Achieving Happiness

August 27, 2010

For her son and for justice:Free Judilyn Oliveros of the Morong 43

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 10:13 pm

It’s been two months since Benigno C. Aquino III became president, and since then, despite assertions to the contrary, not much has changed in the Philippines and the state of human rights.

Noynoy has promised that he would be very different from his predecessor, but he has yet to prove it. If he was sincere in his declaration that he will uphold human rights and undo all the damage his predecessor has done to civil liberties, then he should not hesitate to take immediate action on two very pressing issues: 1) the long-standing and well-justified claim of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers to the land they have made productive for two decades; and 2) the Morong 43.

Noynoy’s stand on the first has been patently clear even before he became president: he refuses to recognize the legal and more importantly moral right of the farmworkers to HLI.
As for the second, he has not said a word.

One would have thought that given Noynoy’s own experiences as the son of Ninoy, a former political detainee who was eventually brutally assassinated by the government he refused to give in to, Noynoy would show more compassion towards all political detainees. One also would have thought that Noynoy would rush to free all political prisoners and put an end to all military operations and government programs that allow for a culture of impunity and injustice to flourish.

The community health workers known as the Morong 43 have been unjustly imprisoned since February 6, 2010. They were in the middle of a one-week health training program sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation Incorporated (COMMED) and the Council for Health and Development (CHD) in Morong, Rizal. Among them were two medical doctors, a registered nurse, two midwives, two health educators and 36 volunteer community health workers.

Very early on Feb. 6, an estimated 300 soldiers in full battle gear from the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) 2nd Infantry Division and the Rizal Provincial Police raided the venue. The participants of the training – 43 in all — were manhandled, blindfolded, handcuffed and taken to Camp Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal. They were not shown a search or arrest warrant, neither were they told why they were being arrested. They were denied legal counsel, and for hours before the alarm was sounded, the 43 health workers suffered cruel treatment at the hands of their military guards.

For 36 hours the 43 experienced various forms of torture – mental, physical and psychological – and then they were verbally accused of illegal possession of fire arms and explosives. It was only on February 11, however, five days after they were arrested were they formally charged with same at the the RTC Branch 78,in Morong Rizal.

Soon after it came out that the 43 were arrested on a defective warrant, and if they were not forced to testify at the hearings initiated by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the AFP would not have admitted that the search warrant was completely bogus — it was issued in the name of an unknown and most likely fictitious man supposedly named ‘Mario Condes.’

Six months have passed, and the 43 remain detained. In the meantime, one of them has given birth. On July 22, Carina Judilyn Oliveros’ son was born and like his mother, he became a prisoner of the state.

It’s painful to imagine how Judilyn suffered the last six months. Any woman who has been pregnant will testify that pregnancy is not easy. The body changes and with it one’s state of mind and feeling. One if often in a state of discomfort; and even when one deeply loves the unborn child growing inside one’s body, it cannot be denied that one does not love the aches and pains, the swollen feet and ankles, the oddness of appetite, the mood swings and the fear of something bad happening to the baby.

Judilyn suffered through all this,and more: she suffered them as an innocent prisoner surrounded by armed guards, with no immediate access to family and friends, and perpetually plagued by memories of torture. In fact, during her first 36 hours as a detainee, she was denied food and water, and denied rest: she was questioned again and again, and doubtless, even without the interrogation, sleep was always far from coming and when it did, it was restless.

Judilyn gave birth at the Philippine General Hospital, but immediately after she and her baby were taken back to Camp Bagong Diwa, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s (BJMP) detention facility in Bicutan where all of the Morong 43 were detained after their transfer from Camp Capinpin. The new mother was handcuffed and not allowed to carry her son as they left the hospital.

Again, the shortest separation between a mother and a newborn brings a measure of pain. The mother is often unable to keep her eyes of her child, and sometimes the urge, the need to constantly touch and kiss the baby is so strong that the fulfillment of it brings tears. In a just and humane society, she would have been immediately released if not for the complete illegality of the charges against her (and the rest of the Morong 43), then on humanitarian grounds.

Instead, Judilyn remained a prisoner: Judge Gina Cenat Escoto of the Morong RTC rejected the petition Judilyn’s lawyers filed for her temporary release on recognizance due to humanitarian reasons: Judily wanted to breastfeed her child and take care of him in a place conducive to the health and safety of a child. On Aug. 16, the court ordered Judilyn’s return to Bicutan, saying that there was no basis to allow her release.

Undaunted, Judilyn’s lawyers from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) filed an appeal, and on August 25, the court reversed its previous ruling and allowed Judilyn and her baby to return to the PGH and stay there for three months. The RTC issued the more humane decision after the Department of Justice dropped its opposition to the original motion and gave recognition to the provisions of the United Nations’ Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding.

As of this writing, mother and baby are still at Camp Bagong Diwa and the BJMP is yet to receive the court order to effect the transfer.

When one thinks of Judilyn, one cannot help but think of other mothers.

The large majority of Filipino mothers give birth and raise their children in conditions that are far from the ideal. Because of poverty, many rely on the often limited services and medical provisions of public health centers. Most do not have access to valuable information on how to take care of their health to prevent pregnancy-related diseases like gestational diabetes.

Those in the far-flung areas do not even see doctors and depend only on community midwives. In the more squalid areas in the urban centers, pregnant women are often undernourished, and their babies are born underweight. Some are born with deformities, or worse, they die at birth or shortly after.

Immediately after giving birth, these new mothers are forced to get up and attend not only to the needs of their newborns, but the needs of the rest of their families. If employed, to go back to work. Those who are homemakers fight their fatigue and perform their duties as such. If some suffer from postnatal depression, there is no way to diagnose it: ever so often in the seedier tabloids there are reports of mothers suffocating their babies or drowning them in nearby canals.

Then the mothers face the challenge of struggling to be always strong, not so much for themselves, but for their children.

The social, political and economic realities of life in a country as backward as the Philippines are without doubt harsh,and especially for children. Because of a system of government that lays siege to the most fundamental of human rights — the right to protect the self and to live in dignity and peace — mothers suffer seeing their children grow up lacking adequate food, safe shelter, good education, access to immediate medical attention.As for their children, thankfully, many are blissfully unaware of what society has denied them.

The sacrifices of mothers are myriad, and they never end, but because of the bond of love, these sacrifices are willingly shouldered, even embraced.

Judilyn Oliveros and her son have a long and difficult struggle ahead of them as citizens of a country wherein social justice is but a phrase that means very little to those in power. As political detainees, they now suffer being directly denied their right as innocent civilians to be free.

Judilyn, it is certain, now thinks and worries of her son’s welfare more often than she does about her own.

What anger she justly feels against the injustice done against her and the rest of the Morong 43 is without doubt sharpened by the knowledge that her imprisonment also means imprisonment for her son. She is a mother now, and all the commitment she has devoted to her political advocacy and acknowledged duty as a health worker serving the poor can only be strengthened by the love she has for her child.

She remains true to her calling, and her fight for freedom is also a fight for her son. Given this, the unjustness of her plight should anger all mothers, and all those who believe in justice.

Free Judilyn Oliveros and son! Free the 43!

The Health Alliance for Democracy, Karapatan, and Gabriela are also campaigning for the immediate release on human grounds of another member of the Morong 43, 27-year old Mercy Castro. Mercy is seven months pregnant and is expected to give birth in October.

August 26, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 9:26 pm

In the aftermath of the Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis which left in its wake eight civilians dead, the international spotlight is once more trained on the Philippines. Most regrettably but quite understandably, many Chinese people are angry at the country, and some have taken to bashing not only it, but its citizens.

They’d be right to abhor the incumbent government led by Noynoy Aquino (the man was most likely dozing when the hours dwindled to minutes and then seconds for the eight killed inside the bus); and it would shocking to say the least if they didn’t feel a almost blinding and deafening anger against the PNP and its members’ utter lack of skill and genuine courage and determination to save human lives; but what is terribly sad (but again, unfortunately, understandable) is that the rage is also being directed against all Filipinos in general.

The PNP and the Aquino government failed their mandate to ensure the safety of foreign visitors to the country (unsurprising, really – they fail to protect this country’s own citizens, but we’ll let that go for now) and now Filipinos living in China and Hong Kong are under threat to lose not so much as face but their employment, and the damage is multiplied a thousandfold because of their families who rely on their monthly remittances. Many others in the Philippines’ tourism areas also stand to lose income and livelihood as tourists from China and HK erase the country from their vacation itineraries.

These are the least of the problems still, however: racism can hurt in many, many ways and the effects are long lasting and sometimes mortal. All that can be done to ease the enmity must be done; it will take a long time, and the Aquino government should swallow what bitterness comes afterward (and inevitably, stand responsible for all blame).

How one wishes that in the aftermath of this specific tragedy, people of other nationalities and more importantly, Filipinos themselves, would see how tragedy is actually a way of life in this country. Recognize this and maybe, just maybe, grow so incensed and appalled that they would take action to overhaul things.

It’s ironic that many Filipinos were themselves outraged at what happened that day that crept into night at the Quirino grandstand, but couldn’t be expected to even mutter one expression of shock at the greater (but not to reduce or dismiss the gravity of the brutal killing of the 8 Chinese citizens at the hands of a former policeman) horrors that unfold on a daily basis in the Philippines.

The injustice that takes place day in and day out in the Philippines takes various shapes and forms. Some come as slow-moving or inevitably unjust or long-delayed resolutions to legal cases and are monsters that devour entire lives such as those of farmers and workers as they defend their rights to land and decent employment. Recall the strikes of workers of the Light Rail Transit (LRT), Nestle, Philippine Airlines. Then there’s the injustice that comes as the non-implementation of genuine land reform, or the militarization of land disputes think of Hacienda Luisita in 2004; or Palo, Leyte in 2005. This kind of injustice bring with it monsters that rent and tear and destroy.

(On Nov. 21, 2005 a platoon from the Philippine Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion attacked a group of farmers as they gathered to begin cultivating the land awarded them by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). They were members of the DAR-accredited ed San Agustin Farmers-Beneficiaries Cooperative, Alang-alang Small Farmers Association (ASFA) and Bayan Muna. The soldiers arrived and without warning strafed the gathering and when the smoke cleared, nine people were dead including a pregnant woman and her unborn child.)

These monsters also dare show their fangs (not their faces) in broad daylight and with guns, grenades, knives and blindfolds steal away mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers; often their bodies are found afterward, bloodied and stripped of dignity, the marks of mindless viciousness on their broken limbs; but sometimes and more cruelly, their bodies seemingly disappear, and they families and friends weep into endless days and nights of searching.

The list of the disappeared is long, and continues to grow. The number of those killed as they pursued ideals of a more humane and compassionate society also increases. In the meantime, there are also those who are neither killed nor disappeared, but are denied their rights and freedom and accused of the most improbable and unlikely crimes: the Morong 43, the health workers who sought to continue giving communities much needed health services, have been unjustly detained since March. It is now August.

There are also the relatively smaller injustices, but these too maintain the sharpest, most poisonous teeth that bite deeply into what should feed, house, clothe, teach, entertain, cure, delight, sustain, provide for the poor majority — corruption is inherent in all levels of government, and the fight against it is neverending and seldom winning.

The effects are inescapable: public hospitals are forced to turn away patients with no money. Public schools are forced to teach students 50, 60 to a class.The social security funds for private sector workers and government employees end up buying luxury cars and mansions for those tasked to manage them.

Because of corruption, there’s barely money to build or improve hospitals and schools; and there’s no money at all to develop and utilize alternative sources of electricity and fuel,much less a genuinely efficient and reliable disaster preparedness, relief and rescue program of national scale. We curse as we pay for electricity and water we did not consume. Our children cannot read, write or comprehend. We try to swim in the floods, and many drown.

Because of corruption, the roads are killing fields. Bus companies that continue to operate despite their accident-prone vehicles, people suddenly meet their deaths on bottom of ravines or in the middle of highways, their life bleeding away, their bones crushed, their spines severed. The DOTC and the LTFRB are unable to inspect all public utility vehicles and allow even the transport companies with notorious records of accidents to continue operations for a fee, some of it given under the table. The DPWH cannot pave all roads or erect street lamps where needed.

These are injustices committed against the Filipino people, and they are also tragedies because they take place under a so-called democracy. The failure of the PNP to save the hostages in that ill-fated bus is but a byproduct of a society where injustice reigns. The PNP has never been a force meant to truly protect the public good: policemen are better trained at manhandling and beating up activists and labor unionists than upholding public peace and fighting crime.

The utter lack of ethics of the broadcast media of ABS-CBN an GMA-7and how they prioritized sensational coverage above responsible journalism and concern for human life is also part and parcel of the backwardness of this society and its twisted nature. For the most part, many media institutions fall short of their duty to educate, inform and empower; they focus more on providing silly distractions, mindless entertainment, hollow and useless advocacies. All these, it should be said, to rake in billions in profit from advertisers.

As we rant and rage against what happened at the Quirino Grandstand, let’s all take a look around us and notice that all of us, our children and the next generation of Filipinos, are also being held hostage and the gun is always pointed , sometimes at our heads, sometimes at our hearts, often at our stomachs. The Philippines is one big bus, and whether we like it our not, we are its passengers, some of us are just seated at the back and out of the immediate line of fire.

So passengers at the back, listen: the injustice suffered by the poor and the working people is more than enough reason to cry foul and demand change. Their poverty and want, the way they are denied their human rights and dignity, if we allow all this to continue, makes us accomplices to the hostage-takers. Let us react and take action, and not settle to be outraged bystanders.

When Noynoy Aquino first ran for president, he made promises to turn the country around, lead it down the straight path. So far he has taken stands on the following: (1)banning sirens for the vehicles of government officials; (2) more airtime for original Filipino music on all FM radio stations; and (3) threatening litterbugs from throwing trash into the Pasig river and in all public places. In the meantime, he has vowed to increase the EVAT from 12% to 15%, to continue the implementation of Oplan-Bantay Laya, and to remain hands-off on the issue of land distribution to the long-suffering farmworkers of his family’s Hacienda Luisita.

August 4, 2010

A review of “Jose Ma. Sison: At Home in the World”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 7:36 pm

I wrote this review in 2004 and it was published in Businessworld. I thought I’d repost it because, after six years, there’s already a new generation of Filipinos who should know who Jose Ma.Sison is, what his politics are and what the Movement he represents seeks to achieve for the Filipino people and the country.

“Jose Ma. Sison: At Home in the World” by Ninotchka Rosca
Open Hand Publishing, 2004

To read Ninotchka Rosca’s Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World not just to discover the controversial man, but to learn the political and economic history of the Philippines, understand the nature of global conflict, and to find that there is hope for genuine justice and freedom for the poor and working people.

Jose Maria Sison’s politics is well known, but not well-understood. Through the malicious efforts of the media and other information agents of the Philippine government and the United States, Sison’s reputation is as much based on purported infamy as it is on widespread respect. Rosca has written a book that succeeds in explaining the Sison way and introducing the turbulent history of the Philippines with sensitivity, intelligence, and genuine warmth.

Through Rosca’s eyes, the way she has documented her conversations with Sison, Sison as never before is revealed in all his aspects – a revolutionary, ideologue, and as an ordinary human being who chose to attempt the extraordinary and noble: build a people’s liberation movement that has survived three decades of fascist and puppet governments as well as potentially mortal errors.

Literature and Politics

Acclaimed novelist Ninotchka Rosca has written and put together a book that is certain to go down in Philippine literary and journalistic history as one of the most definitive documents of the nation’s political and historical development. Though it is titled to be a biography, reading though it one will immediately grasp that it is much more than a description and narration of the personal saga of one extraordinary Filipino and leader, but an incisive and critical telling of the Filipino nation’s past and present, and offers a glimpse into what challenges lie ahead for the country and its people.

Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World is an amazing read. Even those who are practically clueless and tragically uninformed regarding the true state of the nation and world developments will find it compelling.

For one, the subject of the biography, Jose Ma. Sison, is one of the most known individuals that ever made a dent in the public’s consciousness. This is, no doubt, an understatement as Sison, as it is well-documented and brilliantly depicted in Rosca’ book, has not only influenced politics in the country but actually shaped and even directed the course of the nation’s history and impacted on the lives of millions of Filipinos and even peoples of other nationalities.

For another, it is written by Ninotchka Rosca, one of the few Filipino journalists and literary writers who are respected not merely for their craft, but for their advocacy and politics.

At first it was a cause for a little disappointment that the book it mostly comprised of transcriptions of conversations between the author and the celebrated subject. After all, Rosca is an established literary voice, and it would have been more than a treat to read her own words describing Sison, giving shape and image to the man known to be both an ideological behemoth and a notorious joker and wit.

But reading through the book, one realizes that Rosca did make her distinctive literary mark in her treatment of the subject. It came out not just in the autobiographical sketch wherein she introduced her subject and gave a hint of the kind and extraordinary humanity the subject possesses NOT separate from the larger than life cause he has chosen to embrace and further, but in the questions she asked her subject, and how she has phrased them.

The man is his politics and ideology

The biography being divided in to five chapters could be mistaken to be a straight, chronological account of Sison’s life and times. For the most part the biography is bound and outlined by time; but the topics jump back and forth and interconnect seamlessly, like a mobius strip.

The chapter titles give an idea of what each segment contains Chapter 1, for instance, titled “A Dangerous Existence” details how Sison was forced into exile by the Corazon Aquino Administration and what he did to continue his revolutionary work abroad. But it also gives insight into Sison’s thoughts and feelings and more importantly his experiences not just as the intellectual and ideologue, but as an actual living, breathing Red Fighter.

It’s not well-known to all that Sison had and has it in him to be physically acting out his convictions. The descriptions of how he led rallies were not new; and the experiences of joining demonstrations and getting arrested by police, especially for the members of the Philippine legal, democratic mass movement are ordinary. But in his conversations with Rosca, Sison gives a plain but all the same harrowing account of his ten-year imprisonment and torture during the Marcos dictatorship.

His description of the torture – the dehumanizing, soul-killing treatment he suffered inside the prison cells is given in his own words – plain and simple, straightforward language. But the very plainness, the sobriety of the description are what precisely gives the shock-effect; jolts the reader into realizing that even a fraction of what the Sison went through would have broken a lesser man or woman.

Sison, however, survived and lived to tell the tale with no self-aggrandizement or drama. (It would be good to note that in previous video interviews, Sison has narrated the experience of torture with humor, and this makes one all the more amazed at the strength of the man’s spirit and the force of his interior will.)

In the meantime, Sison, for years has been accused of being nothing more than a pencil pusher, issuing commands via press statements and other documents. Through Rosca’s incisive and – yes, even gossipy questioning- however, bits and pieces of Sison’s lively personality and distinctly strong and surprisingly down-to-earth character have been revealed like never before.

More importantly, Rosca succeeded in making Sison explain, in his own words, using his own prodigious grasp of Marxist analysis, Philippine history and world developments. Questions regarding Sison’s work and study habits, his personal quirks and relatively trivial travails (such as his former problems quitting smoking, and how he feels and reacts to slurs and attacks against himself in the media)are given answers that inevitably end up as analysis and narration of economic and political developments.

Queries on specific developments in the aformentioned areas, on the other hand, are answered with personal anecdotes. For instance, when Sison is asked about the murder by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM)of labor leader Rolando Olalia and what it implied in the context of peace negotiations with the then Aquino government, Sison’s answer is deeply heartfelt: he felt a measure of guilt and responsibility for Ka Lando and his aid Ka Leonor Alay-ay’s murders because he, Sison, was most likely the original target.

The plainness and calmness of Sison’s words all throughout reveal not just a keen intellect or an expansive memory for detail, but a deep sincerity and feeling as well. The weight and depth of the subjects Sison discusses with Rosca in the book is equal to that of mountains and oceans, and Rosca has chosen to allow Sison to give his explanations in his own words, his own particular nuances, and his personal emphasis.

This all made for a book that is both political and personal; historical and biographical. Unlike most biographies that center on the life of the individual and his or her thoughts and feelings about his or her own self, JMS: At Home in the World is a biography not just of a man, but of nation and a people.

Philippine and World History 101

As mentioned in previous paragraphs, readers with no background or interest in world developments or even local politics would find themselves compelled to read At Home in the World.

The story behind the infamous terrorist branding of Sison and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) is explained in the book, and the issue is made simpler to comprehend: Sison is a fairly large and painful thorn on the side of the agents of US imperialism and Philippine bureaucrat capitalism, and all means must be exhausted to get him out of circulation. No accusation is too baseless and absurd, hence the terrorist label.

Clarifications and explanations regarding the 2nd Rectification Movement of the Philippine revolutionary movement are also presented; and readers who are either unfamiliar with the phenomenon (which once hogged the headlines back in the early nineties and even up to the present is referred to by political analysts and pundits as a turning point in Philippine political history) or familiar and outraged by it will find Sison’s account of what happened (the errors committed by the mainstream Left, the damage wrought, and the struggle to recover and reclaim lost strength) yet again clean, honest and humble.

As for the candid answers on the workings of the CPP, the NPA and the National Democratic Front, they all serve demystify the said organizations which are the constant and steady targets of the govenrment’s propaganda machinery. Often demonized by the state-run media and agents of the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) masquerading as journalists and political analysts, the CPP, NPA and NDF are revealed to be revolutionary organizations of the Filipino people; groups whose main mandates are to defend the Filipino people and carry forward and bring to reality their dreams and aspirations for a nation free from exploitation and oppression.

All throughout the book, various names and events are mentioned and discussed. It’s a crash course on the Who’s Who in Philippine mainstream politics and the Left Movement. For martial law babies who are now in their late 20s and early 30s, it is appalling to read the names of certain officials and leaders of the Marcos administration and realize that they are still officials in the current administration under Pres.Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It is also no less than a reason for outrage that the events that shaped the turbulent 70s – the violent dispersals, the police abuses and the military operations that resulted in vicious human rights violations and serious attacks against civil and democratic rights continue to present day.

What counter-balances the anger generated by the paragraphs detailing these, however, is the sheer hope and certainty that justice will triumph also generated by Sison’s description and analysis of the continuing tasks of the progressive people’s movement in the Philippines.

These and reports of the ever-increasing ranks of Filipinos and people of other nationalities who come from the workers, peasants, urban and rural poor and other working and progressive sectors who stand united against US imperialism and its interference in the internal economic, political and military affairs of what should be sovereign nations.

Guidebook for young activists

Finally, the book also serves as Sison’s guidepost for young activists and progressives.

Sison is an inspiration for young activists, particularly those with a peti-bourgeois background. Awareness of his life and the way he has lived and continues to live it serves to strengthen young activists’ faith and conviction in the correctness of the Revolution, continuous study, the forging of discipline, and cultivation of humility.

Anecdotes involving Sison’s colleagues in the NDF, including wife and comrade Juliet de Lima Sison; and how they do their work for the Philippine revolution abroad also give further insight into what it is like to be a revolutionary. Sison and the others in the NDF office in Utrecht, the Netherlands by and large started off as ordinary beings- Filipinos with strong family values, distinctly Pinoy humor, everyday hobbies – but they have become extraordinary because they chose to devote their lives – heart, body, mind and strength – to the Philippine revolution and the international proletarian struggle.

What is most particularly inspiring about Sison’s life, at least for this reviewer, is the way he has through the years maintained his essential lightheartedness. Through all the personal and political attacks from the various enemies of the Filipino people and the vicious accusations leveled against him and the movement he has helped build, Sison has succeeded in keeping his humanity more than intact. There are countless anecdotes revealing his essential self – his quick humor, his intellectual brilliance, his warmth and consideration for comrades and colleagues.

In the end, At Home in the World only re-affirms the basic truth that his enemies assiduously try to obfuscate and destroy. That the kind of person Sison is only reflects the kind of movement he belongs to, the kind of revolution he is helping to lead and give direction to. Sison is not only at home in the world, he represents one of the strongest forces that help shape and change it.#