Saturday, December 15, 2012


The genuine defenders of the land. The ones who have been giving warnings of impending tragedies. From the countryside to the urban centers. From the farms to the halls of government.The modern prophets. 
But their voices are often muffled. Often considered enemies of development. Rebels. Terrorists. 
When disasters strike, they're the most vulnerable. The first to suffer. The last to recover. 
The genuine defenders of the land!
A GROUP of residents blocks the path of a bulldozer to stop a clearing operation by a mining firm in Nueva Vizcaya. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO from Inquirer

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Babawi Tayo"

“Babawi Tayo”

This was what Manny told the fans days after his defeat against Marquez.  I admired him for this. This is reassuring. By saying this, Manny rightly thought that millions of his fans felt “knocked down” too and they have to be cheered up . By whom? Ironically by Manny himself who is  practically at his deepest morale following his defeat. Despite being at the low spirits, he stands up, shakes off the dust of defeat and reassures his fans of the inevitable coming of a new day, a fresh start. 

I don’t agree with Mommy D that it is Manny’s change of religion that caused his defeat. Neither do I agree with the insinuations that Marquez won because he remains a Catholic and in fact availed of the “blessing” before the fight from Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo who linked typhoon Pablo to our favorable view on RH Bill. It is as if RH Bill equals decades of logging, mining and other wanton destruction of the environment. 

Comparing Manny’s attitude with Pabillo’s “theology of destruction” I can say that it is Manny who reads and understands the Bible better. He is theologically mature  compared to the bishop who spent many years in the seminary.  

I agree with Boboy Fernandez’s theory of “over confidence” that plagued Manny’s camp. If one is over confident, complacency sets in. When one is  complacent, he becomes lazy. A camp with lazy soldiers places its gates and trenches open to enemy’s easy attacks. 

Rightfully, it unfurls a silk carpet to “victory hungry” Marquez. 

I don’t exactly expect or hope for a  Pacquiao- Marquez V. It’s enough that Manny assures the Filipinos of a “babawi tayo” attitude. Outside or inside the boxing ring is not so important to me. What is important is that we, as a people, have to rise again after being knocked down by many typhoons  in our lives. 

“Babawi Tayo.”

Monday, October 22, 2012


 (Or How Our Prison School Began)

Obet was accused of theft  with other two young boys. When they came to Misamis Occidental Provincial Jail in Oroquieta City as detention prisoners in August 2010, they were thin and pale. Their smell indicated that they had not bathed for many days already.

Because they were minors, they were not placed in regular cells where living was too difficult. Instead they were each assigned to the three cells of the trustee building within the compound. Here, mobility was better compared to the regular cells where inmates were locked up almost 24/7 except in one hour sun exposure during Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.  

Obet chose cell number 3, our cell. He was shy. And as our offering, one buddy and I  gave out our night’s meal for him. He took the food and consumed everything in the plates. We thought he and his buddies might not have eaten for days too, which he later confirmed to be so.

Months had passed and his other buddies Albert and Jason finally got visits from their respective families who hailed from Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur and Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay respectively. I asked Obet why did his parents not visit him. He told me he lost their  contact numbers and the remaining option was to write them. His parents who were vegetable vendors in Oroquieta City did not have any  idea what happened to their son.  “So, write them a letter and we’ll ask the guards to deliver it to your parents,” I told him.      

Weeks had passed and I did not see anybody visiting Obet. I asked him about the letter because I knew how it was to have no visitors when you see fellow inmates enjoying the company of their loved ones even for a very limited time inside the jail. He just smiled whenever I raised the idea of writing his parents,  and would just tell me he would do it.

It was Jason who told me that Obet did not know how to read and to write his name. I confronted him and he told me the truth. I asked him if he was  interested to learn how to write his name and he was excited about it. 

So I asked Annie Jean to buy for us an eraser, a box of chalk, and to bring some used pre-school  books of my kids back home  and paints. With Obet, we transformed one prison wall full of ‘vandalisms’ into a green board where we could write our lessons on.  Like the looks of chalkboards at DepEd schools, I wrote the alphabets and numbers right at the upper portion of the board for Obet’s easy reference.

It was a sort of challenge for me as a former college instructor. Although my field was not a pre-school  I felt it was my responsibility to help Obet learn basic literacy and vowed I would learn to teach him in the process. Besides, I had very few things to do inside the jail so we decided to hold classes for us to enjoy and to learn. It was also a very effective means of fighting boredom, one of the worst companions of prisoners.

We met at our makeshift classroom every 5:00 P.M to 6:00 P.M., Mondays to Fridays. 

As we were into the third week of our class, one strict prison guard approached me and said the warden wanted to see me about “your class.” (To be continued)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

MOA-AD sparks fresh assaults

Here's a piece of history from my journal...

August 19, 2008

My morning trip to Kapatagan was unusual. The Aurora-Cagayan national highway which was normally  busy with transportation and other human activities became desolate. Heavily armed soldiers manned the checkpoints, most of which were newly installed. Only a handful of motorcabs plied their usual routes. Public buses, vans and trucks are not on their usual trips.  Only very few schoolchildren were hiking on the roadsides to their respective schools.
            Early morning yesterday, alleged fighters of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) attacked the municipalities of Kolambogan and Linamon in Lanao del Norte and Maasin in Saranggani Province. A day before, two bombs exploded in Iligan City hurting about 6 people and was blamed on the MILF.
In Kolambogan, the rebels bombed the  seaport, ransacked the rural bank and other commercial establishments and set afire a PNP patrol car there. They also shot at civilians along the way and fired at a Rural Transit bus plying towards Iligan.
            Thousands of panic-stricken coastal residents in said towns scampered for safety in the neighboring province Misamis Occidental, particularly in Ozamis City aboard pump boats.
            Among the 26 reported casualties were one Lt. Col. Angel Benitez with his three military aides, the rest were civilian motorists and by-standers, radio reports said.
            One resident who became and unwilling host of some rebels who requested to be let in to her house in Kolambogan amidst the chaos, narrated later of her encounter with the rebels. She said those she saw were in their early twenties and “they looked like university students.”
            One of the high-powered wielding young boys allegedly told her in Tagalog “we are not bad, we only want the implementation of the MOA.”
            Her encounter with whom she called “courteous” rebels was short-lived.
The rebels retreated shortly upon the arrival of government troops at noon time that day. They brought with them more than 50 civilians from the area as their shield against the pursuing  troops, radio reports said.
            Last night, Kapatagan residents missed their night sleep on reports that at 3:00 dawn today, MILF forces would attack the town and other neighboring municipalities.
            So were the residents in Pagadian City and those in other coastal towns of Zamboanga del Sur and Sibugay provinces.
            Annie Jean called me from Margos Regional Hospital informing that a bomb threat has been reported twice in the hospital. Kumalarang town was allegedly taken over by the MILF. She said rebel movements were allegedly  spotted in the Moro-populated towns Dinas, Dimataling, Pitogo and others. 
            Few hours after the attack yesterday, Pres. Gloria Arroyo condemned the MILF attack as “treacherous.” She ordered that government troops to protect “every inch of Philippine territory.”  
            Later, Philippine Armed Forces Chief Gen. Alexander Yano ordered an “all out war” against the MILF.
            Ustadz Eid Kabalu, spokesperson of the MILF told reporters that the attacks were not sanctioned by the MILF Central Committee and that their ground troops acted on their own. MILF leadership could not control the ground forces, Kabalu’s statement implied.
            It can be recalled that barely two weeks ago, few villages in North Cotabato were also attacked by the MILF. Thousands of civilians fled  their homes and farms.   
            These series of fresh hostilities happened in the face of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) singed in August 5 in Malaysia between the government and MILF negotiators. The MOA is now at the Supreme Court for decision.

Two Sides
            There are two major sides on the MOA. Those who favor for its enforcement argue that the MOA is harmless in that  this is only a document setting the talking points of the ancestral domain issue on which both sides got stuck in their past talks.
The MOA identifies 721 barangays to cover the Bangsa Moro Juridical Entity, an increase if more than a hundred barangays originally demanded by the MILF which was 600. Those who are opposed to its implementation said that it  is an outright partition of large Mindanao areas in favor of the MILF. Those who are for the MOA said there is nothing to worry about it because a plebiscite has yet to be conducted to determine whether or not residents in the covered areas are amenable to the proposed area of the Bangsa Moro Juridical Entity.
            Amidst this clash of perspectives, the Supreme Court came in hopefully to shed light on the matter and to dispel all doubts clouding it.

            GRP Peace Panel Adviser Rodolfo Garcia told ANC that those who were involved in the attacks were the younger members of the MILF who got impatient with the developments in the negotiations.
            This kind of reasoning, which the MILF also uses to justify the attacks unmasks the MILF’s state of organizational disunity. The manner by which its ground troops treat civilians in their operations in the field indicate the barbarity of the guerillas, one observer noted.
            Sen. Nene Pimentel in media interviews argued that all these things now are to be blamed on the Arroyo administration.
He said that the MOA that was originally brokered by Peace Adviser Ret. Gen. Germogenes Esperon served as the ignition force of the highly volatile peace condition in Mindanao. The MOA, argued Pimentel created false hopes among the many Muslims in Mindanao that they will finally have their Bangsa Moro when in reality it only further delays the final resolution of their quest.  
Any questions raised about the legality of the MOA have been viewed by many expectant Muslims as serious blocks to finally achieving their dream of a homeland in Mindanao.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Crumbling wall

The hitherto volatile Muslim-Christian relation has been put to serious test anew with the recent carnage that took place in the sleepy riceland barangay of Sto. Tomas in Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte on July 10 this year.

Two Maranao youths were found dead, their bodies bearing gunshot wounds  and their heads were  each severed  at a vacant lot owned by one of the alleged four Visayan perpetrators who belonged to a reputable family in the barangay.   After few weeks of manhunt, two were formally charged in court and one of them  was captured in Cebu by  police authorities. He is now detained at the Provincial Reformatory Jail in Tubod, Lanao del Norte.  A manhunt is ongoing for the other one while formal charges for the other two are now being prepared by authorities. Conflict over share of the proceeds of drugs or gun deals were among the angles being eyed by the probers. 

Right after the incident, people’s reaction, especially that of the non-Muslim residents in Sto. Tomas was a mix of uncertainty over their safety and aghast to the perpetrators. They practically fear, on the one hand, of an impending backlash from the relatives of the victims, which is characteristic of the Moro’s tradition of rido (clan-based vendetta), and blame, on the other  the perpetrators for causing such seemingly unforgivable violence in their midst.

Elementary school attendance was heavily affected. Only 50 out of 200 elementary students attended school even two weeks after the incident,  a school principal told this writer. The teachers, being mandated to report to work in the absence of a contrary official order,  surmounted insecurity by regularly attending classes.

The air of fear certainly affects not only the residents of Sto. Tomas. Neighboring barangays are now afraid to visit the place,  lest they be mistaken for the relatives of the perpetrators, exposing themselves  to the potential violence that the aggrieved families may afflict them. Even the employees of the local government are extra - cautious too. In fact, one preset activity in the barangay was subject to questions by those involved  whether it is safe to pursue it.

These and similar feelings prompted a meeting of concerned Muslim, Christian, and  government leaders from Lala, Sapad and Kapatagan towns on July 11, a day after the incident . Security forces from the Armed Forces and the Police were also part of said meeting which took place in the Function Hall of Kapatagan. 

 One observer, who’s been known to possess an “anti-Muslim” sentiment came out of the meeting with optimism. He told me he appreciated so much the declaration of Muslim leaders before the other delegates of the meeting who assured them that they will not allow nay tolerate rido-like tendencies or behavior among their members especially on the issue at hand.  Such leaders, who were aware that the crime did not have anything to do with faith but probably with drugs or gunrunning, urged in fact teachers and parents to let their children go to school as  they used to do before the bloody incident. Just as the Christians are wary of the past “Muslim-Christian” conflict in the 70’s, present-day Muslim leaders also felt the same, the observer said.

Said  declaration is a welcome development in the face of deep-seated mistrust especially among the Christian population or among the settlers (to be politically correct) towards our Moro neighbors, and vice-versa. And it is especially striking in that it somehow alters the well-entrenched bias of this observer towards the Muslims.

That July 11 meeting punctuated yet again of the importance of dialogue. Churches and government leaders should do similar activities more often. If the July 11 meeting initiated cracks of the wall of biases of this observer I spoke with, there is no reason that others of the same mindset will not reexamine themselves.

It was a breakthrough, and a contribution of  these communities to the  peoples’ quest for genuine peace in Mindanao.  

Friday, June 1, 2012


ILOILO CITY- The American speaker who I mentioned in the preceding article entitled “Disaster” continued lashing at the “unpreparedness” of people in the countries severely affected by natural disasters. He did this while announcing his credentials being a global expert in disaster risk management for 38 years now.

Right after the foreigner wrapped up his more than 30-minute talk, the lady moderator asked for comments and questions from us-- the audience who have been tightly squeezed inside the congested hall. In a matter of seconds, former Sen. Heherson Alvarez of  Climate Change Commission stood up and announced his admiration to the speaker.

But before his admiration could sink in, his tone immediately twisted to emphatically criticize the first world’s huge emission of carbon dioxide that is primarily responsible for the excessive warming of the earth, melting glaciers and eventually causing the irregular increase of water levels at a global scale.

“You should reduce your emission if you are genuinely concerned of abetting future mega disasters,” was in effect what Alvarez wanted to tell the speaker who seemed to overlook the real causes of the natural tragedies  that hit several places of the world. First world’s carbon emission is placed at 80 percent while 20 percent is shared by second world and third world countries, according to Alvarez's figures.   

This line of Alvarez reminded me of the article I read from the Internationalist magazine while I was still inside prison in 2010. The article, which title I forget now, analyzed which contributed how much to global warming. It argued that it is the first world particularly its giant corporations that are truly responsible in the destruction of the earth’s ecological balance at its present horrendous proportion in pursuit of profit.

With this level of culpability, the first world should lead in the rehabilitation efforts for mother earth, the article further noted.  As response to the challenge,  first world  governments are giving incentives to companies that meet carbon emission standards, among others.

 This effort and other similar regulations are laudable.

But what we need is more than carbon emission regulation. What we need is the protection of the remaining resources we have from being continually exploited  and the restoration of those that have been ravaged in the name of profit.

I wonder if  environmental rehabilitation and protection can go hand in hand with the Capital’s inherent drive for super profits. I learned that  no matter what the costs could be, Capital is innately willing to go as long as huge profit  is assured. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


ILOILO CITY--The First Philippine International River Summit in Iloilo City opened with rationale presentation by the organizers of the event led by the Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog shortly before lunch on May 30, 2012 at the Grand Ballroom of Centennial Resort Hotel and Convention Center, this city.

Right after lunch the participants broke up into various groups to listen to a variety of lectures by local and international experts on environmental research,  river management, disaster risk reduction and management (drrm) and others.

I joined the group that preferred the topic on  drrm. One speaker that caught my attention was an American who claimed to have worked on drrm  for almost four decades now. He recalled some natural tragedies that caught international attention which included the tsunami in Indonesia, a flood in Fiji, a flood in Aceh, lahar mudflow in Pampangga, Ondoy, Sendong, etc, etc. “One common denominator in all of these,” he said was that “the people in these areas were not prepared.” 

In the case of the Philippines, he lashed at the ningas cogon attitude of Filipinos to explain the level of preparedness (unpreparedness to be exact) of our people to the challenges of drrm in particular and to climate change in general. He said we are eager to talk about disaster prevention and mitigation and preparedness usually right after a disaster strikes us. But later our eagerness subsides especially when we feel that its possibility of recurrence is not imminent. 

LGUs usually complain that we can not be adequately prepared because of funds constraints. But when calamity strikes, we wonder how we are able to muster a  lot of financial, logistical and moral support for our victims and the rehabilitation of devastated communities which expenses far exceed the resources that could have been allocated for mitigation and preparedness. 

After his talk, I asked myself: are the communities I work with now prepared for disasters like flood, landslide  and earthquake?

The answer to my own question brought me to the  realization that the country does not lack human and material resources to address the challenges of climate change. What we basically lack I think is the will  to combat the worst disaster that has inflicted our national psyche: complacency.