Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Poem from Paring Bert

A poem from poet-anthropologist-philosopher-Jesuit priest Fr. Albert Alejo. It's interesting to read a more elaborate discussion of his poem here.


Ano't tila singlawak
ng lupaing pangarap
itong munti mong kamay
dito, mahal, sa aking palad?

Ang mga ulap sa iyong mga kuko
ang mga bangin sa mga daliri mo
ang manipis na batis ng iyong balahibo
at ang pagpapalit-palit ng panahon
ng init at lamig sa bigla mong pagpisil,
pagbitiw, at pagkapit ng ubod-higpit
sa bawat panaka-naka nating pagtatagpo
na kung bakit laging kailangang patago--
lahat ay tila kawalang hanggang
paano ba lalakbaying pilit
nitong nalulula, at nangingimi kong
mabilisang paghalik.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Little Swiss Shop

On a drizzling afternoon of January, I found myself in a crowd of NGO workers, dancing to the beat of a sacred music under the huge dome of the sky. Three Swiss women led the sacred dance (and I had a sudden wish it were a full moon) but of course, it was not, and it was not really that kind of dance!
The three Swiss women belonged to the women's group Theresa Ladeli (ladeli is the Swiss term for "little shop"), who auctioned unused items in Switzerland to send the proceeds to help poor communities in the Philippines. Later, Daday would tell me how boxes of pencils made in Switzerland and Germany would find their way to Aeta communities in Tapak or how boxes of Swiss knives would sometimes get into the hands of Customs officials who wanted to take some of them as "souvenirs."
Monica Baumann founded the group after the shock of her first visit in the country 16years ago. She has been coming to the Philippines once in every two years to see how far the group's assistance has been going; and this time, she was with two women companions, Lilly Wirz and Anna Rosa Gersbach.
Lilly was upset because she saw a baby died of pesticide poisoning in the midst of a banana plantation in Compostela Valley on the week of their visit. They also went to a house in between the huge tracks of land owned by the Zubiris and another landed family in Bukidnon, where a few months earlier, a nine year old child happened to eat a stolen banana (newly sprayed with insecticides) and died. (Later, I would also read what happened over a year ago to two women workers of a group that Theresa Ladeli was assisting.)
Lilly could not talk to the crowd without bursting into tears. I thought that Ana Rossa did not want to talk, too, because she did not want to show her emotions. But at the end of the program, she delivered this message:
"Maayong Hapon, my dear sisters and brothers," Ana Rossa began. "I say sisters and brothers because you did let me feel at home, you did let me feel being a member of a big family - salamat kaayo!
You gave me the chance to look behind the smile in the faces of the Philippino people and what I saw is more than sad and bad - it's unjust and unhuman.
After all I have experienced these six weeks, the last five and the first three weeks here in Mindanao, I do not go back home the same woman as I was before. I will go home half Swiss and half Filipino (not only because my skin did turn darker) and this half part always wants to come back to you again, because you became part of my life.
It's a privilege to have the choice--as all the people you serve--and this is unjust and unhuman. But you help them, you bring hope, you give all you have --your love--and you risk your life. I admire all of you and thank you for this very precious work. You work as NGO's, you do not go overseas. You have the choice to either work for a big company here and earn bigger money or go abroad but you made your choice to stay in your home country, to stand up for your people, to serve the poor.

On our way back to Davao city, our companion pointed to them a Swiss Deli we passed by on our way to Bajada.
"No, no," Lilly said, vigorously shaking her head. "We don't go looking for Swiss food when we're in Asia, we eat 'real' food," she said. "We eat Swiss food only when we get home and then, we know, that it's for real."
I nodded because I saw her eat with relish boiled eggplant and okra with bagoong that afternoon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Life of a Gay-sha!

I was asked to do a story on the "Life of Correspondents," by the Philippine Journalism Review (PJR), but to my dismay, no one really wanted to talk to me about it. Bong told me to interview his bureau chief, instead; Esco did not want me to reveal which paper he was writing, Q was upset with his date and became very scarce, and except for Julie in far off Zamboanga city, everybody--from Nash to Jeoffrey to Grace---was silent.
I was lucky to find the gay-sha.
She set our interview inside the newly-opened Peace Café on Juna Subdivision where she was doing an interview with the café owner! Is it possible to interview somebody who is doing an interview? I asked.
But then, I realized this was how impossible the gay-sha was! After waiting for quite a time, while the gay-sha sipped her iced coffee, finished her ice cream, demolished her banana cake without even the courtesy of handing me a fork I could use to help him, peppered the café owner with questions before dismissing her, the gay-sha confronted me.
"So, what are you going to ask?" she asked.
"I don't know," I shrugged. "I don't want to ask anything."
The gay-sha sighed. "Maybe, you give me answers first, before I ask my questions," I continued. She sighed again. "This is an interview where the first question is, what is the question?!"
She understood that she was supposed to tell the story of our lives.
The gay-sha did not complain. In the news, Rep. Prospero Nograles was already voted as the new Speaker of the House and the Inquirer Mindanao Bureau was texting the gay-sha and me to gather the people's reaction about it. Nogie is from Davao, the political archenemy of Davao's tough-talking Dirty Harry. But the gay-sha stayed in her place, a picture of perfect calm. She knew how to act out her role, whether as interviewer or interviewee.
As she started to open her life, which was also our life, I had to wade through a forest of jargons to decode the language of the gay-sha. "You know what I mean," she'd say, "I don't believe in such fracka-fracka, do you understand?"
Of course, I did not understand. But I nodded. "I don't believe in such chuvanesque," she added. The gay-sha wanted to demolish the belief that there was no story worth dying for. "If no story was worth dying for, no story will get written in the first place. We might as well stop writing," the gay-sha raved. Like mad.

Caged Birds

I am no longer a stranger to jails, so, when I went to do a story on Davao city’s newest women prison facility (which, except for the high fence, did not look like a jail at all), I already knew how to strike a conversation with the women inmates.
“Will you talk about your case?!” I asked the woman who took the courage to approach me, the closest link she thought she can get to the outside world.
“Drugs,” she said, smirking. She got caught in a police buy-bust operation, she explained in a Tagalog I did not understand, because she was using the language of the trade.
“And you?!” I asked another woman beside her, “Drugs,” the woman smiled and nodded.
“About 40 per cent of the cases of women inmates here involved drugs,” said the first woman. “Except them,” she pointed to a handsome woman in her forties, whose voice---when she described the new facility as more “hygienic,” “well-ventilated” and less crammed compared to the old one---was that of someone accustomed to giving orders.
Her case was illegal recruitment, the first woman said. There were only eight or 11 of them here in every 40 of us, said the first woman.
The first woman introduced me to the 64-year old woman, with graying hair framing her sad, wrinkled face. The old woman said she was accused of theft, for stealing coconuts from her own land. The land was mortgaged for a pig, a goat and a can of rice for her wedding feast back in the 1950s.
Her husband tried to redeem the mortgage but their neighbor refused. Three years ago, she was harvesting coconuts from an adjacent farm when the coconuts rolled over to her neighbor’s property. She came to retrieve the coconuts but her neighbor accused her of theft.
“I won the case in the barangay and in the lupon,” the woman said, in a voice made stronger and louder by her belief that she was right.
She failed to show up in Court two times after she was summoned for a hearing. She said she was so busy selling vegetables in Bankerohan, she had no time for Court hearings. Her family depended on her, she said. After two Court summons that she largely ignored, the sheriffs came to detain her.
Over a year ago, I saw the insides of a jail for the first time when we paid a visit to Lex Adonis, the Davao broadcaster jailed for libel. The broadcaster was jailed largely because he failed to defend himself in the proceedings. He was tried in absentia. He was the only libel case in the sea of other criminal cases. I remember the first conversations we had with the inmates.
“So, what’s your case?” one of our companions asked the man that Lex Adonis introduced to us. “Murder,” the man replied.
We nodded our heads vigorously to hide our surprise.
“How long have you been here?” one of us, who recovered, asked.
“Seven years,” the man said, “Still waiting for conviction.”
“Seven years!” we chorused, no longer able to hide our surprise.
“What will happen if you get convicted for four years?” one of us asked.
“I don’t know,” the man said. “I’ll just do what they want me to do.”
Everybody reflected on the murder and the man.
“I did not regret it,” said the man, as if he could read our thoughts, “I killed the bastard who raped my daughter.”
We nodded again, slowly this time. The circle around us grew as more prisoners came to join the conversation. Most of their cases were murder, rape, drugs. We listened to another man who told us how he was mistaken for the murderer, after he found himself standing near scene of the crime just when the police were arriving.
I remember what I learned from all the prison movies I watched: Even in jail, no one is guilty. Everyone is innocent.