Sunday, March 29, 2009

Seventh sense

FIVE senses define us: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.

Psychics are said to have a sixth sense, an extrasensory perception independent of the first five senses.

The Earth Hour movement—that had people voluntarily putting off their lights for an hour last night—taps the seventh sense: deprivation.

A year ago, when Earth Hour was first launched, I learned that deprivation means more than the absence of the other senses.

Lying in the dark, with two bored sons counting every second their cell phones, computers and TV set were placed on hold—their “whole life,” as my then nine-year-old griped—I learned that deprivation can be a presence, an affirmation.

How else to explain why, after our appliances were unplugged, I plunged into blindness but found myself connected, secured, cradled by a fluid dark?

Something weightless settled near my chest. Freed from noise and activity, I heard it take hold as insubstantial cobwebs trailing arouse a universe of sensations.

Hearing this sound without a sound, I found something, not myself, telling the boys about Macli’ing Dulag.

Gunfire shattered more than the evening quiet of Bugnay, a village in Kalinga, on April 24, 1980. After the soldiers dispatched by then President Ferdinand Marcos stopped firing, Macli’ing Dulag was slain while another tribal leader was grievously wounded but survived.

Macli’ing Dulag led the Kalinga and Bontok peoples in resisting the World Bank-funded Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dam Project. For Marcos, greedy for foreign loans and a showcase for his visions of industrialization, the Chico River Dam Project was more indispensable than the lives of those opposing it.

If Macli’ing Dulag became more than a New Society statistic—who can count the uncountable when many were killed but even more disappeared during the dictatorship?—it was because the deeds of the pangat (chieftain) of the Butbut tribe lived on in his words and the stories that are still retold till now.

The proposed four dams at the Chico River Basin would have generated 1,010 megawatts of electricity. It would have also displaced over a thousand Kalinga families. It would submerge at least four towns and erase hundreds of hectares of ancestral land: sacred burial grounds, rice terraces and tribal homes passed from generation to generation.

It was Macli’ing Dulag who made his people see the horror of landlessness hiding behind the lures of development. “If Kabunian gave you a land of milk and honey/ and ordered you to take care of it for posterity/ What will you do if intruders want to take/
it away?” he wrote in his “warding-off speech.”

“I imagine that you will fight/ For they who do not are ungrateful to
Kabunian…/ They who do not, spit on the graves of their ancestors/ who preserved the land for them/ For land is life/ For life is the land.”

Like fruits of a bitter harvest, their fallen leader’s words fed the tribes’ opposition, repudiating the broken capitulation that must have been anticipated by Marcos.

Twenty years after the first surveys were made, the Chico River Basin Project was shelved in 1987, the first World Bank project ever stopped by communal opposition: villagers who lay on the road to block trucks from bringing in construction materials, women who spied, fought, bared their breasts to turn away soldiers, men who were jailed for tearing down structures and repeated the acts as soon as they were released.

According to, Cordillera Day, celebrated on April 24, marks not just the death of a hero but celebrates the continuing heroism to uphold indigenous people’s rights.

While Macli’ing Dulag’s name is inscribed in the Wall of Remembrance honoring those who opposed with their lives the Marcos dictatorship, it is not that monument of stone in Quezon City that honors him best.

“Such arrogance to speak of owning the land when we instead are owned by it. Only the race owns the land because the race lives forever,” wrote Macli’ing Dulag, who saw through the illusions of multinational corporations and mines, cash crops and exports, who foretold that not all affluence is real nor all deprivations, negation and poverty. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matamata” column, published last March 29, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A likely fiction

I’VE lived a long life.

My mother, who knows I still am months away from turning 44 and years away from surpassing her golden years, will wonder why I wrote that line.

But after last Friday, I feel worn, confused, weary.

After last Friday, when a Marcos visited Cebu to gauge his “chances of winning a national elective position,” I feel the curse of the old: to witness again the same sorry history, all the costly lessons forgotten, mistakes repeated as if they never were.

According to Oscar C. Pineda’s Mar. 21 report in Sun.Star Cebu, Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand “Bong-bong” Marcos Jr. visited Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes last Mar. 20. The son of the late dictator, Ferdinand E. Marcos, vowed that if he ran and won, he would “help deliver a better future.”

A Marcos vowing this in Cebu.

Fancy that. I lived long enough to see the unimaginable.

A month after I was born, in November 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was elected the 10th president of the country. He promised a “New Society.”

In 1969, he was re-elected, the first president to have a second term.

Justifying that the New Society he was trying to create was threatened by communists and oligarchs, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on Sept. 21, 1972. I was in first grade.

At the start, martial law just meant going home from family parties before street curfew was declared.

Except for my father’s half-sister, my family seemed untouched by martial law. This aunt of mine lost half her thigh in the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing, where Liberal Party candidates were among the 95 injured and nine others died, including a five-year-old. Blaming the communists, Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which preceded the declaration of martial rule.

Even then, I remember how my elders spoke in whispers.

By the time Ferdinand Marcos lifted martial law in 1981, actual national conditions reflected a skewered interpretation of the Marcos couple’s vision of “societal regeneration.”

In college, I learned from campus journalists, activists, Moro liberation fighters, the religious, workers, community organizers, farmers, department store workers, tricycle drivers, organized urban dwellers and others whose voices were too small to be heard in the media that death in this country was the ultimate luxury.

Living was just a little harder than dying because it took longer: children raped, women raped, workers raped, plantation workers raped, media raped, voters raped and again and again and again.

Last Friday, the son of the dictator paid Cebu a visit to hear what she thought about his running for national office.

I would not have believed nightmares repeated themselves, except that early this month, Joseph Estrada confided to a rally in Liloan that he would be forced to run for the presidency if no other leader would unite the national opposition.

According to my son’s textbook, Estrada is the 13th president of the country. He, too, promised that his administration will be “pro-poor.”

In 2001, he was ousted by civilian protests of nonviolence known as People Power 2. In 2007, he was found guilty of plunder but was later pardoned by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Early this month, Estrada vowed to save again the country, as the son of the dictator did, as will others.

To live long enough to witness this is to realize how valuable the lessons were, and how forgettable. So let the raping begin again. 09173226131

* First published as the Mar. 22, 2009 “Matamata” column in Sun.Star Cebu

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mayor PMS and the sound of silence

Petulant. Misanthropic. Scurrilous.

Timing myself, I found that I needed 17 minutes of browsing through my Roget’s Thesaurus to find adjectives that could be substituted for every letter in PMS.

PMS also stands for pre-menstrual syndrome, a monthly state that bedevils some women.

When certain men shy from publicly calling a “difficult” woman a bitch, they blame “PMS.”

But the comeback mayor of Cebu has recently proven that women have not yet cornered the market in being quarrelsome, sulky and coarse.

Displeased over charges of contest rigging made by Miss Cebu contestant Kimberley Therese Burden and her family, Cebu City Mayor Tom Osmeña dismissed their plaint as a “non-issue’ and called Kimberley as “just Miss Cellphone.”

I sympathize with the mayor if, like other Cebuanos concerned about joblessness, criminality and other concerns of governance, he wants to move on from what must be the longest-running beauty pageant.

On the other hand, the mayor’s penchant for name-calling leaves the usual afternotes.

Name-calling, whether the baiting is done in playground jungles or the corridors of power, has a drawn-out corrosiveness: people are often entertained for a long time by the taunting even if few exactly remember the circumstances leading to the nickname or its author’s original intent.

Who of us remember in clear detail the issues spawning “Gwen Doling,” “Queen of Darkness,” and “Tandang Zorra”? If the tags still have a sting, it is not just because online news archives ensure that it will be an indelible mark in the Web.

Instead of training people to focus on issues, name-calling feeds a mental laziness that is quite happy to pigeonhole people, on the assumption that nicknames stick but people hardly alter.

Why would the mayor saddle Kimberley with the crushing burden of the “Miss Cellphone” tag? She is not only a young person, with unlimited opportunities to contribute meaningfully to life after moving on from this episode. She is also a private individual, without the access to media that a public official like Osmeña has.

Praising Miss Cebu Kris Tiffany Janson for the “silence” she maintained during the “Texter’s Choice” controversy, the mayor observed that hers was “conduct becoming” of a true Miss Cebu.

Silence, as a virtue, should be taken into context. Perhaps in the world of beauty queens, being outspoken and demanding the correction of a wrong is as unseemly as tripping on one’s gown. By this standard, the feisty mayor himself would be an awkward duckling in a beauty tilt.

Then again, beauty contests hardly mirror the real world where, as Mayor Osmeña must have observed from working with non-government organizations, women have to break the curse of voicelessness and speak out to assert their rights.

In the face, though, of our propensity for Freudian slips-of-the-tongue and name-calling, I agree wholeheartedly with the mayor on the virtue of silence.

After grappling with a thesaurus and being wordless for 17 minutes just to come up with a whimpering bomb of a taunt, I cut short my aspirations in the art of name-calling, as well as take back that “Mayor PMS” tag.

According to our elders, if you have nothing positive to say about a person, don’t say anything at all. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matamata” column, published on Mar. 15, 2009

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Front row to an epidemic

I CAUGHT a virus, but there’s better news.

I’m not taking the antidote.

Last Mar. 4, I attended the first Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) Triennial Awards Summit at the Sacred Heart Center.

Billed as the “Leaders of Change Forum,” the summit gathered for the first time some of the finalists and awardees from the first to the fourth Triennial Awards. Since 1996, Rafi has recognized individuals and institutions that changed and improved the lives of the less privileged in Visayas and Mindanao.

The chance to listen and interact with singular development workers won over end-of-term checking and overdue deadlines.

Yet I wondered how presentations and discussions lasting an hour and a half each could make any difference for age-old problems and challenges in poverty alleviation and peace, among others.

My skepticism got its first antidote during the 8 a.m. registration. That early, the lobby of the Sacred Heart Center was crowded.

With surprise and a deepening sense of satisfaction, I observed the pronounced number of young faces. Many came in their school uniforms and with their advisors. Students of different schools greeted each other, splintering the air with hearty “ate!” and “kuya, kumusta!”

It’s a not unusual scene witnessed around school “tambayan” and watering holes. I did not expect such familiarity preceding a heavy morning agenda tackling the global meltdown and sexual trafficking. Was it possible, though incredible, that this turnout of young people stemmed from common interest, not mere compliance?

I got more confirmation when I observed the unobtrusive but salient involvement of youth volunteers. Handling tasks from registration to co-moderation and documentation, many in the summit secretariat were scholars of the Young Minds Academy (YMA), a Rafi program to guide and mentor emerging leaders.

Aside from March being always hectic for students due to end-of-term requirements, many of the YMA scholars, like City Hall employee Delight Baratbate and school worker Marlon Perilla, had to take a leave from jobs to pursue their “advocacy.” Reporter Beth Baumgart was covering the summit for Sun.Star Cebu, but she also was keen on the day’s agenda due to personal advocacies sustained beyond the campus.

Finding these two rarities—youthful idealism and participation—set to right my initial hangover of skepticism.

Near the end of the summit, I finally identified the buzzing that was hovering around this motley gathering.

Youth did come in full force. But steely will and unvanquished perseverance was manifest, too, in the individuals and organizations that have track records to prove that their commitment to the community is for the long haul.

While the Rafi Triennial Awardees were outstanding, other signs made me think it is possible to will change in this country, with or without a Filipino Obama.

Low-key individuals asserting with passion that no poverty of goods or spirit can justify taking advantage of the vulnerable among us. The openness and commitment to dialogue that elevated harangues and monologues to learning, proving we are at our best when we listen first. Creativity without ceilings, governance without ego.

The unblinking belief that there’s trouble massed ahead of us and baying at our backs—but that a people united by codes of mortal decency and a Supreme Good is more than equal to it.

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell ruminated when do slight changes become “tipping points.” He coined this term to refer to the critical mass determining the threshold of social change.

In the book, “The Tipping Point,” he said that ideas spread like “viruses,” following three rules: the power of context in shaping change, the “stickiness factor” of message dissemination, and the “law of the few.”

The last rule recognizes that 20 percent of the participants will work to realize 80 percent of the job. Change then is in the hands of the “salesmen” (who can negotiate with and persuade the fence-sitters), the mavens (who will connect people to crucial information), and the connectors (who are the linkers, the “people with a special gift for bringing the world together”).

Last Mar. 4, was I glad to be contaminated. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s "Matamata" column in its Mar. 8, 2009 issue