Friday, June 30, 2006

Sharing stories, sharing dreams

Today I was with nuns in a convent somewhere in New Manila, Quezon City. For an afternoon, we shared stories, we reflected on the implications of events happening around, we sang, we prayed and we questioned ourselves. What have we done to prevent the evil that’s besieging our world?

We shared stories how we were touched by the killings of activists, church workers, teachers, journalists. We asked ourselves why there was no outrage from the people, why is it that even the church and the media have become so used to the situation to complain.

Is there still hope? We agreed that prayers are not enough. We have to take action. We have to voice our concern and protest the onslaught of violence in a society so calloused to raise its voice.

It was sunset when we finished pouring our hearts out. It was a prayer session that, instead of inspiring me, disturbed my whole being.

Back in the office, people were talking about where to spend the evening. It’s pay day and people have money. The stretch of Timog Avenue was filled with vehicles. People were on their way to the bars and restaurants on Timog and Tomas Morato.

Does it matter that two promising students of the University of the Philippines and a farmer were missing several kilometers away in Bulacan because they were trying to understand the situation of poor rural folk.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand the logic of this world. People who toil most of their waking hours deserve to enjoy. But do we really exist only to enjoy despite the inhuman situation of people around us?

O, how we forget even the most intimate moments of our experiences. How we forget that summer is not in June, that when it showers the sun usually does not shine. How people forget the past, even the recent past, how we forget our history. And because we forget, we don't move forward. We continue to go around in circle, repeating the mistakes that we've made.

Many times I wish that Plato is right, that the world where we exist, the things that we see and the experiences that we undergo are mere shadows, illusions.

Let me share Plato's "Parable of the Cave":

Socrates:
And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

Glaucon:
I see.

Socrates:
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

Glaucon:
You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Socrates:
Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

Glaucon:
True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

Socrates:
And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Glaucon:
Yes, he said.

Socrates:
And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy, when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

Glaucon:
No question, he replied.

Socrates:
To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

Glaucon:
That is certain.

Socrates:
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision,, what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing And when to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Glaucon:
Far truer.

Socrates:
And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take refuge in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

Glaucon:
True, he said.

Socrates:
And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities?

Glaucon:
Not all in a moment, he said.

Socrates:
He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

Glaucon:
Certainly.

Socrates:
Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

Glaucon:
Certainly.

Socrates:
He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Glaucon:
Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about it.

Socrates:
And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Glaucon:

Certainly, he would.

Socrates:
And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Glaucon:
Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Socrates:
Imagine once more, I said, such a one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

Glaucon:
To be sure, he said.

Socrates:
And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable), would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

Glaucon:
No question, he said.

Socrates:
This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed, whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

Glaucon:
I agree, he said, as far as I am able to understand you.

Socrates:
Moreover, I said, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.

Glaucon:
Yes, very natural.

Socrates:
And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil state of man, when they returned to the den they would see much worse than those who had never left it. himself in a ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of images of justice, and is endeavoring to meet the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice?

Glaucon:
Anything but surprising, he replied.

Socrates:
Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he has a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.

Glaucon:
That, he said, is a very just distinction.

Socrates:
But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes?

Glaucon:
They undoubtedly say this, he replied.

Socrates:
Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.

Glaucon:
Very true.

Socrates:
And must there not be some art which will effect conversion in the easiest and quickest manner; not implanting the faculty of sight, for that exists already, but has been turned in the wrong direction, and is looking away from the truth?

Glaucon:
Yes, he said, such an art may be presumed.

Socrates:
And whereas the other so-called virtues of the soul seem to be akin to bodily qualities, for even when they are not originally innate they can be implanted later by habit and exercise, the virtue of wisdom more than anything else contains a divine element which always remains, and by this conversion is rendered useful and profitable; or, on the other hand, hurtful and useless. Did you never observe the narrow intelligence flashing from the keen eye of a clever rogue, how eager he is, how clearly his paltry soul sees the way to his end; he is the reverse of blind, but his keen eye-sight is forced into the service of evil, and he is mischievous in proportion to his cleverness?

Glaucon:
Very true, he said.

Socrates:
But what if there had been a circumcision of such natures in the days of their youth; and they had been severed from those sensual pleasures, such as eating and drinking, which, like leaden weights, were attached to them at their birth, and which drag them down and turn the vision of their souls upon the things that are below, if, I say, they had been released from these impediments and turned in the opposite direction, the very same faculty in them would have seen the truth as keenly as they see what their eyes are turned to now. From Plato's Repulblic, Book VII

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sharing coffee and stories

Speaking before priests, seminarians, nuns and members of religious congregations this evening was like going back in time. I could see myself a few years ago sitting in the middle of the hall, awed at the personalities in front, intently listening to every word they would utter.

Being with my brothers in the seminary is like being with my family. We all know we commit mistakes and we all understand. We understand and forgive after the one who commits a mistake makes amends.

I talked about the media situation in the country. I shared tales of my life as a journalist. I told them that being a journalist is like being a priest. Our vocation is the same: to spread the good news to everyone who would care to listen. We journalists also want our world to change into a better one. We also want all the killings to stop. We want also want justice and peace to reign in our land.

I sang and prayed with them. I shared coffee with them. They gave me a certificate of recognition. They even provided a stipend. They said they would pray for me. I said I would do my best in my profession and not fail them.

Years ago, when I was as young as the seminarians who listened to me speak this evening, I used to go to the chapel after every symposium. I would pray that despite the difficulties I encounter daily in my studies I would become a priest and put into practice all the ideas I learned from the speakers.

This evening, while I tried to negotiate the traffic back to the office, I silently murmured a prayer that somehow I was able to touch a future priest’s heart. I prayed that I did not do an injustice to those who listened and I asked for forgiveness for the mistakes I made.

* * *

Coffee, like beer, tastes sweet when one shares it with someone one is comfortable with. It doesn’t matter what kind of coffee one is having, be it brewed or instant coffee. Anyway, nothing compares to the coffee Lola Tinang and Tiya Sensyang used to prepare.

We used to have coffee trees around the house. We picked the ripe fruits, dry it under the sun and, days later, roast it until it turns black. Our grandmother would then bring out the grinder – how do you call a galingan? – and order us kids to grind the black beans. The ground coffee is then put into a kettle to boil. Then we have to wait until the coffee sinks on the bottom of the kettle before Lola Tinang and Tiya Sensyang pour the liquid into our cup.

When I was a kid, drinking coffee was not done to pass time. Drinking coffee was a ritual. I only drink coffee in my grandparents’ house. We didn’t have coffee in our house. My parents said we could not afford it. What we had was “corn coffee” or coffee from ground roasted corn. On special occasions - a death in the family or during birthdays - my mother would buy a glass of Nescafe. (We’ve collected these empty glasses for our daily use. My sister and I used to share a glass while my father and mother another because there were not enough for the whole family.)

Coffee for me has become synonymous with special occasions like weekend visits to my grandparents’ house, Christmas, Holy Week. Later in life, when I stayed for several months in the hinterlands of Basilan and Zamboanga, I was always honored when Muslim families offer me coffee. There were times, when I made home visits to at least ten households in an afternoon. I had to drink ten glasses of coffee. Yes, that’s ten big glasses!

These days, drinking coffee has become a fad. Lovers quarrel and reconcile over coffee, deals are sealed over coffee, plans are hatched over coffee and people mask and unmask themselves over coffee.

I have lost my passion over coffee. These days, I drink coffee because others offer me a cup or, out of courtesy, I offer guest, friends and acquaintances. Many times I have coffee just to pass time and accompany someone who loves to drink the beverage. I prefer water.

I still for my grandmother's coffee. I still long for the special occassions when drinking coffee was a ritual. I dream of that day when I will drink coffee with someone willing to share a cup. What matters most would be the sharing. What matters most would be drinking coffee not with misty eyes after illusions appear and disappear with the white steam that, for a few seconds, linger in front of one's face.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Motorcycle ride

A motorcycle ride is always a moment of freedom. There’s always the adrenaline rush. One wrong move, a wrong turn, a wrong flick of a finger can bring disaster. But nothing compares with the joy of feeling the wind on one's face and the thought of being in full control of one’s life. Riding a motorcycle is like making love. Orgasm comes with a full throttle. There's no room for false moves.

A motorcycle rider must also learn to read the skies. One must know the direction of the wind and feel its temperature. One must know the difference of a stratus cloud from a cumulus cloud. Reading the signs makes a lot of difference especially during the rainy season.

The beauty of a motorcycle ride is the speed of travel while maintaining a connection with “life.” One must always be rooted on the ground or be ready anytime to keep contact with the ground. Like life itself, being rooted on the ground means survival.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mando’s piece of land

Mando is selling the land he inherited from his mother who died many, many years ago when Mando was still a kid. I was not even born yet when Mando’s mother died.

The piece of land, a ricefield, is the share of Mando’s mother after her surviving siblings decided to divide the land because their parents have long died anyway and they are growing older too.

Mando wanted me to buy the piece of land. It’s 380 square meters and he’s selling it to me for only P900 per square meter instead of P1,000 per square meter, the current rate in the real estate market in our province.

First, I told him, I don’t have the money. I even haven’t eaten dinner today because I lost my last P200 in my pocket. Second, what would I do with a piece of land in the middle of nowhere and near a cemetery?

I used to roam those fields when I was younger. It was there where I hit my first tukmo and killed my first punay. It was in Mando’s piece of land where I learned to plant rice, plowed the field with my favorite carabao, played hide-and-seek when rice still grew up to two meters, and it was there where I hid to peep on Mando kiss Manay Timmy when they were still lovers.

Mando’s piece of land holds memories of the past. I would have wanted to buy it if only I have the money to pay for it. Mando said he needs the money to pay for her daughter’s college education. I don’t even have the money to buy a fake college diploma in Recto.

And I don’t want to spend money to buy memories. Like friendship, memories are supposed to be taken care of, nurtured and treasured. Like friendship, memories are not supposed to be recalled only when one needs it.

I may or may not buy Mando’s piece of land. I might just help him, in whatever little way I can, send Inday Fe to college. There’s no need for me to be reminded about the tukmo and the punay, about Tura and Tata, Junior and Yoyo Luis, and the carabao and the chicken in the middle of the field, the maya and the tirador. They have been always part of me. There’s no point missing them.

Adobong Bisaya

Living in the city deprives me of a lot of things, especially food. (And real friends, too, who welcome you any time of the day even without an invitation, sometimes even inviting you to partake with what little food they have.)

I thought about food after watching Howie Severino’s “Amoy Pinoy” in “i-witness”. I thought about friends after being turned away by a friend who said I should have given a warning before coming over.

I thought about food and remembered the "Adobong Bisaya" my friends in my hometown used to share especially on the feast day of St. John the Baptist. My friends used to raid our kitchen – the bahaw in the kaldero, the three-day old adobo my Nana tries to save for the next meal, the ginamos in the Nescafe glass – despite the half-hearted protest of my mother.

My friends would bring everything, including the kaldero to the beach. The family has no choice but to follow and to hold an instant piknik with "Nonoy's barkada".

In our province, my friends are my parents’ friends, my friends' friends are also our friends and so on and so forth. We would always become a happy family of friends. That's why Mayo's home is my home, Marvin's bed is my bed, Meiko's mom is our mom, Divina's husband is our barkada and we eat together, sleep together and many of us, I know, would die together, nay, almost at the same time, like our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

(By the way, wakes are a happy moment for our community. Although we shed tears, we also share happy moments together. When we were kids, we used to sleep under the coffin of a friend's dead grandfather or father or mother. November 1 is a grand reunion of the community in the cemetery. It's the only time when we account who were dead and who are still alive. The next time we buy candles for the tombs or submit a list of names of the dead for the priest to mention during the dedication of the mass, we would know how much to spend.)

Adobo is cooked in various ways. In my hometown, our adobo is dry and oily. I think it’s just appropriate because we don’t have a refrigerator. The oil preserves the meat for it to last weeks.

During fiestas, we cook a lot of adobo for friends and relatives to bring home. We call it “bring house.” We put the adobo with a lot of mantika inside cans of biscuits, milk, anything that we find in our kitchen or backyard. Sometimes, weeks after the fiesta, when we visit friends in their homes during mealtime, the nanay or the lola would proudly offer the adobo. “Gikan pa ni sa inyo. Lami kaayo mao nga gihinay-hinay namo,” the friend’s mother would say. "Kanus-a man mag-adobo og usob si nanay mo?” would always be the next question. "Sa piyesta tingali kung magpatay mi og baboy," I would answer.

It has been a long time since I’ve eaten our adobo. It has been a long time I have been with friends.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

‘Struggling journalists’

Many times I am ashamed about my being a journalist. I am ashamed for having not done anything, for not having written or edited good stories, for not having perfected my grammar, for not having lived to the fullest my calling, nay, my profession as a journalist, as a witness to history, as a writer of raw materials that would, in the future, be the basis of our own kasaysayan.

I also feel ashamed about the many other journalists, especially those in the cities, who easily claim to be journalists because they cover their beats daily, write stories based on what their sources say or what the press releases wanted them to say, and worry more about what to wear, how they look, where to spend the night, where to go for vacation, what’s the next gimmick, etc.

I am ashamed because George and Macel died struggling to become journalists in Mindanao. I am ashamed because when Carol Arguillas asked me a few years back if I wanted to work in Mindanao and join her team my first question was how much would she pay me to go back to my homeland.

I felt sad after reading the article below that was written by a student who trained under George and Macel. I felt sad because despite the many training workshops and lectures I’ve attended, despite all the books I’ve read, I remain a hostage of my needs in this big city where I call myself a journalist.

George and Macel: “Struggling journalists”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 June) -- This was how George and Maricel "Macel " Alave-Vigo described themselves during their stint as regular staff members of "The Headliner," a weekly newspaper published in Cotabato City and circulated in Southwestern Mindanao from 1998 until the paper folded up in 2003.

George and Macel were members of the Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality (FREE), an organization of journalists that ran and managed the defunct Headliner.

For them, being "struggling journalists" meant writing and advocating a cause, with bias for the rights of the Lumads (indigenous peoples), war evacuees, women, and exposing irregularities in government.

As "struggling journalists," they did not write for a living but "write to serve the voiceless."

The couple would tell young writers and campus reporters not to write merely to inform but to educate.

While doing media work, the two continued helping advocacy works of the Diocese of Kidapawan. Macel was then working for the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) in Kidapawan City.

A feminist, Macel maintained a column in the "Headliner" titled "Feminist Expressions" which tackled mostly issues on the rights of women and children. She once wrote about an alleged case of sexual harassment brought to her attention. The alleged harassment implicated a politician.

George regularly wrote about the rights of the indigenous peoples (IPs) particularly on the encroaching of banana plantations around Mt. Apo, which is considered sacred by the Lumads (IPs)

George, who studied for three years at the Notre Dame Seminary in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, served as secretary of the Task Force Apo Sandawa under the Diocese of Kidapawan. The Task Force advocated for the protection of Mount Apo.

In the early 2000s, the group fought to prevent the Philippine National Oil Corporation's geothermal project from expanding in the Lumads’ ancestral land around Mt. Apo. The group also staged rallies to stop arsenic poisoning allegedly caused by the power plant.

George also served as bureau chief of Headliner after Carlos Bautista, who was then with Catholic-run radio station DXND, resigned from his pos

For being so critical of a officials in the province, George, sometime in 1999, was offered, through an emissary of a politician, a post as “ghost writer” in the politician’s office. Seeing this as a trap intended to silence him, he turned down the offer.

George and Macel wrote about the church and communities' peace initiatives in different areas of the region and conducted trainings for campus journalists in Kidapawan City colleges and high schools where they also shared the idea of public and peace journalism.

While covering the 2000 war, George also worked for Tabang Mindanaw, which extended assistance to the internally displaced persons. He was also one of 17 journalists who embarked on a fact-finding mission in the different war-torn villages across Mindanao during the "all-out war" of then President Joseph Estrada that year.

In college, both were members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and League of Filipino Students (LFS).

George, 35, a native of Magpet North Cotabato, served as president of the student council of Notre Dame of Kidapawan College where he finished Political Science. He was also a member of an international fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi.

Macel took up BS Chemistry at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato but stopped schooling. In April, she received her BS Development Communication degree through the Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency Accreditation Program (ETEEAP). The other graduate under the same program was North Cotabato Governor Emmanuel Pinol, a distant relative.

Macel, 39, was part-time media relations officer of Rep. Lala Talino and was area coordinator of SPOTS (Solar Power Technology System) of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), a project funded by the British Petroleum, to distribute solar power to agrarian reform communities without access to electricity.

Before joining SPOTS, Macel was also executive director of the Peoples' Kauyahan Foundation, Inc. which was active in peace-building projects.

George, who was program coordinator of the Mindanao Youth Leadership Program of the Community and Family Services, International (CFSI) hosted Tingog sa Kabatan-unan (Voice of the Youth), a 30-minute radio program of the CFSI aired every Monday noon while Mazel hosted Talino’s Kalihukan sa Kongreso (Congress Affairs) aired over DXND every Sunday noon.

(This tribute was contributed by a young writer who counts George and Macel as among his mentors. The writer is also a former staff member of the Headliner and a distant relative of Macel. The writer now works in a non-government organization based in Davao City.)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What I do when I'm not blogging

I read.

I'm reading "The Lazarus Vendetta" of Robert Ludlum and Patrick Larkin. It's like watching "Mission Impossible" or any other thriller sans the distraction of a seatmate.

I know a lot of people who hate Ludlum and people who read Ludlum. I love Ludlum. Ludlum taught me how to read. Ludlum introduced me to the world I only dreamt of seeing when I was young - Vienna, Washington, Amsterdam - and places - the State Department, the Capitol, etc.

When I was younger, when I was still in my sleepy little hometown, the only book I was able to get a hand on were copies of the Bible in Cebuano, Tagalog and English and second-hand Ludlum novels brought by the older siblings of my well-to-do classmates from Cebu.

My classmates would bring the books to school to show off. I borrowed the books. When my friends later found out that I was reading their books they started bringing others titles, other authors. They would ask me to read the books and tell them the story. I would later hear them telling other friends that they've read the books.

Ludlum opened my eyes that there is a world beyond the tall mountains that surround our little island hometown. Ludlum taught me to love reading and expand the reach of my imagination beyond the tall coconut trees and the horizon beyond the setting sun.

The first book I read was the "Gospel According to St. John," a small book which was a gift to me by a vacationing seminarian. I was around five years old then. The second book was "Silas Marner." Then the Bible. Then Ludlum came when I was in Grade 6.

I wonder what young people are reading these days especially in my hometown. The last time I went home I saw young people busy themselves day in and day out in front of computer monitors playing online games.

What I do when I'm not blogging? I look for Ludlum novels. I can also proudly say that I've read all of Ludlum's books and all the books of Tom Clancy, Le Carre, John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon and Michael Crichton.

When I was in college, I was forced to read the classics and Nobel Prize winning authors. These were the only non-fiction books available in the seminary during that time. I had no chance to buy my own books because I only had a P50 monthly allowance then.

When I started to have an income, I splurged on books - award-winning books, hard-to-find books, books, books, books. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I even bought books on Physics for lack of something to read.

I never felt sorry to have loved Ludlum. I will always be grateful to him for introducing me to the world of books and the world of men and the world of people who kill and love and sometimes fail.

So back to the world of Lt. Col. Jon Smith and his Covert-One mission. Let's go hunt some terrorists.

Monday, June 19, 2006

With impunity

When will the killings stop?

Today, ironically the birthday of national hero Jose Rizal, two people who dedicated their lives serving others through non-government work and the media were killed.

I might have met George and Macel Vigo when they were alive. George used to be a correspondent of the Union of Catholic Asian News like me. Macel used to be with non-government groups working for peace in war-torn areas of Mindanao. We have common friends. We might have been together in some UCAN meeting or gathering or NGO press conference. I cannot remember how they look like. Our friends remind me that George is mestizo-looking. Their looks are not important, though. What they did for others will always remind me of them.

There are so many things in life that we cannot explain. Unfortunately I cannot understand any explanation why people like George and Macel had to be killed. A friend in Kidapawan told me over the phone that George was the target but Macel was the first to have died. A bullet pierced through her heart. George died later in the hospital.

Why Macel? Why George?

Husband and wife NGO workers killed

By Malu Cadelina-Manar, MindaNews

KIDAPAWAN CITY - Two motorcycle-riding men shot dead a couple actively involved in non-government work (NGO) at around 5:15 p.m. Monday along Barangay Singao.

Killed were George Vigo, 33, project officer of the Mindanao Youth Leadership Program of the Community and Family Services, International, a Cotabato City-based NGO dealing with rehabilitation of internally displaced persons, and his wife, Maricel, 36, part-time media relations officer of Rep. Lala Talino-Santos of North Cotabato’s first district and since early this year was area coordinator of an NGO delivering solar services to villagers in remote areas.

The Vigos, both former journalists and co-founders of the Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality (FREE), did part-time media work prior to their killing.

They left behind four children, three sons aged 13, 9 and 7, and an adopted daughter, aged 20.

North Cotabato Governor Emmanuel Pinol in a four-paragraph statement sent to MindaNews, said the killings “are now being investigated by the [Philippine National Police]."

Pinol said he directed provincial police chief Federico Dulay “to give an initial report [as soon as possible]."

“I extend my condolences to the Vigo family… Justice will be served," Pinol said.

Pinol, a distant relative of Macel (Maricel's nickname), graduated alongside Macel last April from the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, under the Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency Accreditation Program.

Initial investigation of the Kidapawan City police showed the motorcycle-riding gunmen followed the motorcycle-riding couple who was cruising toward Apo Sandawa Homes Phase 2. The Vigos were fired upon along Phase 1, in front of the residence of provincial board member Rey Pagal.

Relatives of the Vigos said they were not aware the couple had enemies as they had been “roaming freely, not only around the city but in other areas of the province and in Mindanao because of their job."

They also said the NGOs the couple had been working with since 2000 are not connected with progressive groups in the province.

George hosted “Tingog sa Kabatan-unan" (Voice of the Youth), a program of the CFSI aired over DXND-AM of the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation every Monday noon while Macel hosted every Sunday noon, “Kalihukan sa Kongreso (Congress Affairs), a program of Rep. Talinio also aired over DXND-AM.- Malu Cadelina-Manar/MindaNews

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Allende's Zorro

I’ve always enjoyed Isabel Allende, especially her earlier novels – “The Stories of Eva Luna,” “Of Love and Shadows,” “The House of Spirits.”

As I grew older, and she too, I found her later works, well, boring. Maybe because I’ve already lost interest in the magical world of fiction because of, well, work, work, work.

And because I’ve always imagined myself as a look-alike of Antonio Banderas during my younger and slimmer years, I was excited to wait for the paperback edition of Allende’s “Zorro: A Novel”. Yes, I still can’t afford to buy a hardbound edition when it’s not on sale.

I’ve been spending early mornings these days reading the adventures of Zorro. Allende's Zorro. Yes, my dear, it’s still better than watching the movie.

Here’s the reviews of the book from Amazon.com

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Allende's lively retelling of the Zorro legend reads as effortlessly as the hero himself might slice his trademark "Z" on the wall with a flash of his sword. Born Diego de la Vega in 1795 to the valiant hidalgo, Alejandro, and the beautiful Regina, the daughter of a Spanish deserter and an Indian shaman, our hero grows up in California before traveling to Spain. Raised alongside his wet nurse's son, Bernardo, Diego becomes friends for life with his "milk brother," despite the boys' class differences. Though born into privilege, Diego has deep ties to California's exploited natives—both through blood and friendship—that account for his abiding sense of justice and identification with the underdog. In Catalonia, these instincts as well as Diego's swordsmanship intrigue Manuel Escalante, a member of the secret society La Justicia. Escalante recruits Diego into the society, which is dedicated to fighting all forms of oppression, and thus begins Diego's construction of his dashing, secret alter ego, Zorro. With loyal Bernardo at his side, Zorro hones his fantastic skills, evolves into a noble hero and returns to California to reclaim his family's estate in a breathtaking duel. All the while, he encounters numerous historical figures, who anchor this incredible tale in a reality that enriches and contextualizes the Zorro myth. Allende's latest page-turner explodes with vivid characterization and high-speed storytelling.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


From Bookmarks Magazine
The fictional Zorro debuted in Johnston McCulley’s serialized potboiler in 1919; since then, he’s made some dramatic comebacks. By recasting this swashbuckling hero in the context of his personal history, Allende follows in the path of her recent historical fiction like Daughter of Fortune (1999) and Portrait in Sepia (2001). Critics agree that while Zorro is light and entertaining, it is also a serious piece of literature—even if some reviewers were confounded by Allende’s mix of history and reality. Allende inserts a postmodern bent into her traditional storytelling, drawing feminist and racial themes and presenting a narrator with a hidden identity. Critics mainly disagreed about Zorro. Most thought him convincingly contradictory, while a couple viewed him as one-dimensional. Despite these complaints, most agree that Zorro is a captivating, modern version of the famed legend.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A poem for those who are crying tonight

Why are people making other people cry? Is it because of the moon this evening?

A brother sent an SMS message (It sounds like an SOS) begging to talk. He said a girl hurt him bad. He wanted someone to talk with.

As I was about to the leave the office this evening, I spied an officemate crying. She said her boyfriend called it quits after eight years.

How can one worry about oneself when so many others are suffering? One has to be strong for others.

I remember a popular poem in the Eighties that has always inspired me to move on despite all the challenges.

Footprints in the Sand

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed He was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from His life. For each scene He noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to Him and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of His life flashed before Him, He looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of His life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of His life.

This really bothered Him and He questioned the LORD about it. LORD you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.

The LORD replied, my precious, precious child, I Love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.

Carolyn Carty, 1963


By the way, do you know that there are several versions and claims of authorship of the poem above? You can search the internet for stories behind the poem.

The taste of beer

Beer tastes sweet when you share it with friends. Dinner with Dennis and Fidel is always a learning experience. Today I learned that there are two types of "gambas," my favorite dish. There's the "usual" sizzling gambas and there's a Spanish gambas pala that swims in olive oil.

Of course, there's always the stories. Fidel shared that most cooking oil used by fastfoods are not good for one's health. Dennis shared the usual "tsismis."

I have enough dose of "tsismis" tonight that, if taken at face value, I would have enough to have a blood clot with or without Fidel's cooking oil.

Being with friends, especially those who one can trust, makes beer taste sweet. Sharing a bottle of beer, however, with people who pretend to be friends and are there with you because they need something in exchange leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Friendship, like any relationship, should always be grounded on trust. Unfortunately it's as rare as a flower in the desert. A toast to friends like Fidel and Dennis. Inuman na!

Heat, PCP and much work

It's hot outside. Literally. The heat just penetrates the skin. Added to the heat is the protest march being held by thousands of people to mark the country's Independence Day. Already, 16 young protesters were arrested in Cavite.

So here we are, waiting for news. The radio continues to blare on the background, the television is playing a telenovela and there's nothing much to write about especially when one just inside the air-conditioned newsroom with a hangover.

There was just too much beer and whiskey last night. The Philippine Center for Photojournalism had its 5th biennial assembly. (Dennis Sabangan of EPA was elected president with Luis Liwanag of Newsbreak as his veep. Secretary is Aaron Favila, Joan Bondoc is still treasurer and Rem Zamora is auditor.)

There was singing, food and a lot of drinks last night. There was indeed something to celebrate. PCP is almost a decade old already. What started as a small group has become a force in the media industry. I'm just grateful that after 17 years of trying to be a journalist, taking photos, writing stories and reporting, I was admitted to the PCP as a regular member and even elected as member of the board. I will do my best not to fail the group. My congratulations too to my colleagues - Bobby Timonera, Lito Ocampo, Romy Mariano, etc. It was great to be with you once again.

So, back to work.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Kay Joan D at Amita

Dear Joan D at Amita,

Alam kung babasahin n'yo ito, kaya good morning.

Madaling araw na. Uwian na naman. Mahapdi na ang mata sa kakatitig sa computer. Nabibingi na ang tenga sa kapapakinig ng radyo at telebisyon. (Sori, 'di ko pinapanood ang TV, paminsan-minsan lang.)

Ano kaya ang ginagawa ni mahal? (Sus, kilig na naman itong si Joan D at Amita.) Wala, wala na si mahal! May mahal nang iba! Ayaw niya ng pogi (Aguy!). Ayaw niya ng trabaho ng trabaho. Ewan. Ayaw, ayaw, ayaw niya.

Madaling araw na. Gutom na ako. Maghahanap na ako ng makakain. Ano kayang masarap ngayon? Laman-loob, dinuguan, hita, leeg, binti.

Sasakay kaya ako ng walis o lilipad?

Ano pa ba ang bagong maisusulat? Hindi naipasa ang proposed budget kaya masaya ang Malacanang, isa na namang aktibista ang pinaslang, magtataas na naman ng presyo ng langis, reklamo ng reklamo, tila wala na lang matinong nangyayari sa bayan na ito.

Well, may kulay pa rin ang umaga't dapithapon. 'Di ko na nga lang nakikita. Nakakaawit pa rin ako kahit wala sa tono. Natatawa pa rin kahit walang laman ang bulsa kundi bali na yosi. Tawa lang ng tawa na parang walang nangyayari.

Umaga na naman. Dahan-dahan na namang dumadalaw ang mga pangitain sa isipan. Kaya dito na lang muna at kailangan nang magpahinga. Tumutulo na ang sipon sa ilong. Lalabas na ang kabag. Tumitiklop na ang talukap.

Siya kaya, ano kaya ang kanyang ginagawa? Hay... Next post please.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Hospital Window

Here's a forwarded story that is worth reading:

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room's only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.

Every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up , he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by.

Although the other man couldn't hear the band - he could see it. In his mind's eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days and weeks passed.

One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed approp riate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside.

He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed.

It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window

The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.

Parang sine

Light moments. Nakaupo ka sa opisina. Dalawang radyo ang sabay na nagbrobrodkas. Hindi daw maiangat ng rape victim ang kanyang pantalon kaya naka-panty lang siyang nakita ng witness. Sa TV naman, may babaeng pinapangit kausap ang isang magandang dilag. Walang sound. Tipa ng keyboard ng computer naman ang ambiant sound. Ngumangatngat naman ng siopao itong mama sa harap habang ang hepe ng mga maniniyot (potograpo) ay nagkakamot ng baba, nakatingin sa letrato ng dalawang kabayong naghahalikan na may background na sunset. Tuwang-tuwa naman si Joan D at Amita L, a.k.a. Bebe, na magbasa nito. Tatawa pa yang mga yan hanggang di na nila mapigilan ang pag-alog ng kanilang mga bilbil. Si Johnny Bravo hindi naiinitan sa bintana, nakangiwi pa rin ang ngiti habang hinuhuli ang pusong nakadikit sa tarp na pinantakip para di pumasok ang sikat ng araw. Life is beautiful. Parang sine. Parang kapeng lumalamig sa madaling araw dahil may kausap kang nakakaaliw, nakakabaliw. Parang yosing di nauubos dahil sindi ka ng sindi dahil wala kang lighter. Naka-isang CD din ako ng mga lumang kanta sa Newsdesk kaninang madaling araw dahil wala ng ibang tao. Wala lang. Kakatuwa lang kahit ang hirap bumangon sa umaga dahil sumasakit ang dibdib mo at kumakati ang lalamuna. Lamon ka na lang ng hotdog na sinusundan ng isang basong Coke, tapos yosi na naman, tapos ligo, tapos pasok na naman. Anong meaning-meaning pa sa buhay ang kailangan? Sabi nga, at hindi ito galing sa dingding sa harap ha, "This is the day, this is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice, let us rejoice, let us rejoice and be glad with it.

Parang sine.

Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

- Bandillo ng Palawan Editorial for the May 29 - June 4, 2006 issue

He may not have realized it, but the opening line of his signature song was a fitting description for the unseen hand that seemed to guide Fernando "Dong" Batul as he travelled on the road to fame and glory.

Unlike most of us, he heard the beat of a different drummer and followed the path to righteousness instead of riches. And yes, unlike most of us who will probably live long but wasted lives on petty pursuits, he stayed all too briefly on this earth but lived a full life, touching the hearts of many people who will cherish his memory forever.

Indeed, as his celebratory song for taking the number 1 spot on local radio says, this is the moment of truth for the people of Puerto Princesa. The assassination of Dong Batul says it all: we are no longer safe in this city. Our laidback lifestyles and complacency amid the political strife and rampant government corruption have become things of the past. Many of us in the local media have started walking around in groups and lessening our nocturnal activities, in case bad people are lurking out there in the dark. We have heard locals expressing fear of wearing "Justice for Dong Batul" T-shirts, lest they be marked as dissenters. The consensus seems to be that there are evil forces in our midst, operating even in broad daylight, who are out to stifle the voice of truth.

Why have we come to this?

As we all know, Dong Batul was not the first hard-hitting radio commentator in Puerto Princesa. There have been others before him, and most of them were even more bombastic in their tirades.

Perhaps, the difference is that Dong Batul has clearly grown and matured as a force to reckon with in the local media. We have heard how he handles interviews, with opposing parties being given equal airtime on his program. We have seen him deftly ask probing questions for news sources that new reporters could not quite handle yet. Increasingly, he was teaching DYPR's reporting team how to be quick on the draw, and many have started making witty repartees that could tickle the fancy of their listeners. If he had lived longer, his power and influence among the masses could only grow, and would once again become a threat to Puerto Princesa's rulers like what happened in the past.

Another major difference, of course, is that Dong Batul's integrity and fearlessness never wavered. Others in the past may have been brave, but their reputations were questionable. Those whose integrity were unsullied, meanwhile, could not handle the scare tactics of onion-skinned politicians so they soon backed out.

Dong Batul was different. He was a brave soul to the very end. Many of those who had followed his career often feared for his life, but like many Palawe├▒os, we never really believed the threats against him would be carried out. We believed too much in the myth of a peaceful city, its cool breezes blowing away any doubt that a bloody crime could occur in the very heart of the urban center.

But as the song goes, the moment of truth has finally dawned on us. In contrast to Dong Batul's bravery, the painful truth we must acknowledge is that his enemies are a bunch of cowards. Dong Batul travelled alone on his quest for truth and justice, but his enemies travel in packs surrounded by guns. Dong Batul was not afraid to speak out and show his true colors, but his enemies are hiding behind a layer of lies and orchestrated moves that they hope will confuse the grieving public.

Now that the drums of heaven have called out his name, Dong Batul is leaving us to confront our fears as we strive for a better quality of life in a peaceful community. It is up to us to continue his legacy, and pursue the moment of truth that the killers of Dong Batul will surely have to face in the end.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

666

It's June 6, 2006 or 666.

Some people talk about it. It's supposed to be a bad day. Others say it's a day for good luck. I don't give much attention to it. It's just another day.

Of course there's a lot of things to do today. As usual.

A staffmember asked for permission to have a longer break today because she had a spat with her husband and he did not go home for days now.

Another staffmember is sick and is on leave. She has "hika."

My chief photographer said he will be going home early because he's not feeling well.

Then there's this thick file of documents waiting for signature, checks to be issued to pay obligations, a television interview that drained me early in the morning, hotheaded people around, etc.

It's just one of those days that bring color to life, 666 or otherwise.

Monday, June 05, 2006

First day of classes, back to coverage

I got up early this morning.

I just thought of reliving my college days when I have to rush to the bathroom at 5:30 in the morning, go to the chapel to pray for an hour, have coffee and a piece of bread, and rush to the highway for a ride to Espana.

I did almost the same routine today. I just sat down the whole morning in front of my old university, watching people pass by, counting jeepneys going to Quiapo.

The excitement was still there, but by mid-morning boredom came. Before noon, I received a text message inviting me to a press conference. It has been a long time that I attended a press conference to cover. Most of my time have been spent in the newsroom. I saw the invitation as an opportunity to test myself, to know if I still have it.

I still did have it. I even had a scoop. I realized that a lot of young journalists now lack the patience we had in the past. Is it because of the mobile phones, the new technologies?

They also go in groups. They came as a group and leave as a group.

This afternoon for instance was a rare opportunity to the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, through a telephone interview, many things. The reporters did a lot of follow-up questions. They asked about Jose Maria Sison's reaction on the killings of activists, the peace process, etc. The questions were very intelligent, the answers were long-winded. The reporters asked profound questions, Sison gave profound answers. Who would use profound answers in straight news stories?

Then they left at three in the afternoon with stories in their mind of Sison's reaction to the killings, Sison's reaction to the statements maded by the government and the military, etc.

My only question to Sison was, "Is there a possibility that you will enter into formal peace talks with the Arroyo administration?"

He said: “Pwedeng matuloy ang talks kung ang prejudicial questions are resolved."

So what's new about it? What's news? It's not really an important statement.

It's news because Sison said in 2002: "It would be more productive to resume the peace negotiations after [Arroyo] ceases to be president."

That's a policy statement turnaround. That's news.

I still have it, thank God.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Another year begins for the young at heart

I used to love the first day of classes.

It means a lot to me when I was younger. It means an end to chopping coconut tree trunks for firewood, an end to gathering wild kangkong from the cemetery at the back of our hut, an end to all the household chores.

Of course, classes also mean an end to the adventures of summer in the mountains, the ricefields, the beach, the nearby river. It means an end to all the trips to the barrios to watch the "bayle" and the fiestas that me and my friends love to attend.

The first week of June means looking forward to hand-me-down books, new shirts from our parish priest in exchange for cleaning the sacristy and the altar during summer, new teachers, new classmates and a reunion of old friends.

Early in the morning, my mother would wake us up - a brood of five - and march us out of the hut to the deep well where we take our bath with a Perla soap. (Yes, I used Perla since birth until I came to Manila where I discovered that Perla is not a bath soap.) We have no shampoo, instead we used coconut milk to wash our hair. For toothpaste, we had salt or some smuggled toothpaste from Zamboanga.

After the bath, we sit together around a small table beside what we consider our hearth in the kitchen. Breakfast usually is two boiled eggs the five of us share, corn and "coffee" made of roasted corn.

We recite a prayer our parents required us to memorize before going out of the house. Our father would be waiting for us outside the house, ask each one of us to open our mouth, put some grass in and tell us not to spit it. "Chew it and swallow," he would tell us. It's an annual ritual. Until now my father refused to reveal what kind of grass was it.

We would then walk a few kilometers to school, to a new world, a new experience that opens our eyes to knowledge.

How we survived? Pure luck and commitment maybe. We love going to school. We love to study.

I later came to Manila to study philosophy, theology and many other things only to realize later that I learned nothing and that life is an endless struggle to learn.

My sister, the one next to me, went to a nearby city for college. She married a distant cousin a few days after getting her Commerce diploma. They now have four children.

My other sister went to a farther city, got her diploma in Social Work, went back to our place to serve in the barrios as a social worker, went back to the university a few years later, got her masteral degree, then went back to the barrios to live with the poor. (My favorite sister!)

A brother went to one of the best private schools in the country, studied economics, got honors, was invited by several banks to work for them, decided to go back to our hometown to work as a clerk in city hall, marry one of the most beautiful girls in town, had two beautiful daughters, and continue to enjoy life after building a hut in the middle of a ricefield near the beach.

Our youngest brother was sent to another city. I don't know what he studied. He did not finish, was hunted by some Moro "pirates" for making a fool out of them, escape to several cities, chased women, was chased by women, loved a woman, fooled by a woman, got broken-hearted and cried his life away.

What have we learned from our school? A lot. But the best lesson was dreaming. Yes, I used to daydream a lot. Dreams can happen. It's up to the individual to make it happen.

Splurge

I can't remember anymore the last time I spent for myself.

Today I decided to splurge: a new jacket, several T-shirts, two pairs of rubber shoes, several pairs of pants, food, games and some gadgets.

What the heck, I've worked for it.

I also decided to buy Ms. S things she would be happy to have: four pairs of shoes, a number of dresses and pairs of pants, shirts, things she need for school, including a musical instrument she dreams to learn to play.

Then we ate and played and ate and played.

"One day at a time...Life is beautiful," declares a post-it on the wall in front of me.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Today, I cried

I haven’t cried in public until today.

I cried because a murdered journalist was laid to rest.

I cried because until now it’s not clear who’s behind the killing.

I cried because I’m as helpless as his family, friends and the poor people who believe in him to solve the murder.

I cried after hearing how poor he was, but he still cared about his colleagues, how he helped the poor who went to him for help, how he brought his friends to a mami house for snacks with his 20 pesos, how he advised his young nephew to always fight for what is right whatever the cost.

Today we buried Fernando ‘Dong’ Batul, a journalist.

Funeral march for radio host may be Palawan's biggest

Outraged and saddened over the spate of killings of their colleagues, journalists from all over the country gathered in Palawan on Saturday to give murdered radio host Fernando "Dong" Batul a fitting send-off.

Various journalists groups joined the funeral march in Puerto Princesa City of the murdered broadcaster, two weeks after he was shot dead in a morning ambush.

“Indeed, it is the supreme irony that the democracy we are supposed to have won back in 1986 has claimed more journalists – 79 thus far – than the 34 lost throughout the whole 14-year Marcos dictatorship," the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, one of the groups that joined the march, said in a statement.

On May 31, members of NUJP’s various chapters nationwide lit candles for their fallen comrades, scoring Malaca├▒ang for failing to stop the killings. Journalists around the country also wore black not to mourn or surrender but to signify defiance.

Another group, the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists Inc., said the march to the Puerto Princesa Memorial Park is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in the province’s history.

The FFFJ said the killing of Batul exposed the culture of violence that cost the lives of many Filipino journalists under the Arroyo government.

“Batul’s murder, along with the other cases of slain journalists and attacks against the media, highlighted the government’s inability to protect press freedom in the country," the group said.

Batul, a popular broadcaster in Puerto Princesa City, was shot dead in an early morning ambush on May 22 while he was heading to the Radio Mindanao Network affiliate station DYPR.

Police arrested a rogue policeman whom they linked to the crime. But after that arrest, no other development in the police investigation has been reported

“Given this administration’s generally callous disregard both to the killings – not just of our colleagues but of hundreds of dissenters as well – and to the calls for justice and respect for people’s rights and liberties, we are afraid we have not seen the end of this murderous rampage. But we will not be cowed into mute submission, neither by this government’s indifference nor the dark schemes of those who wish to silence us," the NUJP's statement said.

It said that since 2001, when Gloria Arroyo was catapulted to power, 42 journalists had been killed, the number is more than the combined death toll under the government of her three immediate predecessors.

Other Filipino journalists renewed their call on government for concrete action to end the culture of impunity that played a role in the killing of 59 of their colleagues since 1986.

Various media groups signed a statement that scored government for putting further insult to the already badly-injured press freedom in the country, as one of Batul’s killers turned out to be a policeman “whose task is to protect the people, including the journalists.”

The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists Inc., one of the signatories to the statement, said the least the government can do is to pursue the case against Batul’s killer.

Other signatories to the statement included Redmond Batario (Center for Community Journalism and Development); Sheila Coronel (PCIJ); Danilo Gozo (Philippine News); Rachel Khan (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility); Rey Hulog (Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas); and Jose Pavia (Philippine Press Institute). GMANews.TV

Friday, June 02, 2006

Trip to Palawan (1)

2:41 a.m., June 2

A very dear friend has always bragged about how beautiful Palawan is. She’s been there so many times, as many times, maybe, as the number of times she promised to bring me there. It was because of her stories that I’ve always wished of going to the island to see the color of the setting sun, to listen to the pristine forests’ whisper, to feel the throbbing of the ocean and feel the powdery sand on the beach. I also dreamt of walking on the beach under the thousand stars in the early evening while holding hands with my beloved.

The photographs of Palawan I’ve seen have tickled my imagination. There’s so much beauty, it seems, waiting for me to discover. I’ve had a fill of stories from my dear friend. The excitement in my heart every time I see a photo of the island always brings me to the verge of asking my friend to just bring me to the dreamland she has learned to love.

I could hardly wait. The beating of my heart races with the tick-tock of the clock as the time of my departure nears. A few hours from now I will be able to see the place I’ve only dreamt about. My beloved will not be there to walk on the beach with me. She never made good her promise to show me the setting sun, the pristine forest, the ocean with the thousand-year-old corals sleeping below the gentle surface and the powdery beach. I will be going to Palawan alone. I’m sad.

I’m sad not because I don’t have a hand to hold when I walk on the beach when the sun sets. I’m sad not because I have nobody who would help me count the stars when they start twinkling in the early evening. I’m sad because I’m going to Palawan to attend a funeral of someone I don’t even know, someone I didn’t even have the opportunity to meet when he was still alive and could listen to the lapping of the waves on the shore in the early morning.

7:21 a.m., June 2

Airports fascinate me. People just float inside airport terminals. Men throw glances at women who seem to have a way of moving in the middle of a crowd. Women discreetly offer smiles. Airport terminals have become witnesses to joy and loathing, to departures and arrivals, to those who are anxious to leave and to those who try to hold back tears because of a parting or a reunion or an arrival.

9:50 a.m., June 2

An overcast sky greeted me in Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital. There was no smile even from the sun. I asked a driver of a hotel shuttle at the airport if I could smoke. He said smoking is allowed in the city but not the throwing of cigarettes butts. I joked about swallowing my cigarette butt. The man smiled and said “yes.” I looked around. I could not see anybody smoking.

There’s a lot of Caucasian tourists, Korean-looking boys and girls and Filipino tourists from other parts of the country in the airport. Everybody seems eager to jump into the next vehicle that would bring them to the nearest beach resort to forget the squalor of the cities they came from, taste for at least a few days the feel of paradise.

I came for another purpose.

I approached another shuttle driver who was holding a sign of a hotel. He led me to a grey van that later brought me to a hotel where in the middle of the swimming pool in a courtyard a fountain never stops to spout. I was not watching the fountain. I was watching two young Filipino women in their two-piece pink bikinis carousing with two beer-bellied Korean-looking men.

The sky started to get dim. The dark patches of clouds I saw earlier while the plane was approaching the airport hover over the city. There is no wind, however. The Ipil leaves were not dancing. The stillness of the moment seems to be a portent of danger.

11 a.m., June 2

I saw no beauty in Puerto Princesa. The uneven streets – a stretch of concrete followed by asphalted roads and patched roads and side streets – triggered something in my mind. I saw the dusty road sides, the smog from the hundreds of tricycles that ply around the city, the dark street corners in the evening, the grassy empty lots where grass and young trees try to outgrow each other. There is order in the city. Green plastic bins are all over the city. The streets are swept clean.

Then people started to whisper. They said they have stories. They said they are witnesses. They said they have proof. They said there are shadows lurking behind the dimply lit side streets and grassy vacant lots. They wanted people outside the island to learn about their story. They asked for help.

I started to work.

More of the same

There's nothing much to write.

It's another day of facing the cameras, talking to tape recorders, microphones and mobile phones.

There was a dialogue between the National Police and media representatives. I hope that our agreements will all be implemented.

It's more of the same. There's a lot of things to do. It's always a start. Every day is a start.

Up your art

Why paint the world
With your brush
And create images
Of life on canvass
Why live in color
When dreams are shadows
Of past and future
Copulating in your mind

There will be no answers
Because paint is paint
And images, images
Consuming color, canvass,
Brush in ecstatic
Pursuit of orgasm
As dreams, shadows
Of past, future
Fuck in your
Artist's mind

And I am left
To masturbate
These words