Achieving Happiness

July 24, 2010

Losing childhood’s lessons

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 11:09 am


As children, we are allowed to watch tv programs where the good guys always triumph and the villains get their comeuppance — the naughty little boy who stole cookies and then lied about it afterwards gets caught by a good little boy who always tells the truth (nevermind that he’s sometimes labelled a stoolie and a tattle-tale– he has to stand up for what is right). Bullies are punished and the nerdy or geeky ones are embraced and told that they are loved no matter what.

Then when we reach adolescence and attend high school, we’re prodded to have extra-curricular activities: join the Boy Scouts/Girl scouts, the English, Science or Math Club, the gymnastics group, the chess team, whatever organization that will supposedly bring one out of one’s shell and teach one how to socialize, how to make friends, how to grow up to be a stable, decent and well-rounded individual who will also be a good model citizen.

So what will all these lessons on how to be a good person, or why it is important to make friends and be upright individuals, shouldn’t it be expected that things would be much better for all of us? Because it’s not just the children’s tv programs or the books, it’s also school: up to high school and even college we are constantly bombarded with reminders that we should be upstanding young people. What happened?

What happens is this: society and our elders and leaders go against their own words and practice the opposite of what they preach to the younger ones. The truths they proclaim are exposed as empty rhetoric, and they fall desperately short of our expectations. They establish rules and laws that allow the weak to be exploited further and the bullies to be rewarded. Liars are given high posts in government and when they steal, they also get away with it. Truth-tellers are vilified, abducted, killed, or worse, their honor and dignity undermined and they they are accused of being criminals by the killers, thieves and liars.

As adults, we find work in the offices and the factories, but by no means is our socializing with our colleagues and co-workers allowed to become strong bonds of fraternity: we are discouraged from forming or joining unions or employee associations. When we seek to give depth and significance to the ties we form in the workplace — in the factories where we are victimized by the same unfair labor policies and the oppressive work conditions; in the government offices where we are witness to the corruption of our superiors — we risk losing our jobs and become targets of the management or the higher authorities in government. The groups we form with our friends — the unions, the associations — are banned, and when we assert our rights by speaking out in protest by holding pickets and strikes (all of which are inalienable rights), we are charged of the most ridiculous crimes like disturbing the peace, loitering and littering.

As children we are told to speak out against the wrong doings of others, to admit our own faults and apologize.

As adults, many of us would rather keep silent,and then there are others whose main duty is to silence others. Those who keep silent live in fear and ignorance; but they will not admit it, or worse, they do not care. They remain quiet as they watch society deteriorate. Society’s leaders, in the meantime, have no shame and remain stiff-necked and defiant against public outrage against the atrocities of various stripes and colors they committed in the name of public service, while in public office. They rely on the silence of the majority to remain in power, on their fear, their ignorance, their apathy.

They do not know what it is to apologize, or if they do, the apology is false and everything is for show. They escape punishment, and the judgment of history against them means nothing because they retain the immoral and stolen wealth they accumulated – money makes all the difference and can buy influence.

Many children group to become fence sitters; others grow up to become hecklers who also sit on the fence but make it their past time to ridicule those who choose to practice what they learned as children and strengthen their values and belief in what is right and just into adulthood.

The children who grew up to adulthood with the core values intact have no need for religion or faith not because they are godless, but because they are not out to save only themselves (often religion teaches that one must pray because its a requirement to go to heaven: the unforgetting ones believe in creating heaven on earth for the poor and the oppressed). They remember childhood’s lessons on how help must be extended to others in need; that they must give what they have in excess and always share with the less unfortunate.

They work for others in the same way they live for and love their families, and a sacrifice is no longer a sacrifice because it is often done out of love. The pledge they took as children to love their country, to serve it and their fellowmen/women they continue to take seriously, and many have already given their lives to the cause of daylight in a country where darkness is prevalent.

(This is dedicated to the young men and women of the League of Filipino Students)

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July 21, 2010

Upside Down

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 8:17 pm

Eduardo Galeano makes me weep. He writes about the brutality of the world and of exploiters, and even as you rage, you cannot help but feel a stabbing sort of feeling in the regions of the heart: he is a powerful writer, a true poet and thank all whatever gods there may be that he has chosen to be a voice against injustice.

I am currently reading ‘Upside Down’ and in it he describes our world as it is in stark contrast to what it should be if justice were a reality and money was not idolized. He weaves statistics and data with images that never leave your memory, and the shock and outrage is even greater because the figures are out in the world and the exploiters remain out large despite the massive and unspeakable crimes these numbers represent.

I’ve only finished the first two chapters and already I have shed tears and there was that old and somewhat loved feeling of tiny but excruciating pain. The breadth and scope of humanity described and one must weep at how we continue to destroy ourselves by destroying others or letting others destroy us. Beneath the horror and sadness over such unnameable tragedy, one is led to rage, and afterwards to dream: there is a better world than this, and it will be one day be born.

In the first chapter, he writes about children denied their childhood, the harshness of poverty and want cutting painfully their journeys between the cradle and the grave. He describes the differences between children of parents with wealth and children who have nothing, not even their parents because they’re been sold to slavery or prostitution. These children have lives that mean very little more than garbage to a heartless and selfish system. They are forced to work to survive and their small hands are wounded, their weak backs broken and their young lungs shriveled in mineshafts, sweatshops, plantations.

He describes children lucky enough to have childhoods, but these years of innocence were wasted in front of the television and they enter adulthood, doing drugs, waiting for the next big thrill, useless endeavors, empty goals. These children born to wealth and opulence also live ignorant and in fear of reality: protected behind glass and steel and blinded by consumer goods and empty pursuits, they deny everything else that disturbs their comfort.

Galeano condemns the World Bank, the International Monitory Fund (IMF) and the imperialist US government for the endless torment suffered by the world’s children. The atrocities committed in the name of capital, the brutalities of wars unleashed to protect the comfort of the few; the hypocrisy of kindness and compassion of multinationals and transnationals and their humanitarian projects. All of this ensures that millions upon millions of children will never experience childhood as it should be: in innocence, in joy, sheltered in communities where their parents are not victims of myriad forms of injustice themselves (unemployment, poor working conditions, almost invisible wages, absent benefits if they’re workers; add landlessness, homelessness, militarization if they are peasants).
Consider:
*In Mexico, the Philippines, Lagos, children scavenge in reeking mountains of garbage for metal, glass, plastic

*In the Congo they’re sent to mine diamonds
*They take the place of moles and canaries in the mines of Peru, testing the air, and when their lungs give out, they end up in unmarked graves
*They work in plantations in Columbia, Tanzania, Guatemala, Honduras and get poisoned by pesticides

In the streets of Manila and Quezon City and surrounding metropolitan areas, children in rags and bare, muddy and calloused feet dodge cars, buses and jeeps to wash and during traffic stops beg for alms, offer to wash windshields. In Davao, they are shot like dogs in the streets by policemen.

In this upside down world, the future is being smothered, maimed and killed.

The second chapter is about injustice and the hypocrisy, cold cruelty and lies of the ruling classes peddled through pop culture and the mainstream media.

TV commercials, magazines, movies and tv shows offer images of brightness and color, enjoyment and endless laughter, but even as everyone can watch and see and hear, not everyone is allowed to genuinely experience: most are denied the right to be ‘beautiful’ (with the standard of beauty being set by the rulers), to be healthy, to never starve, to never fear cold weather or floods or killing heat, to not abhor the police and the military (the supposed protectors of peace and democracy). There is equality (because the offer of ‘happiness’ is made to everyone), but the injustice is made even greater by the so-called social equality (because not everyone can partake: a cone of french fries to many is already a luxury; let us not speak of new clothes or shoes, not even of cures for tuberculosis, pneumonia, or cancer).

Billions die of human rights violations (to be denied food, shelter, the means to improve one’s self and to escape sickness and diseases are human rights violations) because in a world ruled by capital, wealth is never innocent, and its twin is injustice.

There is also injustice on how the poor are deliberately and systematically blinded, rendered mute and deaf about history. One must learn from history or risk victimization; but people are fed stories and lies and propaganda masquerading as the truth about how it is in their best interest to stay still even when the bullets fly and the innocent are killed. Daily those who try to rip open the dark blanket of lies and treacherous compromise (the conservatives, the rightists, the enemies of the true Left), they are villified, slandered, libeled, abducted, killed. History is constantly reworked and rewritten until it barely escapes being fiction; or it is written by monsters so they recast themselves as saviors and saints.

In this upside down world, to speak the truth is to risk ridicule and death.

I will write more of Upside down as I go through the chapters. The struggle to reclaim human dignity unites all oppressed peoples all over the world; and the war against injustice and death wrought by imperialism (globalization, neoliberalism – call it what you want, it still means death to humanity) is what what must be won if we are to know what it is to be truly free.

July 18, 2010

10 Things I’ve learned so far about this corner of the world

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 2:56 pm

Groningen. It’s a province of the Netherlands that first entered the history books in 1040, but historians and archeologists say that there have been findings of a civilization here that existed as early as third century BC. Groningen and its capital also called Groningen is widely known for two kinds of products: sugar and gasoline. It has factories that transform tons of sugar beets into granulated sugar and other similar products. The city is beautiful, there are tall trees everywhere and flowers.

I know that there is so much more to Groningen and I intend to discover more about it in the coming days, but I’ve been in the Netherlands for over a month and the following are the only things I have learned:

(1)there are at least five competing supermarket/grocery chains and they all do their darnest to separate consumers from their euros by coming out with the most compelling tv ads and cut-throat price discounts of products ranging from carbonated drinks to hamburger patties, fat, purple aubergines and mussles: Albert Heijn; Jumbo, C1000, Super de Boer and Plus;

(2)Everything shuts down on Sunday: all the streets are deserted and woe unto you if you forgot to visit a)Albert Heijn b)Jumbo c(C1000 d)Super do Boer or e)Plus Saturday night. Even McDonald’s is closed;

(3)All the tv and radio commercials are in Dutch and if you don’t know Dutch you’ll be on the same linguistic footing as a two year old (only sometimes there are two-year olds who seem to understand certain ads and end up laughing like they heard a hilarious joke but they can’t be bothered to explain;

(4) Everyone has a bicycle. or at least it looks like everyone does and when you cross the street make sure to look left and right and walk fast so as not to risk being run over by either a 10-year old clutching a plastic bag from Tinkertoys in one hand while navigating with the other, or a granny with at least two bouquets of flowers in the handlebar basket and a small dog inside the pet carrier strapped on top of the rear wheel. Small babies and toddlers are strapped via five-point harnesses in seats specially designed for their bodies and they look bored while their parents pedal along at at least five kilometers per hour;

(5)When the Weather Bureau says its going to rain, you can put your money on it. There’s also a website devoted to monitoring atmospheric changes, buienradar.nl , and I find that it is reliable to the last five minutes right before a raincloud drops its load. Sometimes we check the website even before we look out the window to see whether we should dress warm or if it’s going to be a sunny day.

(6)Health and beauty stores (like Watson’s in the Philippines) such as Kruidvat and Da sell their own brandname diapers and said diapers can come in packs of 80 pcs so tightly packaged you’ll need a shoehorn to ease the first one out;

7)Ice cream is very popular; the pork sold in the supermarkets (see item no.1) doesn’t have any fat; people use liquid soap or body wash instead of soap bars; washing machines almost break anti-noise pollution statutes when they enter the dry cycle; Miffy is called Nijntje; seagulls, crows, terns and pigeons have neither shame nor fear especially on market day at the Vismarkt and Grote Markt and stare at you steadily to bully you into giving them that last bit of waffle/shawarma/cookie;

8)During the summer, the sun rises at 4am and sets at 11pm. Yes you read that right. You can imagine the battle of wills that ensues between mothers and not unintelligent two-years old when it’s time for bed at 830pm and the living room is still bathed in sunlight;

(9)Somehow, the men are friendlier than the women because they smile; and finally,

(10) Football is taken very seriously and when Holland lost the 2010 World Cup to Spain, the two days that followed saw heavy rains, quite a bit of flooding; and depressed faces in the streets.
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Six weeks since we left the Philippines. I’ve been too busy taking care of Miko, cleaning the flat and doing other homemaker-chores that I have been unable to write. The free time I have to myself I spend reading and watching sitcoms (Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory) and surprisingly, I’m far from feeling bored and suicidal. Every hour is devoted to a specific chore, and in between, there are news sites, Facebook, and checking email.

I resolve to reboot my brain, however, and begin writing again.

The Philippines began a new chapter in its short but turbulent history, and I haven’t written down any of the thoughts I had on the matter. I profess to having been happy that I wasn’t home when Aquino took over, and now, well, I can’t help but be wistful: only two weeks and the Aquino regime is already showing what it’s capable off: the Philippine National Police plans to deploy 10,000 policemen during Noynoy’s first State of the Nation Address; Noynoy himself has promised the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to give him a wish list and he will do what he can to fill it.

Now are these acts that serve goals of bringing the president closer to the people and dispel the long-standing image of governments being alienated from the masses? Will promising the AFP more weapons and ammunition bring the country towards a just and lasting peace or will it serve to encourage the mercenary AFP to intensify its attacks against the civilian populace?

In the meantime, Noynoy has not said much when it comes to giving the poor and working people the jobs and justice that they need. Electricity rates are again on the rise and speculations are rife that Noynoy will keep his hands off the issue because he is beholden to the Lopez family: they reportedly gave millions to bolster his presidential campaign. He has already said no to legislating wage increases for workers, and instead of turning to workers and seeking what changes in policy they wish initiated, he continues to consult the Makati Business Club and employers’ groups.

As for human rights, I expect that there’ll be a lot of rallies and demonstrations up ahead because already, one political activist has been killed, a journalist shot dead, and a demonstration of farmers attacked and participants arrested: Mendiola remains a battleground and Malacanang deaf and blind to the demands of those who toil outside its walls.

Noynoy may still be on cloud 9 right now, but the realities of the job he swore to take on will dawn on him soon enough. I’m willing to bet that he will lose his temper quite often, and his supporters will be at a loss as to how to justify it. How he will provide solutions to the gargantuan problems Macapagal-Arroyo has created is beyond me but even as I myself cannot cheer him on, I really don’t wish him ill. I know for a fact, however, that he is inherently incapable of bringing the Philippines to a state of political and economic redemption and recovery: even now some of his choices for cabinet members and officials – and his full support for the AFP – bid ill for any and all chances of genuine and positive change. Putting someone like Etta Rosales to head the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for instance is certain to push back the struggle for justice for human rights victims.

Updates on the Philippine situation:

*Benjamin Bayles, 42, a Karapatan activist and member of Bayan Muna, was killed in Brgy. Suaym Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental on June 14.

*On June 22, human rights lawyer Ernesto Salunat was gunned down by unknown men outside a municipal trial court in Nueva Vizcaya.

*Fernando Baldomero, city councilor and chairperson of Bayan Muna in Aklan was shot to death last July 5, in front his son. He was the first activist killed in the Aquino presidency.

*On July 9, Pascual Guevarra, provincial leader of Alyansa ng Magsasakang Nagkakaisa and Anakpawis in Nueva Ecija fell victim to gunmen. The same day, Mark Francisco, a member of ACT Teachers Partylist was shot dead.

* The Philippine National Police plans to deploy 10,000 policemen during Noynoy’s first State of the Nation Address.
If Noynoy was sincere and genuinely determined to turn the country around and put the Philippines on the straight path, he will listen to the Left and take its advice and heed its warnings to heart because they are, after all, genuinely for the good of the Filipino people. Noynoy must rise above his own political myopia and weaknesses of character and person, overcome them and be intellectually mature enough to acknowledge that the Left speaks the truth regarding Philippine realities.

The following constitute Makabayan Coalition’s immediate demands to the Aquino regime. They are demands made more urgent by the fact that a week into Noynoy’s presidency, there have already been extrajudicial political killings.

* Immediately put a stop to the practice of AFP and PNP of tagging and vilifying legal progressive organizations as communist fronts and state enemies;
* Remove from AFPs counter-insurgency program the policy of “neutralizing” (which include physical elimination) activists and militant organizations; immediately implement administrative measures and sanctions that will enforce command responsibility and ensure the policy of “no harassment, abduction and killings” of activists;
* Stop political persecution, through the filing of fabricated chargers, of leaders and members of legal progressive parties and organizations and instead focus on prosecuting and arresting masterminds and perpetrators of extrajudicial killings of activists including Former Sec. Norberto Gonzales and Former Gen. Jovito Palparan;
* Strongly support the passage of proposed laws on command responsibility, enforced disappearances, and Marcos and Arroyo human rights victims compensation bills.
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Another day ends in Groningen and the city is quiet. Maybe I’ll learn some more new things tomorrow. The country I left in the meantime sleeps: as I write this it is 12:20am in the Philippines. One might say that it’s also quiet there, but that is not to say that it is at peace as it slumbers.