How does one pick up 1001 kinds of shit?

I’ve been off the news (except for the SONA which I replayed) the past weeks, partly for my own well-being. You see, there is so much more to the Philippines and the Filipino than what’s in the news. That is the truth. What gets in the news are – I will be blunt – biases of this and that editorial team from this and that agency. Featuring a 30-second statement out of an hour of speech or report is like zooming in on just a brow out of an entire person’s face– it doesn’t help audiences form right decisions and opinions. What if the person is actually blind in both eyes but the news is talking about his brow? Does that make any sense?

Inside a taxi late one night, my companions and I were listening to the news through the radio. The anchor was reporting about a drunken man in so-so neighborhood in so-so City  One drunk. On air for a good 10 minutes. I couldn’t help myself and blurted out, “how do these people do it? why that drunk out of probably fifty million Filipino men drinking out there? and why always about drunkards? what about the other half who are sober?” There was a few seconds of complete silence and then my companions burst out laughing. I realized it was because one of them, the executive director who was sitting in front, was once infamous for his drinking ways among local partners. He has since sobered up after a health scare. But, seriously, though, whose story gets published or reported? and what about the other half of the story?

So I was taken aback when on meeting my host after the weekend, he asked if I’ve heard the news- the raid in Ozamiz City that led to the Mayor’s death. “How?” I asked (it has been an interesting time since I came here. the news about the Marawi City siege and then Martial Law and everything in between). The response was that the Mayor’s security detail fought back. Soon as I got back to my place, I re-connected and replayed the news. Here are my thoughts:

This war on drugs stems from the repeated failure of local government especially Barangay and Municipal/City Local Government Units and citizens to address community issues before they morph into monsters. Once these are out of the community’s control, it’s not just the locals who suffer but also the wider community. Like what we have right now with this. And, look, the resolution to this drug abuse problem is being commuted back to the originating communities through the community-based MASA MASID (Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Iligal na Droga) program in which local teams that also include barangay volunteer-members are put in charge of managing the rehabilitation of drug abuse-surrenderees.

community based rehabilitation program masa masid

When I was told this, I was “oh.my.god. so many years gone to waste. if only the barangays and the people did this the first time the problem popped out instead of closing their eyes to the problem and believing that it can’t be solved thus allowing the problem to grow, grow, and grow out of proportion and control. we’re all so back to square one.” If I were the President, listening to this, I would’ve gone and grab the useless Barangay Captain and his cohorts by their ears and drag them a mile. Because- my god, my god, years and years of tax money gone to waste! Not to mention wasted years of otherwise productive lives.

National government DILG’s MASA MASID program is news-worthy topic that news agencies have not given equal air time to so that all people (and other countries) know is that the drug abuse problem in the country is being resolved through EJKs (which we should note were in the news as early as then former President Noynoy Aquino’s term). This begs the question, how is journalism – the ethical search for and telling of the entire truth – helping the nation to resolve the drug problem? Whose side are news agencies on? Their investors? Their businesses? What sells? Truth should not be sold as if it were a good nor chopped into pieces that make it impossible for audiences to understand the complete whole. Truth is integral to the personhood of human beings. Journalists messing with truth is like them chopping up the human body into unrecognizable pieces that anyone buying cannot distinguish it from minced livestock meat.

Finally, the people. The masses. What’s funny about the masses is that they continue to have fiestas and dancing on the streets even when they know where the money that funded the dancing came from. They dance long and hard for fiestas but not for basic medicines and equipments for their village health centers. They sing long and hard at neighbors’ birthday parties but not for roads in their villages. They approach the throne like very meek sheep for, like, maybe, food, clothing, shelter, and curse the same throne once they’re far away and have gotten the goods. Well, this is the sort of attitude and behavior that produces shit, not freedom, as the outcome.

And so, 1 + 1 = 1001. Elected local officials who live as if they will live forever + citizens not in the proper state of mind + media that keep their cameras on perpetual zoom mode = 1001 kinds of shit.

What is the proper way to go about picking up shit like this?

In any case, the weekend incident in Ozamiz City is yet another call for the nation to reform. Something we should’ve done a long time ago, since the time of Rizal and Bonifacio. To reform, at the core, means to be authentic. STOP using the people’s money to buy collections of Birkins or Hermes bags, luxury cars, or children’s tuition into Harvard or Oxford. STOP using the masses as if slaves, your errand boys and girls. STOP knighting family members as second-liners to a throne that’s not there. We are a republic. STOP the desire for quick and easy money. We have long ago turned our backs to Juan Tamad. Let’s faithfully till the land this time to it’s full potential. STOP the thinking that this nation is comprised of just one class or tribe of Filipinos. We are many. We urgently need to learn how ‘many’ could actually become a strength. STOP everything that has gotten us to this point of in-fighting, back stabbing, and fakery. STOP trying hard to be Americans or like Americans. Let us START to embrace our identity. We are Filipinos. Let us START to listen to old folk songs if only to re-call the life of honor that Filipinos before us strove to live. Let us START to live our positive values of maka-Diyos, maka-bayan, pagtutulungan, pagkakaisa, hiya.

Martial law: whose perspective?

I’m not, never will be, for martial law or any restrictions to liberty and freedom. Even if it’s a benign form of martial law, the fact that civilians are searched or required to present evidence of who or what they are to armed personnel instill an environment of distrust that in turn gives birth to other negative feelings (fear, paranoia, anxiety, more distrust, and the like) and thoughts (am I going crazy? am I the only one distressed over restricted movement?). I can’t help feel angry that I’m searched or asked for identification. Do the checkers really give a hoot about who I am or what I do? No. They only need to see that I am not one of those wanted men and women. The wanted individuals that’s who or what they care about, bottomline, which is why it doesn’t really matter to them if good and law-abiding citizens are made to line up even in scorching high noon heat. Who are being persecuted? But this is my perspective.

I do try, for my own sanity, to understand martial law or forms of restrictions from the perspective of Mindanaoans. They welcome it. People here, Moro and migrants alike, tell me, “people in Manila who are protesting and complaining about martial law here do not know anything, if they want we’ll exchange places, they could come stay here and we’ll go there. See if they don’t embrace martial law.” I have no response to such, just a smile. But I understand now that I’ve been here some time and have gone around in conflict areas where you don’t know if you’re going to be sniped at driving through a village while Michael Learns to Rock is crooning 25 Minutes Too Late in the background, or becoming a secondary victim of a blast in a shop next to the one you’re in. Such does things to your psyche. What more for folks who have been subjected to such a volatile environment for the longest time? I understand, travelling on the Pan-Philippine/Maharlika Highway to and from conflict-ridden areas, why people from Visayas and Luzon would want to build their homes here and why some people here would want to defend it at all cost. This place, this region, is very beautiful. I’m caught by the beauty of it’s landscapes, it’s wilderness. It’s a much-contested space. But I also understand what somebody who’s working in peacebuilding in the region for more than a decade meant when he said “pagod na din ang mga tao dito. Mamamatay tayo na baka hindi pa naayos itong problema (people here are already tired. We’d probably die without the conflict getting resolved).” What a sad, sad thought. I wanted to weep.

Whose voice? Whose agenda? Whose perspective? Whose future? These should guide us as we make a decision or a judgment about what is best for a community.

On the “do no harm” humanitarian principle and the Moro problem

The Moro struggle is not just about a conflict between the Philippine government and Moro rebel groups nor a religious conflict between the Muslims and Christians in Mindanao. Rather it is a complex, deep-rooted and multifaceted one spanning several centuries starting from the Spanish and American colonial times up to the present.

No single cause can sufficiently explain the Moro problem. Despite the many literature on the conflict, much is still to be told, learned and understood regarding the causes and consequences of the conflict that the Moros believe to be their holocaust.

Much of what has been written about the conflict in Mindanao focused mainly on its economic cost and partially on its social cost. Most of these accounts failed to expose the wounds and sufferings that are deeply entrenched in the Moro psyche that continuously shape and influence the Moro’s attitude towards the Philippine government and the rest of the majority Christian Filipinos. Since no respite was given for the wounds to heal, they are continuously aggravated by the protracted war and the elusive peaceful resolution of the problem.

Human Development, Economic and Social Costs, and Spillovers of Conflict: The Case of the Province of Lanao del Sur, Yasmin Busran-Lao

In our last stop of relief operations for Marawi City evacuees, while I was observing the queue of evacuees, under a very hot sun, toward the tables where their names would be verified against earlier validations and their names registered etcetera, a Moro leader came up to me. He told me of his concern that for fellow Moro who have not gone through a process of awareness, understanding, and thus opened themselves up to healing and closure, the fact that Christians were the front-liners in the operation (not withstanding that, too, the soldiers and police in the Marawi conflict are Christians) might again revive sentiments against Christians. My spontaneous reply was, “I understand. That was exactly what I was thinking last night.” When I got back to my place after the relief operations at another town, I couldn’t help the tears flow and spent much of the night trying to understand where humanity – us, Filipino Christians – did wrong. But such thinking always end up in me realizing my own limitations, humankind’s limitations to resolve it’s own problems. Humanitarians can only do so much. I finally went to sleep thoroughly humbled yet again.

The Moro leader had approached me asking if I could help them facilitate for a phase two of the relief operations to assist Moro evacuees undergo a culture of peace education, essentially a process of peace building that begins with the self and then with others. As goes the UNESCO Charter, since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. 

Moving on, still on our exchange, but with one other a Christian migrant who joined us, I said, “but, you know, I’ve also thought about what if I was on the other side, an evacuee? how do I respond to aid, people helping me?”

“Ah,” said the Moro leader looking amused, “sige daw ano? (okay, what?)”

“Sige (okay),” added the Christian migrant, “ano ang gagawin mo given na ang taas ng pinag-aralan mo (what would someone who’s had a university education like you do in that situation)?”

I laughed and said, “I’d refused to be interviewed. I’d refused to have my photo taken. To hell with them.”

The two men became silent and offered no response or reaction. I believed they fell into thinking. Perhaps the Moro leader was thinking I’m worse than his people? I didn’t offer further explanation. Let them think about what I meant, which is that human dignity is for every human being regardless of religion; it’s about one human being responding to another human being and taking care to do that justly, and to achieve that one must have an understanding of one’s own basic needs and rights transcending one’s prejudices against race, religion, gender, etc. For example: Just because someone is an evacuee doesn’t mean he or she is stupid or uneducated or his or her rights suspended that other people think they could go around the evacuation centers taking shots and making them public and thrusting microphones, recorders, or cameras at, for instance, mothers breast-feeding their babes, demanding or expecting coherent replies (and when they receive incoherent responses they readily label the evacuee-interviewees as schizophrenic. My god, who is the schizophrenic in such a situation)? Would I want that done to me if I were an evacuee? NO! If I’m required or pressured to be interviewed in exchange for food relief then take back your food relief! But media do that to evacuees to their fellow Christians too (think of evacuees from natural disasters in Luzon and Visayas).

Irresponsible callous acts are monitored by the offended party and added in it’s long List of Sins by the Enemy, naturally. Then when the offended party has decided it’s done with listing, it fires back and in the process not only are members of the offending party hurt but also innocent parties. Media and those dealing directly with fragile communities therefore have a great responsibility in sustaining the gains in peace building.

At it’s most basic level, human security consists of the freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from humiliation.

Human Security and Armed Conflict, Philippine Human Development Report 2005

Prolonged humiliation does things to your head not to mention it’s ill effects on emotions and the body hence being genuine is a response that is so welcomed, in fact, heals.

Happy Independence Day!

As long as I can remember, it used to be that Philippine Independence Day (119th today) is merely a lukewarm celebration of sorts in localities dependent on the budget that a local government has allocated (which corresponds to the extent of regard local government has for the history behind Filipino liberty and freedoms). What my stay in Mindanao at this time has taught me is that independence cannot, should not be taken for granted, ever. Local governments should stage community celebration of this historical event, remembering the people in the past as well as in the present and their sacrifices in order that the country remain free and independent. Independence Day is so much more worth the public celebration than fiestas. Such would be the place to acknowledge past mistakes and our limited humanity, and in the spirit of humility resolve to do better. The aim of this community ritual, like reunions, is for community members to reconnect around a common history and purpose moving forward. We’re always blaming the Spaniards and Americans – colonizers – for our inability to break through poverty (economic as well as in attitude) but, hey, the people and governments who colonized ithe country are long dead or gone and changed. Since then we only had ourselves to blame. Just look at the state of our present-day Congress and local government units. T he other day, while out to do some errands, I had just crossed the street to the grocery when I heard a commotion among people up ahead. It turned out there was a convoy of military trucks going by. They were filled with masked soldiers, and they looked weary. No smiles to the people and vice versa. That was not a familiar sight for me. What’s familiar to me is the images of poker-faced but palpably happy and shiny cadets at the Philippine Military Academy, whether on parade or on their regimental exercise. That image the other day was the result of experiencing realities on the ground, the actual battlefield which for the most part do not jive with what students were taught in school. But, I guess, as in much of life, we don’t run away from life and our duties. We face whatever comes our way. That is the way to live, the only way in order to fully enjoy life and the freedoms that go with human life. The question in the end isn’t what did you do to care for yourself? but rather what did you do for others? Life here in the Islands is so much more safe and free if we all got one another’s back.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me”

The recommendation of the TJRC (Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission) is to create an independent national mechanism that will address the issues connected to transitional justice in Mindanao and in the Philippines. This National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission for the Bangsamoro is the mechanism that will address the four important aspects:

One, is the Historical Memory,

the issue of Impunity and Accountability,

the issue of Marginalization through Land Dispossession

and Healing and Reconciliation.

The Philippine Government, and I mean it’s decision-makers, need to be sincere and honorable in following through their commitments for Mindanao. To walk their talk. This is also true for the groups on the other side- the MNLF, MILF, and CPP-NPA. For instance, we have seen that despite ARMM in Mindanao which is the resulting system and structure that the MNLF fought for with much bloodshed and which they said is the answer to the armed struggle in the region, the story of the Moro masses has not significantly changed. How is it that ARMM provinces remain the poorest in the country? And where is that alternative system of governance that MNLF said it wanted to establish that would solve the ills in the region? The Filipino people, the Moro people included, see the same old issues re-playing itself in the ARMM system.

Peace therefore starts with having peace in one’s heart, and by having peace I mean sincerity (what is your real motivation in pushing for independence? presumably not for private interests), empathy, humility (recognition of one’s limits), and constraint of one’s baser tendencies eg. desire for limitless material wealth and beliefs of superiority be it in race or culture, morals, and socio-economic standing. For we cannot give what we, individually, don’t have.

“The Peace of Wild Things”

Thursday, December 8, 2016 – 2:50 pm

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When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Who wants to gamble with love?

who wants to be a gambler? gina lopez

Today, Gina Lopez. Trailing her, Leni Robredo. Before her, Leila de Lima. Oh, of course, how could we not mention Imelda Marcos, Cory Aquino, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They’re examples of Filipino women breaking through the glass ceiling, yet… why and how did their stories end in tragedy?

Used, I say. Pawns in the high-stakes Game of the Generals. Look at each of their publicly-lived lives and you’ll see M.E.N as the common element, invisible perhaps, but very palpable. But where were these M.E.N in the end, when they ought to have shown up as knights in shining armor? What was that line in the song? Naglaho. In the end, these women faced the mob alone, perhaps wondering as they look out to the crowd how did they end up as meat for the dogs.

But, surely their participation in the Game was with their consent despite their knowledge of the consequences? In other words, the serpent’s sugar loaded words was not an acceptable justification for Eve’s decision hence action. At the end of the day, each individual, man or woman, is accountable for his or her own decisions and actions. At this point, Paul Anka’s Don’t Gamble With Love floats through my head:

Don’t gamble with love

It’s only for fools

So play by the rules…

Oh don’t gamble with love

You’ll lose it for sure

There’d be no cure

When you gamble with love.

You can gamble your house,

gamble your car…

(But) Don’t gamble with love.

In the case of mining, or should I say irresponsible mining, the real enemy is from within (the agency) in the form of licenses that have been continously renewed despite findings from monitors. There is a law, system, and procedure that ensues from noncompliance. But how was it that noncompliant companies were renewed their licenses? This is the standing question across all or most government agencies here not only the DENR. The HLURB and LGUs and real estate developers, for instance. How were development fees allocated back by recipients of the fees for community development? Thus take out or put a stop to the real enemy and irresponsible profit-making (and continuing poverty of the masses) should end. In any case, Ms. Lopez made a gamble, choosing to move away from what was evidently the right set of cards in front of her. Ms. Lopez is a seasoned CEO. Why would she not see that? This was the part that didn’t fit.

Then, oh, in April there was yet another female face plastered on the front pages of national dailies. A police officer. Allegedly, she had been coddling a high-ranking member of the ASG. She is his lover, reportedly. Blah blah. There was nothing on the man’s story of their relationship which made the affair as if entirely manipulated by the woman. Perhaps it was, perhaps not. Who knows?

Which brings us back to the word pawns. Women pawned by other women, men, institutions. Still, women, those “foolish” enough, make a gamble. We would’ve wanted these women to win, if only for the sake of the female species, but apparently opponents are stronger, wilier, more embedded. I guess what women need to have to be able to stand their own ground on their terms, to break away from becoming pawns just so to break through the glass ceiling, are a winning combination of goods to gamble with, the right mix of rules to play with, and an impenetrable machinery that is the sisterhood.

First Lady for the 21st century

The much-anticipated ASEAN Summit is finally here and the President and his team are doing a wonderful job. He is much respected among his peers which is why what he says, as Chair, will shape the direction of the Summit in a big way.

On the sides though we hear the crabs- Filipinos who keep at putting down their fellow Filipinos, or more specifically, a President who they can’t control, who refuse to be their puppet. They label him ‘strong man’ and they think with that they’ve pulled the curtains down on the people. But who are they fooling? I mean, who among the world’s state leaders are not strong men and women? Can a country survive when led by weak men and women? In this sense, strong is like sex.

Anyway. What I’d really like to say in this post is that it’s good to see the President’s partner, Honeylet, visible in the Summit. She is lovely. She looked classy in her green (love the shade!) jacket. And, may I say it, she has a fine pair of pins (rivalling Duchess Catherine’s!). She has the making of a 21st century Filipino First Lady.

It has been a long time since this country had a First Lady. The last has been unjustly called names to the point where First Lady is degraded to Supreme Slut. But the association is just the conjuring of dirty minds. Do we know that the Filipino bloodline is of dugong maharlika?

It is time the country has a First Lady. Honeylet touring the other First Ladies in the national museum signifies the important role of a woman, a First Lady, in, among others, promoting, preserving, and sustaining Filipino culture. And culture includes values ie. positive Filipino values. The President in his speech essentially called for a culture of peace to prevail in and within ASEAN. How do we go about achieving that? The First Lady of the 21st cemtury has much to contribute toward that.