competition in New Zealand. I keep looking at the eyes of the fallen deers. They are very sad.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Elegy to the Laua-an Forest

Near the boundary of the land, where my Pa has left his imprints in the last 50 years, stands a lone Bunwang tree, known for its softness (a liability in the world that is obsessed with hardwood, the unquenchable demand of which fuel the wholesale devastation of timber forests.)
“It’s the only tree that is left of the logging,” says Pa. “No one wants it because it’s soft.”
“It’s a big tree, with broad leaves,” he keeps saying, as if, until now, he is still amazed by its uselessness. “It’s not durable and it’s not good for furniture,” blurts out Ma, who thinks I merely want a nice bookstand for the books we carried home in a jutesack.
So, I stand there, too stunned to say a word, unsure whether to feel glad or sad, about the lone tree that is left standing because people couldn’t find any use for it.
When my father arrived in this part of Davao from his hometown in Capiz in one of the islands of the Visayas, the forest that would later turn into his copra farm in Upper B’la had been teeming with Laua-ans. Later, these magnificent trees that littered the land for hundreds of years were cut and fed to the sawmills by logging concessionaires who had stripped the land of trees for lumber.
“Over a hundred Laua-ans in every hectare of land,” Pa estimates. “Trunks as big as drums," he says, "Maybe, even bigger. So tall, you have to cut them down many times to make them easier to handle.”
I find it hard to grasp the tragedy that had befallen the forest.
Afterwards, when the land was stripped bare, settlers like my Pa began buying parcels after parcels of land from the Bagobos, and planted them with crops. This is ironic because the Bagobos, whose ancestral land covers much of the Mt. Apo areas that stretch from what is known today as Davao city's Toril district down to the boundaries of North Cotabato, never used to believe in that foreign concept called land ownership.
“They’d sell the land, then, move deeper into the forest,” says my Pa, who thought that the sale of the land was as real as the buy and sell of goods in the market. He bought one parcel from Ayok, Bagobo. He bought another parcel from another Bagobo named Bansalan, and so on.
Again, I was too stunned to say a word, as I try to grasp the complexity of what happened: the betrayal, even the sell-out, of some members of the tribe of their own ancestral beliefs just to extract a measly sum from the equally unsuspecting (albeit ignorant) settlers.
For according to the Bagobo’s worldview, the land is not for sale.
For a Bagobo wise man, it actually sounds stupid and hilarious for a man to claim ownership of a piece of land.
“How could you claim to own the land?” I remember an old Matigsalug Datu named Salumay, explain to me the worldview shared by most indigenous tribes in Mindanao.
"Long after you die, the land remains," said Datu Salumay, “So, how can you be in a position to own something that outlasts you for over a hundred years?”
He used to live in Davao’s Marilog district before he passed away a few years back. Now, I wonder if there are still enough Bagobos who still think like Datu Salumay.
For the coming in of settlers from the Visayas and Luzon had saturated the population of the Moros and the indigenous peoples of Mindanao and had brought about the dying of a totally different culture. Later, wholesale destruction of dipterocarp forests after the World War 2, coincided with the huge demand for lumber exports to Japan and other markets. At the time, the Parity Rights agreement between my country and the United States, had accorded equal rights to Americans and Filipinos in the exploitation of the Philippine forests and other natural resources.
Pa, who arrived in Upper B'la about a decade after the signing of the Parity Rights, gives me a vivid picture of how it was to live in the time of the logging.
“There were no chainsaws, then,” he says, as if to stress a point. “People used axe and the curtador.”
He leads me out of our house in B’la to show me what the curtador (cutter) looks like. As I stand there, trying to reconstruct the devastating event, I can feel my hair bristle, as I watch him draw out the instrument, bequeathed to him by the former cutters, that had once ravaged whole forests.
All that I wanted that morning was a pleasant conversation with my Pa. But I ended up hearing about the wholesale destruction of the land teeming with Guihos, Apitongs, Narras, Dao, Tugas, and other trees, the likes of which, I may not see anymore.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Letter to Malu Fernandez

Business Mirror's editor-in-chief Lourdes M. Fernandez tells the stories of our kababayan.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Goodbye, Grace Paley!

Tonight, the gibbous---no, it's the full moon!---is waxing outside my window when I read about the passing of Grace Paley, five days late. But it's no goodbye to Grace Paley for me.
That broom that she wrote in "An Interest in Life" is forever etched in my memory because it was a broom I knew.
"My husband gave me a broom one Christmas," Virginia, her character, began. "This wasn't right. No one can tell me it was meant kindly."
No one can tell me pointblank, whether life for a woman is really meant kindly. Until writers like Grace Paley started pouring ink onto the pages and spelling out what I was only made to guess at age 33.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Argao's Old Belfry

What did awardwinning writer Ninotchka Rosca say about belfries in her most recent book, "Sugar and Salt," which had Tandang Sora, her heroine, "giving away tidbits of Philippine women's history as 'gifts' to her family and relatives before dying?"
Tandang Sora talked of the Spanish friars trying to convince the natives they called indios, referring to us, instead of the group of people that we actually call bombays, to "build belfries to guard men's bodies and cathedrals to guard men's souls."
The belfries were supposed to "warn the people against pirates and the cathedrals, to warn people against sin." I found Ninotchka's "Sugar and Salt" inside the National Bookstore at Davao city's Gmall after some weekend staring at old cathedrals and belfries in Cebu and remembering how, in the year 2000, I had dragged seven year old Karl from Silliman university elementary school to the old cathedral in Dumaguete and together, we clambered up the belfry to stare at its huge bell.
I remember how my little boy stared at the old bell, with his mouth open, as I marveled at the date etched on one of the walls. Then, when I was about to move further up, I caught sight of abandoned souls sleeping on the dusty floor.
I did not climb the belltower in Argao on the few moments that I managed to escape the city in July to spend some moments there. I did not have the seven-year-old-turned-14, nor his younger brother, to drag along with me.
So, I watched the tower from a distance, noting how the sun struck and cast shadows on its stone walls. Except for one or two devotees who came to light candles, the whole place often looked deserted the few times I was around.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reminders

Every step of the way, everything that I see reminds me of my boys. A friend talking of her 14-year-old daughter makes me long for my own 14-year-old Karl, living in a topsy-turvy room with another boy and his guitar, 500 hundred kilometers away from me. Just thinking of him talking to people I don't even know makes me feel very uneasy. The chocolate cake that Che and I just tasted reminds me of Sean, 6. So are the sight of apples along the sidewalks, the pistacchios and cashews on the store windows, the smell of towels, the sight of children, teachers and the fact that I am not doing the groceries anymore.
I don't look up when I hear fathers comparing notes about their kids, even if I hear from them the echoes of what JA used to say: "This boy would never come to me when his mother is around. I don't know what she has that I don't have," says one father. At times, I catch an officemate saying she would rather hang herself the moment she could no longer live with her kids.
But I have killed myself long ago. Every time I turn that corner near The Venue on my way to the Gmall, I long to open my heart to strangers, to show how deep it is bleeding. But a heart is not something you could "unbutton" in the middle of the street, so, I keep on plodding, while everything inside me, disintegrates. I am now a living dead.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

No Exit

"Do people never sleep there?" the taxi driver asked, pointing to the boxlike structure, where I came from. "That building has always been alive until morning," he observed.
"The newspaper never sleeps," I said, explaining that at that hour, the production people were about to take their turn printing tomorrow's newspaper after the editors had closed and approved the pages.
"But people need sleep," he said. "Who goes there in the morning?"
"After the production people finish printing," I continued, "The newsboys come in at dawn to get the papers and deliver them to the newstands. Sometimes, they also deliver the papers right at the subscribers' doorsteps. At eight, the business and advertising people come. So, are other office workers, like the editorial assistants, in the newsroom. The day desk editors also come in to see to it that reporters pursue the latest news stories for the day. In the afternoon and towards the evening, the reporters start trickling in to write their stories. Then, afterwards, it's editing time all over again."
It was already half past 12 in the morning when I talked to the taxi driver on my way home. Late in the morning, I went to the laundromat and watched the washing machine, and then the dryer, spin. "The newspaper is one huge machine," I couldn't help mumbling.
The man running the laundromat who kept asking where I worked, looked up.
"Well, I work for a huge machine that never stops churning," I said, and marveled at the irony of my words. I thought, "I don't think I could ever serve a machine, no matter how big."
Then, I started dreaming of going to a far flung place where no machine could ever reach me. Instead, I conjured images of the remote areas of Mindanao, where the machines are more deadly. People are getting killed by another type of machines---the machine guns--right in the places where they live.
With the Human Security Act, the policies that cater to the World Bank and the global capitalist system, debt servicing, the deregulation of everything, privatization even of health services and more, the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is one deadly killer machine.
"Societies," "civilizations" are machines that demand subjection from everyone within reach. Even the groups fighting for change have to invent their own "machine" to fight the old, oppressive and abusive one.
Probably, in this life, there's no escaping the rule of the machine--but isn't it terribly sad and dreadful how such mindless inventions could take control over one's life????

Friday, July 27, 2007

Death in the Newsroom

"It's a masculine newsroom," I confessed to Anton at the rooftop canteen, delighting upon the fact that I was able to point out the cause of the "strangeness" I've been feeling about the place. Anton crossed his eyes in disbelief. He was quick to retort. "Whaaat?!" he said. "There are more women in that newsroom!"
"That doesn't necessarily follow." How could I explain, how could I picture a female newsroom to someone, who has never seen, never experienced, and perhaps, could never believe it can exist? "Journalism, itself, is a masculine profession," I said. Most often, when they're not very careful, unsuspecting women who venture into the profession are often trained or are forced to think like men. Anton opened his mouth and said, again, "Whaaaa?!"
There might already be some headway made by some women somewhere, but right here and now, in this country, in this world where I live in, the institutionalized mainstream press is still pathetically masculine, made for the purpose of perpetrating the rule of the patriarchal culture, or, to serve the male-controlled commerce and industries.
The closest image I have of female-ness is Amy, in one of those meetings, when she fleets from one subject to another, turning the discussion into a crazy patchwork of life and anecdotes. You can feel right there and then, that each story that gets inserted is a living thing that has a potential to grow. So that the meeting can turn into a crazy whirl that can easily spin and confuse an average male, obsessed with rule and order. Yet, I've always felt richer and fuller after those meetings, because of the glimpses of life they offered. They allowed your imagination to run wild and your creativity to grow untrammeled. Don't talk about imagination in a masculine newsroom. Men are afraid of wild women and of minds allowed to roam free. Women spell trouble for men. In the Middle Ages, they labeled these women as witches and burned them at the stake so that inside the newsrooms of today, women would no longer know what innate power and magic they've got. They could no longer recognize who they are.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Changing Landscape

My landscape has been changing so fast the last few days. First, I remember taking a snapshot of davaotoday at the two-story YMCA building in Davao at the back of The Venue. Now, as I climb up the Cebu Daily News' rooftop canteen to eat, I can't believe I'm being greeted by the sight of cranes and containers being loaded at the Maersk container port! Last night, I climbed up here at six o'clock and I actually saw all those lighted cranes at work! What would JA say if he'd find out I'm closely living close to Maersk?! He has been in love with Maersk for a long time. He has been in love with all container ports for that matter. Cargo boats and cranes and container vans litter his adult dreams. His love has been so deadly and fatal that it has driven us out of our rented house in Matina! Maersk, of course, had delivered his shipment of bananas to Vladivostok! But sometimes, luck is in short supply. Sometimes, the yellow corn from Bulgaria also get stranded in the Black Sea on their way to Vietnam. So, we are cast homeless. Now, I can't believe I'm actually staring at the pile of Maersk containers at the port! Sighing and turning around, I see on the opposite end, far off Nivel Hills, where Marco Polo Plaza beckons! This is a totally different landscape!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Trying Out

In the last 10 days, I've been trying a hand on some editing works inside the newsroom of Cebu Daily News. The work stretches from the three o'clock story conference---when the editors decide on the headlines and stories of the day and give page assignments---to deep hours in the night when the editors finally put the paper to bed. On the first days I was here, I was bowling with laughter from the police stories assigned to me because they were---tragic, comic and absurd! They were also the toughest works to edit. After the first days (urrhm, nights), I discovered the benefits of coffee but I fought the urge to draw out a stick of cigarette. My cigarette memories are still with Nico, outside the gate of PDI Mindanao bureau where we can watch the Bachelor buses from Butuan passing us buy; or with Dasia, whose ashtrays bear the marks of nicotine abuse while we allow our minds to roam. Inside the newsroom, I can't probably allow my mind to roam. I have to fix an eye on the copies and make sure that it stays there. There's not enough time to explore the depth and breadth of things. You have to deliver a finished product before the first rays of the next day.
Over the weekend, I handled a page on a heritage building along Osmena Boulevard. I liked doing it because I wanted to get inside that building--a museum---and take a look inside. Cebu is teeming with those centuries-old Cathedrals and colonial Churches that are remnants of our past. I have the urge to go out and stare at them in the afternoons to summon all the ghosts and understand my future. But what can I do? I'm inside the newsroom!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Life Behind Bars

This is how it looks when the sun is about to set at the Davao Penal Colony and you happen to look up from where you're seated outside the security gate talking to a broadcaster behind bars for libel. Your eyes momentarily leave the face of the person you're talking to and the absorbed faces of your companions to roam around and wonder what lie beyond the shadows.
On Easter Sunday, when the Communist New People's Army (NPA) led by Kumander Parago raided the Davao Penal Colony's armory without firing a single shot, jailed Davao broadcaster Lex Adonis was already inside to serve his four and a half year sentence in jail. He was brought there from the Maa city jail two weeks before. At the Penal Colony, he said he would surely meet the shadowy characters he had attacked on air. But his father, who visited him on the eve of the raid, had said it was much, much safer for him to be there than anywhere else. The day after the NPA raid, the whole area was crawling with journalists feasting on the breaking story of the day, not knowing that one of them was already behind those bars, unable to break that story.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Another journalist is nabbed for libel

Jeez, I can't believe it. Jofelle is simply too beautiful to spend time in jail! This is unbelievable!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

You Must Remember this!

Now that detained junior officer Antonio Trillanes finally made it to the Senate, it's time to look again into the Greenbase Expose and find out more truths about the twin Davao bombing in 2003.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Breaking Taboos

I arrived at the davaotoday office one day to find a stranger in our midst. I thought, who is this guy staring at Gra's computer monitor?? For all I can see from the door was a clean shaven head and a back of someone wearing a shirt, someone I initially thought was a he. Until she turned around and I saw that it was Chi. Why a sweet, young girl suddenly decides to shave her hair like that--must be for a very good reason. I tried hard to hide my surprise. But how can I stifle my excitement?? For a young woman to shed herself of that crown of hair that people used to define her gender is no mean, ordinary feat! It was an act of defiance! It was crossing to the other side of taboo!
For doing the "unspeakable," she had crossed the line that constricted her, the line that used to define her as girl/woman and all the restrictions that come along with it. By breaking taboo, she has crossed the line to the other side where the rules no longer apply and any attempt at definition is no longer possible. She's now in a place where taboo has suddenly lost its grip and power! It's no wonder, then, that everybody who has any inkling of this big triumph gravitates towards her---and for me, Chi has turned into some sort of a heroine that day!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Voice from the Killing Fields

Fr. Albert Alejo (who preferred to call himself "Paring Bert") said he wrote this poem in 1987 at the height of the alsa masa movement against the NPAs which earned Davao the reputation as the country's "killing fields." Now, amidst the extra-judicial killings happening in the country and in Davao particularly, I often catch people saying that all these killings have been bequeathed to us by the history of bloody killings that characterized Davao in the past. This poem has been originally posted in the Filipino Jesuit literary blog and posted here with the permission from the author.


Sanayan Lang Ang Pagpatay
(Para sa sektor nating pumapatay ng tao)

ni Paring Bert Alejo, SJ

Pagpatay ng tao? Sanayan lang 'yan pare.
Parang sa butiki. Sa una siyempre
Ikaw'y nangingimi.
Hindi mo masikmurang
Tiradurin o hampasing tulad ng ipis o lamok
Pagkat para bang lagi 'yang nakadapo
Sa noo ng santo sa altar
At tila may tinig na nagsasabing
Bawal bawal bawal 'yang pumatay.
Subalit tulad lang ng maraming bagay
Ang pagpatay ay natututuhan din kung magtitiyaga
Kang makinig sa may higit na karanasan.
Nakuha ko sa tiyuhin ko kung paanong balibagin ng tsinelas
O pilantikin ng lampin ang nakatitig na butiki sa aming kisame
At kapag nalaglag na't nagkikikisay sa sahig
Ay agad ipitin nang hindi makapuslit
Habang dahan-dahang tinitipon ang buong bigat
Sa isang paang nakatingkayad: sabay bagsak.

Magandang pagsasanay ito sapagkat
Hindi mo nakikita, naririnig lamang na lumalangutngot
Ang buo't bungo ng lintik na butiking hindi na makahalutiktik.
(kung sa bagay, kilabot din 'yan sa mga gamu-gamo.)
Nang magtagal-tagal ay naging malikhain na rin
Ang aking mga kamay sa pagdukit ng mata,
Pagbleyd ng paa, pagpisa ng itlog sa loob ng tiyan
Hanggang mamilipit 'yang parang nasa ibabaw ng baga.
O kung panahon ng Pasko't maraming paputok
Maingat kong sinusubuan 'yan ng rebentador
Upang sa pagsabog ay magpaalaman ang nguso at buntot.
(Ang hindi ko lamang maintindihan ay kung bakit
Patuloy pa rin 'yang nadaragdagan.)

Kaya't ang pagpatay ay nakasasawa rin kung minsan.
Mabuti na lamang at nakaluluwag ng loob
Ang pinto at bintanang kahit hindi mo sinasadya
At may paraan ng pagpuksa ng buhay.
Ganyang lang talaga ang pagpatay:
Kung hindi ako ay iba naman ang babanat;
Kung hindi ngayon ay sa iba namang oras.
Subalit ang higit na nagbibigay sa akin ng lakas ng loob
Ay ang malalim nating pagsasamahan:
Habang ako'y pumapatay, kayo nama'y nanonood.

Friday, June 01, 2007

My Borrowed Workplaces

To honor all borrowed workplaces in my increasingly nomadic life.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Madwoman on the Streets

I'm about to become a full-fledged street bum. I'm about to be cast out of the house and my boys are no longer with me. The other night under the crescent moon, I was hungrily gobbling chunks of barbecue on my table when a street child approached me, said he badly wanted some food. I said, "Are you sure?" I can't forget another boy begging alms with a blind man in Maramag, Bukidnon several days before this. He turned down my offer of food because he wanted money. The people who saw me offering my food to the boy scolded me for being so stupid. "They don't need food, Miss, they need cold cash. Begging is a business enterprise." But the child the other night said he was sure he wanted food. He was very hungry, he said. So, I said, "Stay there, don't move." As if he was going to run if I ordered some food. The man at the next table eyed the street child with loathing and cast one hard look at me. "Who is this crazy woman now to tolerate this form of mendicancy?" The jeepney driver the other day said to give in to beggars was the height of stupidity. He called it soft-heartedness. So, I never smiled as the child and I gobbled our barbecues across each other. I tried hard to look tough. I glared at the boy and I glared at the man at the next table. I didn't even notice that the boy had finished eating---and went away to look for water and came back to thank me before he ran away---because I was still so busy glaring at everyone, trying my best to look very, very tough!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Goodbye, Home

“You won’t be able to bear it,” JA warned as he was about to leave.
“Just turn everything on,” he said, his eyes on the television set. “The silence would be overwhelming, it would be unbearable." He cast a worried glance at me before he looked around the place that had housed us and the boys all through these years.
Then, as if to comfort me, he turned on the television set. I felt the familiar surge of irritation as the unwelcome noise filled the room. I rushed to turn it off. “I’m not afraid of silence,” I said. “I will love it here.”
For a brief moment, I saw in his eyes a kind of admission. He was someone who has never been very comfortable with silence in the first place. "I have always been afraid of silence," he admitted for the first time.
As he picked up his bags and turned to leave, the past came to me in a flash. How I hid the radio inside the cupboard because I could no longer bear its noise. How he always kept it turned on, even when no one was around. "Is that your way of driving away the thieves or the spirits?" I used to ask, incredulous, because I felt I was the one being driven away by the noise. Why would anyone turn on the radio when he didn't even care to listen to it in the first place? I used to ask. How could anyone be so afraid of silence, he had to fill the room with noise?
How I threatened to crush the television set, enraged at how I could no longer have a good conversation with anyone in the house without sharing its attention.
Now that I'm alone, I will welcome the silence that will engulf me as I go home. This is the home that had kept my small family intact in the last six years. Now that my small family is breaking apart, this is my way of expressing my gratitude to the house that had been more than a roof over our heads over those years. It's also my way of saying goodbye. I won't begrudge the house its silence.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Stop Making Fools of Mothers!

I can't believe it! I wake up to a totally different world today. On the pages of the newspapers are images of mothers and daughters hugging each other as if motherhood is the greatest miracle to ever happen in the world! Everyone is singing praises to mothers! Everybody is treating their moms to a spa or to a parlor or a makeover (as if to erase the traces of abuse and neglect evident on her ageing face!), or bringing her to a fancy restaurant for dinner (as if this can make up for her being a slave for the rest of her life!) It's sickening!
I can't believe how they hype and promote the myth of perfect, sweet motherhood, and condescendingly pat mothers on their backs to make up for the kind of maltreatment mothers suffer for the rest of their lives. If the world is really sincere in trying to honor mothers, instead of making mother's day just one great marketing campaign, the world will not leave the task of mothering to the mothers alone! Society has a greater task of taking care of the children, now seen roaming the streets rummaging for garbage, pushed away from school just because they are poor! If the world is really sincere, what has it done to this mother? Will it listen to this mother's plea?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sean loves Martial Law!

EXCERPT FROM AN OLD JOURNAL
I found this while rummaging through my old files the other night.
September 21, 2006---On the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the picture of the deposed President Marcos who declared Martial Law 34 years ago appeared side by side with the news of Martial Law just being declared in Thailand after a bloodless coup that unseated the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra only a few days ago. What kind of coincidence it was that Martial Law was declared in Thailand on the day we remembered with horror its anniversary in our country? But what coincidence, indeed! We’ve been living so close to this monster for decades that sometimes, we almost forget it continues to exist in our midst! Or, have we successfully deluded ourselves into thinking we are free until it sticks its ugly head out again to kill us? We gasped as we stared in horror at the picture of the Thai army on the streets of Bangkok’s Dusit area.
“I can’t believe it!” I exclaimed, catching my breath as I held up the picture on the front page to J.A., who for the first time in my life finally agreed with me and was nodding his head rather glumly.
“But that is my favorite!” said five-year old Sean, tiptoeing just to get a glimpse of the picture that caused my agitation. I did not mind him, at first, for I was still reeling from the unexpected (at least, for me) turn of events. I stood up and brought the newspaper to my room to read every line of it but Sean followed me there, pointing at the picture, saying, “But I like it! It’s my favorite!” He was pointing at the picture of Bangkok. I was puzzled.
“But it’s bad to be under Martial Law, Sean," I said, gesturing a gag on my mouth. "Under Martial Law, we can’t talk anymore.”
“But I love Martial Law,” he insisted.
I went back to the kitchen again and then back to my room, and back to the kitchen, until I finally sat down at the table to sip coffee with J.A., who started his long reminiscences about where he was when Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. But before he can finish his third sentence—when he was telling me how, as the one who used to handle public relations of a multinational firm, he arrived at the airport with all those Japanese visitors in tow to let them take their return flight to Tokyo and found all those soldiers in camouflage telling him there’s no longer any flight that day---Sean barged in again and J.A. had to stop in mid-sentence.
“Do we have Martial Law here in Davao, Ma?” I shook my head.
“Martial Law is bad, Sean,” J.A. said, turning to his son. “There will be lots of people on the streets with guns. They’ll point a gun at you and you can’t do anything about it. Don’t ever wish for it.”
Sean looked at us, hurt. “But I love Martial Law, di ba, Ma?! Martial Law is sweet!” he declared, fiercely. “I’ve tasted Martial Law! It’s soft and comes in different colors! I love the smaller Martial Law better than the big ones. I know because somebody from davaotoday gave it to me. Let’s buy Martial Law, Ma! Maybe, they’re selling it in the mall.”
J.A. and I looked at each other before the light of understanding finally dawned upon my confused mind. “AAAh!” I whispered, “You mean, marshmallows?!”

How to explain Martial Law to a kid who loves Marshmallows

After our momentary confusion about the meaning of sounds, I finally heard Sean explaining to Nina Valerie, the girl next door, the difference between Marshmallows and Martial Law.

“Marshmallows are good but Martial Law is bad.”
“Marshmallows are sweet but Martial Law is bitter.”

"Marshmallows are soft but Martial Law is hard.”
“Marshmallows are full of colors but Martial Law is dark.”
“Marshmallows are smooth but Martial Law is rough.”
“Marshmallows are love and pleasure, Martial Law is hate and pain.”

Sunset at Magsaysay Park


Friday, May 11, 2007

"Sanayan lang ang pagpatay," Paring Bert wrote.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Raging Debate

But who can help it? The jailing of Davao's Bombo broadcaster Lex Adonis has stirred a raging debate in our midst not because Lex Adonis is kind of a 'hero' but because libel touches all of us who happen to wield the power of the pen for a living, a power that is coupled with responsibility. But does a law as harsh as libel have a reason to exist in our midst? International media groups like the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders and lately, the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) and Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) through the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility have expressed strong views over the jailing of a broadcaster for libel because of what it means to freedom of expression and press freedom in a democracy like the Philippines. We read about Conrado de Quiros' "Naked" on the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In Mindanao, Mindaviews columnist Patricio Diaz wrote "Beyond Lex's Case." Diaz said he had once faced a libel case, himself, and was rather thankful that his publishers "defended him to the hilt." His column prompted a reader to react, so that he had to unleash another series of columns, "Inconsistent Logic," and "Balance of Rights."
I remember a distressing fact from a banana workers' forum I covered in early 2005. I learned how seven (?) or nine (?) year old children were actually made to work inside those banana plantations, digging holes where bananas were planted and paid P1 per hole. Then, I came upon Dr. Romy Quijano, who was facing a libel case for a report he did on the high incidence of cancer and other diseases in communities surrounding the plantation areas in Guihing, Davao del Sur. The powerful banana plantation sued him and the case dragged on for years. He told me how the arresting officer and the police who knocked at his door were surprised to find out that they were about to arrest a doctor. They apologized to him and spoke to him with respect. He was not able to spend time in prison because he was able to post bail right there and then. Long after he finished his story, I kept staring at Dr. Quijano, shocked and awed. I was awed at Dr. Quijano's greatness and his courage to fight for what is right. I was also shocked and horrified that someone as poor as a rat (as I was!) would have been too helpless to fight back and save herself!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Dialogues for Press Freedom

The dialogues for press freedom are actually dialogues where one question is being answered by many questions. I never knew anything about it until I found myself in its midst. Now, it suddenly dawned on me that they're not dialogues at all but a raging debate desperately begging for action. Chancing upon broadcaster Dodong Solis, the manager of Davao's dxdc radio station, one Saturday afternoon, I had one brief moment of illumination.

If you don't want libel classified as a crime---in other words, you want it 'de-criminalized'--- how will you protect anyone from the abuses of the press?”
“Which type of abuse has a much greater impact on our democracy, Plata, the abuse of 'freedom of the press' that you are talking about? Or, the abuses of those in power? Which type of abuse can affect the great number of people? Would you rather curtail a broadcaster’s freedom to report on something just because this can be a potential for abuse? Who will speak up against the abuse of power if journalists are constantly under threat of libel? Whose interest is being sacrificed when a journalist is stopped from reporting the truth? Whose interest is sacrificed when we curtail the freedom of the press? Is it the interest of journalists, as individuals? Or, is it the interest of the people who are kept in the dark on what is going on in different branches of our government? Whose interest is sacrificed if a journalist is stopped from reporting a story? Is it the interest of journalist as an individual? Or is it the interest of the people’s right to know? If you say, that libel has indeed served to protect the people against the abuses of the press, how often has this law been used by those in power to stifle criticisms and legitimate dissent? Will you please count the number of libel cases existing in the Philippine Courts today, Plata, to find out how many of them were filed by abusive politicians who have all the money and the clout to harass the press? Would you rather leave to other institutions and sectors the job of policing our ranks, Plata? Do we lack the capacity to police our ranks, ourselves? Are you really that irresponsible, Plata? How can the press fulfill its Constitutional duty to be a watchdog of democracy--to guard democracy against the potential abuses by the powers-that-be---if a law has also been installed in our midst to stop us from doing our duty? Please answer me, Plata. Your answer means so much to me.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rescued from the Dustbin

J.A. tells me this morning to stop reading Anais Nin, which he describes as 'garbage.' He says, you should start reading my old manuals to correct whatever eye problem you have when you're behind a camera. But I always find J.A.'s way of seeing things every bit problematic simply because he always defines the world in clear outlines. His pictures must always be in sharp focus. I can't do that. Sometimes, I'm more comfortable with blurry images. I don't attempt to define a world, any world, because I, myself, defy all definitions. I am Woman.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Anger of Carlos Bulosan

“I am an angry man,” Carlos Bulosan wrote somewhere in his essay, “I am not a Laughing Man,” in a book “Bulosan: An Introduction with Selections” by literary critic, poet and fictionist E. San Juan Jr., a 2004 edition copy of which I found at the National Bookstore in Davao several years ago.
“I am an angry man,” Bulosan wrote, “That is why I started writing. I guess you will have to be angry at something if you want to be a writer."
Bulosan, whom I never heard fondly spoken of by literary writers who regard themselves artists for Art’s sake, was driven away from his homeland almost a century ago, his family scattered away from their farm in Northern Luzon, victims of the oppressive peasant conditions in the Philippines that can be traced back to the
Spanish times. Because of poverty, Carlos Bulosan was forced to leave the country to work in various fish canneries and asparagus farms in America for a pittance, an experience that had driven him to the brink of starvation and ---as a Filipino feeling alienation in America---turned him into a very angry man. He was real sore that he wrote furiously. He said one had to be sore at something to be a writer.
I, too, am a very angry woman. I am not only sore at something. I am sore at everything. The deprivation that Carlos Bulosan had once suffered in a far, far away land is no stranger to me right in my homeland, where millions are leaving each year to work as domestic helpers, entertainers, caregivers, welders, nurses and truck drivers abroad, fueling the worldwide Filipino diaspora that started back in Carlos Bulosan’s time. Nowadays, they fake papers, cross borders, bribe officers, even marry old bald foreigners just to get out of the country to find odd jobs abroad, odd jobs nobody else want to take just to stave off starvation at home.
I am not sore at Carlos Bulosan. In fact, I find the part of myself I never used to know-- in his writings. But I am sore because as a woman oftentimes stuck with all the unpaid chores at home, I suffer twice, thrice, four times and even five times the odds of Carlos Bulosan. I am sore because as a woman journalist paid only for every published story I write, I often end up not earning anything when I get stuck at home for a reason. I am sore because I’m getting too familiar with women’s works both at home and outside, which are often characterized by their numbing repetitiveness that trap instead of liberate the mind. I am sore because people---inside and outside the home---often expect these tasks from me and it takes my focus and concentration simply to refuse and to avoid them. I am sore because it never crossed my mind to leave the country until recently, while slicing tomatoes and nursing a sick child at home, I heard the radio announcer rattle the salaries of domestic help in Kuwait and caregivers in Canada and entertainers in Japan. I am very sore when I think a prostitute is actually getting much more than what I am earning as woman journalist, facing almost the same job hazard. I am mad because while I write stories about the right of workers to reasonable wages, I’m actually getting much, much, much less than what they’re being paid. I am sore because I had to put away my boys 500 kilometers away in my sister’s home just to be able to work full time but when I sit down to work full time before the computer, I am only staring at the blank wall, thinking of my boys. I am sore because I am actually living at the edge of starvation. I was shocked and sore last March when the preschool head teacher blamed me for failing to pay my little boy’s tuition fee.
I was not so shocked that they did not allow my child to take his final exams. But I was shocked because I asked them if my child could enter Grade One if I can pay his tuition in the opening of classes in June and they said, yes because he was actually doing well in school. I was very, very sore. I was sore to learn that the teachers had no idea about education as a right, instead of a privilege. I was already too shocked and too sore to say anything. I was shocked and sore because I remembered my other child in public school last year, where they had to hold classes in a very noisy gym every afternoon because another set of children had to use their classroom for the other half of the day. I was shocked and sore to realize that more children are actually dropping out of school. I was already very, very sore that I did not say anything as I walked out of the campus, looking for an ATM machine, but when I found out I only had the last P15 there, I was no longer shocked and sore. I was already in panic. I walked away briskly and anxiously to buy “turon” for lunch with the last change in my pocket before heading for office for some editing job. But then, again, I was sore at the woman on the jeepney who shooed a beggar in rags, just because he was smelly, dirty and had no money to pay. I was so sore because the woman tried to meet my eyes, thinking I shared her disgust towards the beggar, when all I felt was sheer disgust for life.
I was angry because a long, long time ago I quit an eight to five office job, where all I needed to do was punch my card on the Bundy Clock to get a salary and the rest of my work did not matter. I was so angry that I turned down all offers to work in eight to five jobs after that and started taking odd writing jobs, documenting workshops, just like how a laundry woman next door has been taking laundry from all kinds of people just to earn her keeps. I was very, very sore because I heard Julie Alipala telling us in August last year that some journalists in Zamboanga had to vend fish in the public market to live. I was angry because every other journalist I met during the 5th national congress of the NUJP in Tagaytay had death threats and libel cases. I was shocked to realize that a woman, if she manages to escape from the killer chores at home, can still end up getting killed outside if she is not very careful as a journalist. I was very, very angry that I could not say anything! I was very, very angry that I could not write!
For despite my love for Carlos Bulosan whose anger was so intense it turned him into a writer, my anger is not the anger of Carlos Bulosan. My anger is of a totally different kind. My anger is the anger of Ceres, the harvest Goddess, who at one time or so, was so angry with Pluto for raping her child, that she refused the Earth her blessings so that the sun refused to shine and the corn refused to grow. For just like corn seeds that the harvest Goddess tends, writing also needs some nourishment to thrive. I am angry because I am being punished for being a mother. It is this anger that confronts me now as I sit before the computer, hands on the keyboard, unable to write, because deep inside me everything is wilting. The harvest Goddess has turned away from me, plunging my world into darkness and despair. Since my fury is not the fury of Carlos Bulosan (whose spirit refused to die) but a fury of Ceres, who bestowed Death and Despair in response to injustice, I will continue staring at the empty computer screen—until I can find food and nourishment again.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

My Easter Feast

Yes, it's a Happy Easter Sunday! Curiously, though, the only Easter greeting I received was from a long lost friend Taher, who is a Muslim. "May the resurrected Christ Jesus give us more strength and courage in our work," said Taher in a text message the evening of Black Saturday, "Advance Happy Easter Sunday!" Early in the morning, I had intended to greet my Ma and Pa, my sisters, my sons and niece before I boarded my bus for Davao; and then as the bus was running, I intended to greet my Aunt in Bulacan who was constantly texting me while I was on my way; I intended to text Che who said earlier she will only finish a story for davaotoday.com only after Christ has risen on a Sunday; I wanted to ask her if Christ has really risen this day, instead of a Monday or a Tuesday???--but I never made it; my mind was so busy to focus on anything while I was on my way home today so, here, I am at six o'clock in the evening, home at last and greeting everyone a belated "Happy Easter!" while I partake on my Easter feast that began last Sunday to continue on and on.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Free Press

It's amazing how we can easily tell the kind of freedom of the press we have right in this country just by listening to journalists argue about t-shirts. I have the queasy feeling that something must be terribly wrong in a democracy when journalists start talking about (and sometimes become afraid of) what to wear. "Is it safe to wear t-shirts like this one when we're on coverage?" Riza asked, pointing to the green shirt that Walter wore, bearing the text of Section four Article 3 of the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution, which assures that, "No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression and of the press." Weng was in the midst of the discussion on "safety while on coverage" in the upcoming May elections, projected to be one of the bloodiest ever, what with all the journalist killings that have been going on for how long! "Of course, I wear this because we're here together," quipped Nelson, who was wearing the black version of Walter's shirt. "At least, I am with you and we understand each other. I also wear this when we're on the streets on press freedom day, or when we protest and demand for all the killings to stop, or on a funeral march when one of us has just gotten himself killed by who-knows-who (?) but I don't wear this on coverage."
"It's not advisable," agreed Q, vigorously shaking his head. "Afterall, it's election time. You could easily get killed."
"It's a no-no," said Walter. "Especially when you're in an area which is very dangerous."
"When you're in a conflict zone, maybe," said Weng. "But what's wrong about wearing that when you go to the Comelec office to follow up election results?"
"Isn't it election time?" asked Awi, "When people from all walks of life put forward all kinds of agenda in all forms of advertisements?" "I may not wear that in places where goons with guns freely roam," I can't help saying, "But perhaps, on ordinary days when we cover the news, why not take the chance?" (But I did not actually mean one hundred per cent of what I said because--when wearing something interferes with my getting the story I would rather change my clothes or go naked!) "But aren't we in a democracy here?" Che of davaotoday.com shot back from the booth at the back where all the t-shirts---printed with stop killing journalists---were displayed. "Why do we have this kind of argument about such a trivial thing as a T-shirt to wear when we're supposed to be free?!"
Everyone fell silent. I felt weird because after all, the Philippines has always been touted to have the freest press in Asia and yet, journalists seem to be thinking twice about wearing certain types of T-shirts while on coverage.

Covering the Elections

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Who is Afraid of the Naked Truth?

On the day that Gemma Bagayaua of Newsbreak was arrested for libel, we were made to strip inside the Davao city jail in Maa just to visit a broadcaster behind bars.
“What is our fault that we are made to strip like this?” asked Silya Lektrika, my woman companion, who was disgusted by the ordeal. “Are you only out to humiliate us?”
“Who is that prisoner you want to visit, anyway?” asked the inspecting woman cop who surprisingly didn’t even bother to look if a gun or shabu was hidden in my sanitary napkin. “What is his case?”
“He is a broadcaster. He is jailed for libel.”
On the television breaking news later that day, we watched a police handcuffed (or was I just imagining it?) Gemma Bagayaua inside Newsbreak office on Tektite Tower in Makati for the story she wrote for Newsbreak about a man from Vigan who wielded power in the country. In my mind, I saw the metallic chain circled her delicate wrists almost like a bracelet, except that unlike a bracelet, those handcuffs drove home a shattering message to intimidate, to humiliate and to crush her spirit.
Gemma Bagayaua was not able to post bail that day. Her arrest warrant was served at the last hour. When Newsbreak tried to post bail, the Court officer in charge was already on his way home, so that, Gemma Bagayaua, who wasn’t able to avail of the night bail, went through the humiliation of prison life, if only for a night. For libel has been used to threaten and intimidate journalists in the country, to silence voices critical of those in power.
Lex Adonis, a Davao radio broadcaster who carried a story of an important government official allegedly caught in a hotel with a police major’s wife, did not bother to present his side in Court when it was his turn to refute the accusations hurled against him. He jumped bail and was tried in absentia. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. He was already there two weeks when it crossed the minds of his colleagues to visit him in jail, not to question the Court’s decision, not to question the merit of the case but perhaps, to ask him why he didn’t bother answer the accusations against him. Why didn’t he ever bother presenting his side? Was it true he had approached quite a number of lawyers who turned him down because they did not want to fight his accuser, a powerful man very close to Malacanang? I thought I could take some shots of a broadcaster holding the cold prison bars that day only to find out as we approached the whitewashed, barbed wired prison walls that no, we can’t bring in our camera, we can’t bring in our cell phone, we can’t bring in our tape recorders, we can’t bring in our notebooks, we can’t bring in our ballpen. Most of all, we were not allowed to wear belts, we had to leave them to the guards at the gate. Our men companions were complaining that walking without belts made them feel naked. They were complaining that their pants might fall. The guards stamped Davao city jail marks upon our arms. After they were searched, the men disappeared inside the gate. It was our turn to enter but the guard stopped us. “We’re not allowed to inspect women here,” said the male guard, “It’s illegal.” We thought he was joking. He pointed to the woman cop standing in the corner. We approached the woman, who said as soon as we came face to face with her: “You have to strip.”
Silya Lektrika’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets. “Strip?! Why?!”
The woman cop shrugged her shoulders. “It’s the rule here,” she said, with an air of bored indifference. “You have to strip.”
Shocked, Silya Lektrika faced the guard, then, turned her back and faced the woman cop again. “What will you get if you see our bodies naked?” she asked. Afterwards, she turned to the woman cop again and asked, “But can we, at least, close this door while we strip?”
“No,” the woman guard said. “You don’t need to close the door. No one will watch you anyway.”

So, I started arguing with myself. I started arguing with Silya Lektrika, my woman companion. Our bodies---Silya Lektrika’s and mine---suddenly became the site of struggle, the site of war. What is it about our bodies that the world wants to see, anyway? Are women’s bodies keys to women’s soul? Do the jail guards harbor the illusion that they can conquer us by just looking at our bodies? But what is it about naked bodies, anyway?
“Well, it’s up to you if you don’t want to strip,” said the woman cop, turning her back to us. “But you won’t get inside the jail.”
So, I told myself to keep quiet. I have the ability to slip in and out of my body. I took my pants down to my knees and looked at the woman’s cop’s face for reaction but the woman cop was not even looking at me.
“Have we committed any crime that you subject us to this humiliation?” Silya Lektrika resumed asking the woman again. “We’re only here to visit a broadcaster jailed for libel. We haven’t even committed libel, yet, (for she was thinking, libel is a real threat for her) and what is libel, anyway, compared to murder, drug trafficking, embezzlement of public funds, corruption, cheating in an election, illegitimate rule, dictatorship, assassination, ethnocide, extra judicial killings, etc.?” But the woman cop wasn’t listening. It was only much, much later, when I finally reached home and watched the breaking news on TV to see another journalist arrested for libel that I realized what all these stripping naked, handcuffing of hands, and humiliations all about. It suddenly dawned on me that as long as libel remains to be a criminal offense in this country, journalists will continue to face the threat of going to prison like real criminals once they happen to antagonize powers-that-be in their stories. I can hear Silya Lektrika grumbling in my mind. "Who's afraid of the naked truth, anyway?" she asked.

Friday, February 23, 2007

What shall I tell this little boy?

(Today, February 23, 2007, is International Day of Action against Impunity. As we count the dead among us, we urge fellow journalists to wear black over the failure of government to solve the extra-judicial killings of journalists in the country, which has become more blatant by the day---a text message I got from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Davao chapter, which sent me rummaging into an old clothes bin, in search of a black T-shirt. )
I found myself talking to this little boy very recently. He was 13 years old and our topic was another boy who was about his age last year and whom he never met: my son. In a manner that was quite surprising, he was sharing with me some of his 13-year-old wisdom, giving out secrets how every mother should treat a son and how to keep little boys like him from telling a lie. “You should always keep your cool,” he said. “No matter how angry you are. If he senses that you’re mad, that will probably scare him and then, he’ll begin to tell a lie.”
“But what really prompts young people to tell a lie?” I asked.
“Fear,” he said. “Nobody in his right mind would ever want to tell a lie. Except when he’s afraid.”
My conversation with him would have been just another normal conversation with another 13-year-old child, except that we were in a room full of people, talking about how his mother and father were killed by unidentified assailants on their way home from work in Kidapawan city last year. A copy of the forensic report had been passed around to me to the little boy and I felt like snatching that document away from him. If the diagram of the bodies, showing bullet holes, had been too disturbing for a grown up like me, who has never known his parents when they were alive, how much more for this little boy? But the boy calmly held up the paper before his eyes, carefully touching the little dots with his fingers, counting them over and over, playfully maybe, but with calm solemnity he alone can muster. Those dots represented bullet holes on his mother's body. Then, a copy of a newspaper article was passed around showing a picture of his mother and father during happier times when they were still alive. “Do you miss them?” I asked, reluctantly because I didn’t want to touch the little boy, where he must still be hurting.
“Wala man (Not at all),” he said quickly, shrugging his shoulders. His reply reassured me for a while. Amazing! I said to myself as I looked at him again, seeing no trace of sadness, no resentment on his face as we listened to someone talked about how the couple were slain in broad daylight, in one of the city’s most populous areas, even in front of the house of a government official and everybody was saying nobody saw anything. Where were the people then?
Then, I heard the little boy speak to me again in the same jovial tone I’ve been very familiar with another 13 year old at home, only that for the first time, I heard in his voice that tinge of disappointment that up to that time, he had been trying so hard to conceal. “Why?” he asked. “How come nobody comes out? Was there really no one there? Not one? Siaro? Nganong wa juy mosulti? (How come nobody speaks up)?
Today, I feel the urgency of the little boy’s questions. The world has a lot of explaining to do to him because his parents’ death has ceased to be just his parents’ death. It has assumed another meaning to us who are living; and to every little boy growing up in these turbulent times, where you can easily get killed just for being “different.” What shall I tell this little boy? Shall I tell him that his pain is not my pain? Shall I tell him that he’s alone? Shall I tell him that I’m not his mother, so, I can’t feel what he’s going through? Shall I tell him to keep quiet? Shall I tell him to just follow what everyone else is doing because being himself might be a big risk? Shall I tell him not to speak his mind? Shall I tell him it’s all right for someone to keep quiet just to stay alive? What shall I tell my little boy at home? What shall I tell every little boy and girl that I meet in the street? What shall I tell every little girl and boy in school? What am I telling them in my silence? Shall I-who call myself a journalist, a mother--disappoint them by refusing to speak up when my freedom is under attack, by setting aside and refusing to answer their very pressing, very important questions???