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.
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.
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.