Saturday, October 22, 2016


A VETERAN photojournalist said he was “sad” over the “dissolving” role of today’s journalists.

Last Oct. 19, visiting professor Mahdi Nazemroaya invited Pablo S. Quiza to address a class of Mass Communication students at the University of the Philippines Cebu.

Prior to living in Cebu City, Mr. Quiza was a freelance photographer who transferred to Singapore as a photojournalist and editor working with the international news agency Reuters.

In over 30 years, he has covered all subjects, from culture to politics and war, in many places, including his home, the Basque country straddling France and Spain, a region whose history of divisions prompted professor Nazemroaya to compare this with Mindanao in the Philippines.

All of the photos Mr. Quiza showed the class, except for one, featured conflict. The scenes varied in the elements posed as counterpoints: people versus people, people versus the machines of war, and people versus nature.

The images converged on one point: veracity.

Mr. Quiza said that the photojournalist has a commitment to witness all sides. Once refusing an assignment to cover Afghanistan as a photojournalist embedded with the U.S. military, he commented that immersing in one side curtails the journalist’s independence to tell the whole story.

Yet a photojournalist can never be truly objective because he or she is human. The trick is to find a balance, said Mr. Quiza.

As witnesses, photojournalists may be purveyors of ugliness but these images help “make the world a better place”. The photographers of the iconic images of the Vietnam War galvanized sectors of the American public to oppose the war and pressure the government to end it earlier, Mr. Quiza pointed out.

But truth’s greatest adversary may neither be governments nor corporations. Technology has brought changes, including the improved capacity to manipulate images, information and the balance of power.

While a trained eye is required to detect computer manipulation of photos, access to technology transforms any smartphone owner into an instant photojournalist.

His retirement from photojournalism stemmed from Mr. Quiza’s disillusionment with an industry and an audience increasingly inured to images. I was willing to risk my life to take photos but people prefer those that don’t ruin their breakfast, he mused.

A day later, I listened as my students discussed a TV footage showing a police van mowing into a crowd of protesters outside the U.S. Embassy. Thesis advisees studying how Netizens engage online, these young women are too harassed to be active in campus politics.

Yet, they cried each time the cop behind the van drove into, reversed, and drove again into the crowd of national minorities protesting their displacement by American companies and state interests.

When matter dissolves, doesn’t it change into other forms? What will journalists give way to?

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 23, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, October 15, 2016

“Matamata”: Tips from beasts*

SHARING lunch at the cooperative-run canteen, my students and I learned a few things.

Some of us cannot stand vegetables. So we scraped all our leftovers and went to the back of the canteen and near the dorm entrance.

This is a hangout of feral dogs and cats, aside from students taking an alfresco break or making their projects under the canopy of trees.

The day before, we shared our packed lunch with Puti. That day, it was Mal for “malnourished.”

Watching the yellow-coated pooch gobbling leftovers, we saw he had a bit more meat now on his bony frame. That’s how Mal came to be Mellow Yellow, or Mel for short.

Three years of studies at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) showed me how the “feral” tag only describes the animals’ lack of human owners, not their temperaments or proclivities.

At the College of Mass Communication (CMC), where the cats are as territorial about their niches as the tenured professors, some resident divas draw a following among students, faculty, and staff.

A TV network crew once interrupted my study in a CMC gazebo because they were looking for the cat that saved a night-duty guard when it jumped on his lap and broke his nap. He woke in time to prevent an intruder from hitting him with a plank.

For academics, who dwell in their own worlds, feral cats and dogs make the best listeners. They keep silent and appreciate everything from Alinsky to Zero Vector, specially if a bit of sandwich is tossed after.

Animals show us how to listen to each other’s discourse without interruption or eruption.

Marga, the pet of the chief of security, accompanies her chief everywhere in the Cebu campus. When he was in an inter-agency meeting, Marga sauntered in as I pushed open the conference door.

Used to long meetings, Marga made no fuss until the session extended beyond noon. Then she started a low-register whine, pacing back and forth to the closed door.

My fellow teacher sought to distract her with his packed lunch. Marga ignored him and kept her dignity.

Perhaps we should have dangled research funds. That would have appealed better to Marga’s academic soul.

Though we classify them as feral, stray animals teach humans about co-existence with other humans.

Even in UP Diliman, where our furred brothers and sisters have inspired a Facebook page devoted to the “Cats of UP Diliman” and a Geography student project charting the movement of campus cats that was uploaded on YouTube, there are other humans who think it’s uncool to have corridors smelling of cat piss or worse.

Stray animals are also campus risks because they may bite, spread rabies, or cost the government P7,000 to repair an engine damaged by fur left by cats huddling overnight for warmth.

However, the solution is never to go as draconian as “total eradication”. Twice—in July 2015 and again in July 2016—the UP Diliman community arrived, after consultations and dialogues, at “humane” solutions, such as “retraining” and neutering, to address all concerns, including the safety of humans and the welfare of animals.

Cloud Sarmiento’s post, shared by “Cats of UP Diliman” on Facebook, shows a cat sprawled out in sleep. Beside it is a cardboard sign, with this message: “Wag tularan pusha ako”.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 16, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, October 08, 2016

I am Leila

THE YOUNG woman was distraught. She had been looking forward to celebrating with her friends. Then her father fired several bristling questions: Why? When? Where? With whom?

To seal that disastrous day, she ran into a particular young man just when her eyes were puffy from crying.

She had not seen him in campus for days. Then they walked into each other just as the covered walk was deserted. There was not even a scrap of poster she could pretend to read as he passed her, oblivious.

Why do men bookend our disasters?

My student’s rollercoaster Friday channeled my thoughts to misogyny. A parent’s concern and young love’s throes hardly manifest the deep-seated, even unconscious, contempt against women.

Yet, men socialize women: fathers, brothers, playmates, classmates, lovers, spouse.

Not to mention the usual suspects: the construction worker, the president, the troll and their rape jokes.

The catcalling variety of misogyny may have lost much of its novelty. It has swaggered from the streets and dunghills to straddle MalacaƱang and the once hallowed hall of Senate.

The first 100 days of this administration has ushered the most maddening honeymoon between President Duterte and Filipinas, 28 million of whom comprised 52 percent of the 54.4 million voters who turned out in May 2016.

We bristled and seethed as the president and his men made a new twist of the old carrot-and-stick approach with Vice President (VP) Leni Robredo.

First, he shut her out of his Cabinet, saying he was “non-committal” about Robredo, elected by 14,418,817 voters, because he did not want to hurt the feelings of his good friend, defeated rival Sen. Bongbong Marcos.

Then, after he “courted” her into heading the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), we had to read his nauseating “compliments” to the “beauteous” vice-president.

“You won't listen to a female president, you will just stare at her because she's beautiful,” said the president, who has told journalists he often gazes at Robredo during Cabinet meetings.

President Duterte has defended that he was not patronizing Robredo, a vocal critic of extrajudicial killings and the president’s move to give the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos a hero’s burial.

Misconceived as hatred of women, misogyny can be disguised as the idolatry of “women as divine creatures.”

“What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person,” wrote Dorothy L. Sayers in her essay, “Are Women Human?”

For other women, though, who don’t fit into the president’s mold of "lady-like and kind" paragons of femininity, the prince will readily turn himself into a frog.

In his brutal, relentless public destruction of Sen. Leila de Lima, the president has pulled out all the stops. He has even used standard English, for once eschewing his colonial curses.

An “immoral woman”. The greatest English monarch, Elizabeth I had been called “diseased,” “deformed,” a “man in disguise,” wrote Sayers.

From Elizabeth I to Leni and Leila, slut-shaming is not so much about women going out of control as the desire to control women by men, who are, if they would admit it, afraid of them.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 9, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”